Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell believes she would still be alive if he had accompanied her to Paris.
In an interview with our sister paper The Mirror , Paul – who lives in Peckforton but runs a florist in Farndon – he revealed: “I really believe she would still be here today if I had been with her."
Paul, Diana’s 'rock' for the decade before her death, also told of his final 'angry' conversation with the Princess as he held her hand after she had passed away.
Twenty years after Paul Burrell came to Paris to bring his dead princess home, he has visited the site of her fatal crash to lay 12 white lilies at her unofficial memorial.
The 10ft Flamme de La Liberte stands atop the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, where the Mercedes-Benz carrying Diana, 36, and boyfriend Dodi Fayed crashed into a pillar, killing all inside except bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.
Paul was devastated by the loss of Diana.
He said: “She was a pariah to the Royal Family and I did feel all their dreams had come true that she had been erased. She answered all their prayers by not being here anymore because she was too meddlesome.
“But I certainly don’t think any one of them would want to kill her. My heart tells me it was terrible accident.”
Looking from the bridge to the road below, Paul added: “I never realised how small this tunnel was. You can see the cars zooming out the other side, like she should have done.
“But she went into this tunnel and never came out. That is so surreal to me. Below where this flame is, is the point where her life was extinguished.
“And I never knew how close the Eiffel Tower was. Diana had come twice to Paris during those 30 days with Dodi. But before then she’d been once, when she was 14.
“She told me her first memory of the city was walking by the Seine and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time and thinking it was wonderful.
“Now, I realise it must have been the last thing she saw before the crash.” He may be standing above the tunnel, but Paul could never drive through it – “I dreamt last night I would crash and die in the exact same place.”
Instead, he placed a card on his flowers with Diana’s favourite passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s children’s book The Little Prince, and a promise that they would one day “be reunited and sit and laugh and love”.
At times, Paul’s sadness has been almost all-consuming. Then married to Maria – Prince Philip’s maid – he had just returned from the theatre with his family in 1997 when an American friend called to say CNN were reporting Diana had been in a car crash.
He rang her mobile, then rushed to Kensington Palace. At first they were told it was broken bones. Then, just after 3am, an aide held his hand and told him to sit down.
Paul recalled: “She said, ‘Paul, you’re going to have to be strong... She died in the early hours of this morning’. I felt the room going away from me.
“You know, when someone tells you and it doesn’t quite go in? Then I just thought, ‘If she can’t look after herself anymore I need to look after her.’ By 7am I was in Paris.
“It wasn’t until a few hours later that it hit me that she really had left me. It was staggering, uncontrollable.”
For the last journey home of the woman he called The Boss, Paul took a black dress, a picture of her boys and rosary beads from Mother Theresa.
He wanted to be of service until the very end, and has returned to Paris to better understand what happened. He visited Dodi’s apartment and the Ritz Paris, before retracing Diana’s route to the tunnel.
Paul still has questions. Diana and Dodi, 42, had landed in the French capital that morning, after their yacht trip in St Tropez.
They dined at the Ritz – Dodi’s dad Mohamed al-Fayed ’s hotel – before leaving at 12.20am to travel two miles to Dodi’s apartment near the Champs-Elysees. They, along with Rees-Jones, 29, were being driven by the Ritz’s head of security Henri Paul, 41.
With photographers on their tail, the car sped along at up to 120mph, before crashing into the tunnel’s 13th pillar. The princess was initially alive.
Her ambulance left for the hospital at 1.25am, arriving 41 minutes later. She was declared dead at 4am – 3am in the UK – at Pitie-Salpetriere hospital.
Standing again outside the hospital, Paul vividly remembers the moment he, accompanied by Diana’s British driver Colin Tebbutt, entered and became the first person to see Diana’s body.
He said: “The princess’s life shouldn’t have ended here. She should be alive today, a great humanitarian, proud of her sons.
“But instead, I went up that elevator 20 years ago, and I saw a very long, empty corridor with a Catholic priest, an Anglican priest and two gendarmes.
“They motioned to go in her room, to stare death in the face. I knew I had a job to do, to protect her.
“At first I thought she was asleep. Someone had washed her hair and there was a very strange smell. Later I found out it was the smell of formaldehyde, that they use to embalm bodies. I can still smell it, like I still smell her perfume, Hermes 24 Faubourg.
“It was hot, so Colin asked for fans and we got paper to cover the windows, as people in flats opposite could see in.
“As I held the princess’s hand I noticed her eyelashes move. For a second I thought, “She’s not really dead’. But it was the fan. The whole hospital heard me sobbing. I’d lost my reason for being.
“Then Prince Charles called to say he was coming. He said ‘William and Harry sent their love and the Queen is awfully worried about you. Are you alright?’
“When he arrived I felt very sorry for him. He was like a fish out of water. I was rather confused about his presence and I think he was, too.” Paul added: “I spent most of the day in that tiny room with The Boss. Then I realised my princess wasn’t really there anymore.
“She believed when you pass, you lift from your body and watch what is happening. And I thought, she must still be in this room, watching me.
“I held her hand and had a long, angry conversation with her. ‘Why didn’t you bring me to Paris?’ I would have insisted that she’d stayed in the Ritz that night.
“I really believe she would still be here today if I had been with her.”
Back at the flame, Paul was annoyed there is no such fitting memorial in the UK, just the controversial fountain in Hyde Park, London.
He said: “It’s shameful. There’s a statue for the Queen Mother, Eric Morecambe and even Red Rum. But we don’t have one to Diana. We have a memorial that looks like a storm drain.”
He went on: “Being back in Paris is a strange feeling for me, a bitter taste. It’s a beautiful city but a sad reminder of when my life changed. But this has been a very moving experience, laying the flowers here at the flame, not just for me but for readers of the Mirror and for people who truly love the princess.”
He was approached by Leny Millani, 60. She lives above the tunnel and heard the “big boom” of the crash that night. She regularly tends to the flame memorial, with a French gentleman.
He was too shy to give his name but, shaking Paul’s hand, said in French: “Mr Burrell, thank you so much for taking such good care of the princess.”