There are always a handful of moments in everyone’s life where they’ll never forget where they were when they heard or saw major events and news happen. For me, 9/11 will always be one of those moments: I got a phone call from my mother waking me up in my midtown Manhattan apartment. The phone call from my dad telling me Jerry Garcia had died was another. It’s also burned in my memory where I was when Princess Diana died 25 years ago today.
On August 31st, 1997, I was out with some friends in Boston. I was about to start my junior year of college and was living in an apartment in Brookline, MA. The four of us got back to another apartment in the same building where I lived for a quick nightcap and one of my friends turned on his computer and logged into AOL.
“Whoa, Princess Diana was in a car crash in Paris,” my friend exclaimed. Breathing deeply and covering his mouth, he quietly said, “Holy sh*t, Dodi’s dead.” Dodi was, of course, Princess Diana’s boyfriend, Dodi Fayed.
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Everyone was hushed as he silently read the story. “They were in a crash in Paris,” my friend continued, “it looks like it was high speed and Dodi was killed. Diana is in critical condition in a Paris hospital.”
This report was about four or five hours old at this point—even with AOL and the beginnings of the internet, news still didn’t travel instantaneously as it does now in the age of Twitter. Looking back on the timeline, Diana was likely already dead by the time we were reading the story, but we didn’t know it yet.
Princess Diana Is Dead
A few minutes later, as we all sat in a kind of shock, my friend, still reading the news on AOL said the fateful words, “Diana’s dead.”
It was weird: I’m American, and the British Royal Family was and still is more of a curiosity than anything. why was this so impactful for me? Well, growing up, I had a bit of an Anglophile for a mother. She did—and still does—travel to England almost yearly.
When I was about 5 or 6, we got a new dog, a dachshund. While discussing names, my mom insisted on Diana because “She’s got short legs, a long nose, and she’s German. It has to be ‘Lady Diana.’” I didn’t get the joke at the time, and I still don’t think it’s all that funny (except the German part), but it instilled in me a knowledge of Princess Diana and the royal family. We later got a second dog, a black lab, and named her “Fergie,” embedding the family further into my consciousness.
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For those reasons, even as a young college student born and raised in America with little direct connection to Great Britain or the royal family, Princess Diana’s death was a big deal for me. Of course, like many others in the world, the shocking cause of the Princess’ death and her tragically young age (she was just 36) made the news all the more sensational.
In the days after, I watched all the coverage, including watching Elton John’s reworked version of “Candle In The Wind.” The song continued to remind everyone of the tragic events as it became one of the biggest hits in pop music history and was played everywhere over the next weeks and months.
It’s not the kind of event I would have thought would stick with me forever, but here we are 25 years later. I can still remember every second of those first few minutes as the news spread around the world, reaching us in a suburban Boston apartment building—3,000 miles away from Paris.