Thursday, October 04, 2007
Countdown to death
Pause, rewind, stop, play: Instantly we’re back on the night of August 31, 1997, spirited in time through a web of security cameras to the final moments before Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash.
In the drab surroundings of London’s Royal Courts of Justice, it’s easy to get drawn back into the events of that night as the video footage reels along, showing second-by-second as Diana and her lover Dodi al Fayed try to escape a hotel besieged by paparazzi.
The video, shot by more than 30 cameras, was presented as evidence in the inquest into Diana’s death -- a drawn out court proceeding that began this week but is expected to last six months.
The plodding pace and the largely mundane images of security staff moving along hotel hallways seem a far cry from the near-hysterical outpouring of grief that followed the events of a decade ago. (Outside the courtroom, there is just one solitary fanatic dressed in a pin stripe suit, with the word “Diana” scrawled in blue across his forehead.)
Yet the tension builds as Inspector Paul Carpenter of the Metropolitan Police, the chief narrator of the video evidence, monotones the exact time of each event
-- the seconds inexorably counting down to the moment of death.
There’s a flicker of emotional relief when Henri Paul, the driver who also died in the car crash, is seen entering a toilet, the camera remaining focused on the
door. “He’s in there for two minutes and 10 seconds,” deadpans Carpenter, drawing a murmur of laughter.
Then we see the footage of Dodi and Diana making their exit through a rear entrance to the hotel. Having taken a service elevator, they pause behind a doorway waiting for the all-clear to dash to their car.
In the 10 minutes they wait with their backs to the camera, Dodi places his arm around Diana who, in perhaps the single most intimate moment between the couple captured on camera, briefly intertwines her fingers with his.
Viewed publicly for the first time, 10 years on, it’s an astonishing moment.
The woman who was a focus for almost the entire world’s media both before and after her death, forced to wait in a dreary corridor, and in that time very vividly displaying her affection for the man she died alongside.
Carpenter makes no comment on this, other than to continue his ominous countdown: "The time is now 16 minutes and 57 seconds past midnight."
Soon she would be dead.
-- From CNN's Barry Neild
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