I can still remember the shock of watching the news on Sunday, 31 August 1997 and learning that Lady Diana had been in a car crash in Paris. The Beeb’s royal reporter, Nicholas Witchell, had just confirmed that she’d died, and that five French photographers who’d been chasing her had been arrested.
My own feelings that day, though, weren’t so much for the Queen of Hearts, or the two young princes she left behind. Instead, I was preoccupied with a nagging guilt – having been part of a Fleet Street army that had hounded her round London that very summer. Or, as Prince Harry later put it, the ‘pack of dogs’ that drove his mum to an early grave, and who were back to their old tricks this week, chasing him and Megan around New York.
True, my own role in this sorry saga was more farce than tragedy. At the time I was a newbie reporter on Fleet Street, where the only place that would have me was a tabloid news agency. It specialised in doing jobs for the likes of the Sun, Mirror and Mail – mainly ones they didn’t want their own fingerprints on. Among these ‘black ops’ was doorstepping celebrities and royals – including Lady Di and her then boyfriend Dodi Fayed.
This, for anyone who doesn’t remember, was the mother of all celebrity romance stories. Thus reporters and photographers were despatched to loiter for days on end outside Dodi Fayed’s apartments behind the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane.
Compared to some of the ‘doorsteps’ my agency did, where we’d be outside the homes of murder victims’ families – and sometimes the suspects too – this was quite a cushy number. Rather than a grim housing estate full of people telling us to f*** off, we were on a genteel Mayfair side street.