Sunday, December 17, 2006

About Henri Paul

The life and poignant death of Diana's driver

Janice Turner

Times 16 December 2006

The Stevens report reveals little-known details of Henri Paul

Was Henri Paul an MI6 stool-pigeon, paid fat cash wedges to lure Diana to her state-ordered death? Or was he a seedy, drug-addled, “drunk as a pig” alcoholic whose arrogance and recklessness did for our beloved princess? All that Mohamed Al Fayed and Prince Philip will probably ever agree upon about that long ago August night is the villainy of Henri Paul, the driver of the Mercedes taken by Dodi and Diana. Lacking a public to deify him, gallant young sons to defend his memory or a powerful father to avenge his reputation, all Henri Paul has is Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington. And of the three people who died in the Place de l’Alma tunnel, Paul is the one whose character is least besmirched by his report.
Indeed, I recommend its 200-page chapter four as a fascinating insight into the lives of those like Paul, acting head of security at the Paris Ritz, who serve and protect the mindlessly rich. The truly wealthy, we learn, disdain to carry cash or even credit cards: £2,000 was found on Paul’s body because it was part of his job to trail around the Galleries Lafayette behind Saudi wives, picking up the tab when they bought up whole rails of clothes.

And far from Henri Paul the cavalier drunk, we see Henri Paul the good and faithful servant. That fated night he left the Ritz at 7pm, thinking he’d finished for the day, that Dodi and Diana’s elaborate evening plans were set. Off-duty, he had a few drinks — four Ricard aperitifs, it is reckoned; hardly a binge — certain he wouldn’t be returning to the Ritz, let alone driving, since he was not a chauffeur.
Yet when the call came that Dodi had changed his mind and wanted him back, Henri Paul doesn’t curse or complain but within 15 minutes is back at his post.
I have a picture in my head of Paul that long night, his free evening snatched away, sitting in the Ritz with the other drivers, bodyguards and flunkies, bored, waiting — always waiting — ashtrays brimming with his cigarillos, downing another Ricard. Meanwhile, upstairs a pampered couple faffed and fussed about which fine restaurant to dine in, which exquisite apartment to sleep in, oblivious to the dogged men whose own bedtimes were governed by their whims.
Why, anyway, could this famous couple not regard the paparazzi like hungry seagulls around a trawler — feed them scraps, then ignore their flapping? Small price to pay, you’d think, for a lifetime of limitless luxury. But Dodi wanted to play Bond, shake them off with a car chase and impress his princess. He commanded two decoy cars to leave the front of the Ritz and Paul to drive the actual getaway car. Given the scale of the plan, what huge loss of face, of job even, would it have taken for Henri Paul to shrug and say: “I’ve been drinking, boss. I’d really rather not . . .”
Lord Stevens reveals the pressure upon Paul of working for Mohamed Al Fayed. Paul’s best friend testifies how he spent his whole summer holiday in Spain on the phone to work. And he was stressed enough to ask a doctor friend for Prozac and a drug to make alcohol less palatable and thus curb a drinking habit that must have begun to worry him.
But Henri Paul’s life stands up to closer scrutiny far more robustly than that of the Princess or her lover. Paul was a prize-winning pianist, fond of Schubert and Liszt, a cultured, well-informed man whose modest, tidy apartment in the Rue des Petits-Champs was filled with works on ecology and military history, his current-affairs magazines filed in chronological order.
He kept alcohol there, but only the booze of a sociable man: half-empty bottles of Martini and Ricard for guests, a couple of beers in the fridge, some decent champagne. Plus 240 cans of Diet Coke. Besides, Paul had just passed his annual pilot’s medical, an exhaustive set of tests that would have shown up full-blown alcoholism. Friends recall he’d go to bed early and sober the night before every flight.
Flying was his one indulgence. Paul drove an old Mini, disliked showy clothes and, a friend testifies, “he gave presents that were just right for the recipient’s personality, and not simply to impress”. Which is more than can be said of Dodi, with his grotesque, spangled “Tell me yes” ring, picked out by a servant who Dodi nagged into negotiating a discount.
And anyway the perfidious Princess planned to accept the bling but not the proposal. Maybe she could wear it on her right hand, Paul Burrell suggested: “She thought that was a clever solution,” testifies the preening butler. “She thought I knew the answer to a lot of things.”
The Stevens report resurrects the Diana we had allowed to rest in peace during the ten years of her sainthood; the needy, damaged, flaky, manipulative and gullible Diana. Those closest to her seem mostly to be “alternative” practictioners. The Fayed yacht’s on-board “holistic healer” testifies that her firm prodding of Diana’s intestines and womb made her certain she was not pregnant. Some Chinese medicine woman chips in, as does Rita Rogers, Diana’s personal psychic, who tells her of a premonition that her car brakes will be tampered with, setting Diana off on a frenzy of paranoia and trips to BMW dealerships.
And then there are the decisions about her love life, so off-kilter and addled that only a woman given endless sycophantic approval would pursue them: the attempts to marry her Muslim lover Hasnat Khan in a Catholic church, her trips to Pakistan to try Jemima Khan’s lifestyle on for size. How lost she seems in this report, hopping from cruise to cruise, telling Rosa Monckton she missed her boys . . . and the gym.
What kind of woman, one wonders, would she have been today at 45, in an era when celebrity coverage has exploded and turned ever meaner? No one ever printed an unflattering shot of Diana: her secrets were only betrayed after her death. But today she’d have her cellulite and liver spots ringed in Heat magazine, with Grazia speculating about her Botox, her facelift, her sanity.
For all its rigour, the report will never silence the conspiracy theories about Diana’s death. Not just those of poor, broken Mohamed Al Fayed but of her true believers, who will never accept that their goddess died in so mundane and mortal a manner. But at least Lord Stevens has righted one injustice: brought clarity and compassion to bear upon the life and death of Henri Paul.

NB For full details please see the Operation Paget report [The (Lord) Steven’s report into the death of Princess Diana] on http://www.met.police.uk/news/operation_paget_report.htm
The report is 872 pages long.

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