PARIS – The Alma Bridge in Paris where Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash exactly 20 years ago on Thursday has since become a pilgrimage site where people flock to pay their respects, leaving behind photographs, messages and flowers.
“Unforgettable,” read one of the notes laid down among the dozens of memorial objects scattered around the Flame of Liberty statue that sits atop the tunnel where the fatal accident occurred.
“I’ve been a fan of Diana ever since I was small, I had to come today,” said Patricia Brissard, paying her respects to one of the most iconic figures in recent United Kingdom history.
Brissard told EFE that simply recalling the first time she heard the news of Diana’s death on the morning of Aug. 31, 1997 was enough to give her goosebumps.
By that time divorced from Charles, Prince of Wales, Diana was traveling in black Mercedes-Benz alongside her then partner Dodi Fayed, her bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones and driver Henri Paul when the vehicle crashed as it entered the Pont d’Alma at high speed while attempting to keep a pack of motorbike-bound paparazzi at a distance.
Upon entering the underpass, the driver lost control of the vehicle, which smashed into one of the columns separating the lanes of traffic.
Fayed and the driver Paul were killed in the crash. Princess Diana was severely injured and died later at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, some 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the scene.
“Even now it brings me close to tears,” said Eva Lopes from Portugal.
Photographs of Diana’s two sons, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry of Wales adorn the Flame of Liberty which, in turn, is encircled by a chain of love locks.
Some official commemorations have taken place in the UK, British Embassy sources in Paris told EFE, explaining that the interest shown in France was of an entirely spontaneous nature.
“I have the impression that more homage is paid to her in France than in England,” said Brissard, who left a photograph at the makeshift “altar.”
Brissard remembered Diana, Princess of Wales, for her work for those least fortunate in society and against the use of anti-personnel land mines.
Many of those who were visiting the symbolic flame, from which the Eiffel Tower can be seen on the other side of the Seine, were women, some of whom lived the events in person.
Jeanette, who did not give her surname, said she worked then, and continued to do so now, in the kitchens of the Ritz Hotel where Diana and her partner had stayed before the accident.
With tears in her eyes, she recalled how police entered the exclusive hotel to open an investigation and the shock she and her work colleagues felt upon learning of Diana’s death.
“It was a very brutal accident, we could not believe it,” she said. “I think the truth will never be known, everyone has his own idea,” she added, echoing conspiracy theories that discredit the official account of events, which blamed the crash on Paul, who was found to have been under the influence of alcohol while at the wheel of the crashed car.
“Everyone loved her, that’s why people called her ‘The People’s Princess,’” added Lopes.
In the background, a street musician sang a tune with lyrics, in English and French, that told of Diana as “the queen of our hearts, the queen of our souls.”