Princess Diana was shaken by Gianni Versace’s murder, bodyguard says: ‘Do you think they’re
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Princess Diana was shaken over Gianni Versace’s murder, which occurred one month before she perished in a car crash.
It was July 1997, and the British royal was spending the summer with her boyfriend, Egyptian millionaire film producer Dodi Al Fayed, in Saint-Tropez, on the French Riviera. It was there where she learned the Italian fashion designer had been gunned down on the steps outside his Miami mansion. Andrew Cunanan, who was suspected of killing four gay men from Minneapolis to New Jersey, shot him twice in the head at point-blank range. He was 50.
Before his death, Versace had formed a friendship with the princess, whose divorce from Prince Charles was finalized in 1996.
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“The security team was chatting about it, as everyone was in security,” says Lee Sansum, a bodyguard employed by Al Fayed’s father, Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed. He told Fox News Digital, “At that time, we thought it had been a professional hit by the way it had been done. It subsequently turned out that it wasn’t.”
On the 25th anniversary of the royal’s passing, the ex-military policeman has written a memoir titled “Protecting Diana: A Bodyguard’s Story,” which details how he became part of the security detail who looked after her and her sons, Princes William and Harry, for what would be her last summer alive.
The royal’s holiday took place on board the yacht named the Jonikal. After word of Versace’s death got out, Sansum said he bumped into Diana while the rest of the security team was having breakfast.
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“I went to the stern of the boat,” Sansum recalled. “The princess was there in this quite large room with all the windows at the back. So you could see over the sea. She was the only one there, and she had her back to me. When I went in, I turned around, and she was crying. She came towards me, and she was talking about Versace. She was extremely upset. And then she was asking me what [I thought] had happened. I was speaking to her, trying to play it down a lot. And she was really, really tearful.”
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Sansum said that Diana was so distressed that he wanted to hug her.
“But it was inappropriate, one, because of my position and two, she was a princess, and three, if the paparazzi had got a photograph through the window of me hugging the princess, could you imagine?” he said. “It would have been horrible for her. It [would have] been horrible for me. So against all my instincts, I kind of backed off.”
Sansum said that Diana then looked him in the eye.
“She asked me, ‘Do you think they’re going to kill me?’” Sansum claimed. “She was very, very concerned about the potential risks to her life at that time. I said, ‘You’re safe here. You’ve got great security. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.’ [I] just tried to give her some confidence that she was safe… She stopped crying, but she was really upset… [And] I made a quick exit.”
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Sansum said Diana came across “as a normal person, just like you and I,” which proved to be “a breath of fresh air.” However, protecting the royal as she enjoyed a holiday with her new beau was no easy feat. Paparazzi swarmed the yacht daily, desperately trying to snap any photos of Diana.
“It was a very complex and complicated situation,” said Sansum. “The paparazzi at the time could do pretty much whatever they wanted… Some of the pictures the paparazzi took of her would sell for a million euros. So there was a lot at stake for the paparazzi. It wasn’t particularly the photographs that we were frightened of because they were going to take photographs wherever you go, but it was the volume of the paparazzi and the measures that they were prepared to [take] and follow us, to hound us… and get as close as they can.”
“It was just crazy,” he continued. “There were hundreds of them around us. We could see boats everywhere. There was even a helicopter going over just to try and get a shot… The princess was used to all of this, but we weren’t. Mohamed Al Fayed was a very high-profile person in the UK, so we were used to having the press around us, but they took it to the next level. When we were on the jet skis, they were also on the sea… It was dangerous at times. There were times when I had to say, ‘You can’t go out today’… We did our best to ensure that everybody had a nice holiday.”
According to Sansum, Diana told him there was nothing she could do about the relentless paparazzi in the UK. However, she was thinking about her future and the possibility of relocating to the United States where she could “get away from it all.”
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“Dodi had a place out in California,” Sansum explained. “We were under the impression that’s where she was going. Not necessarily to stay with him but in the same area. Prior to the trip, we understood that there would be work out there as well. I put my name down to go to the states. I’ve got a lot of family in the states. I thought it’d be a great opportunity for me to go there, but obviously, that didn’t turn out.”
“She spoke to me about moving to the states,” he shared. “She said that the press hated her in the UK. She didn’t know why, but in the states, people loved her there, the press loved her there. She felt safe there. She felt welcomed there. And that’s where she had to go. I then asked her, ‘What about the boys? Will you be able to take them with you?’ She said, ‘No, they will never let me do that. I’ll just have to see them during school time, school holidays, vacations, things like that.’”
The media scrutiny only worsened during Diana’s getaway. Sansum said she worked with the security team to arrange a time when paparazzi could snap photos for a certain amount of time in hopes that they would disappear for the day. Initially, the plan worked. But in the end, Sansum said “they just became too much.” He also described how the British press would slam Diana, insisting she was merely seeking attention and sympathy following her divorce from Charles.
One tabloid even went as far as to publish an unflattering photo of Camilla Parker Bowles, whom Charles had an affair with during his marriage to Diana.
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“I think the headline was something like ‘Prince Charles dropped this for that,’” said Sansum. “And next to Camilla was this beautiful picture of Princess Diana. At that time, nobody was safe from the paparazzi… I remember one of the lads, who was working, said to her, ‘What do you think about this?’ She simply said, ‘Well, it’s his choice.’ And then she moved on. I thought it took a lot of confidence for her to not be fazed by it.”
After the trip, Sansum said he received a thoughtful note from Diana personally thanking him for helping to keep her and her sons safe during their vacation.
According to Sansum, he was not assigned to look after Al Fayed when he headed off to Paris with Diana. Instead, his pal Trevor Rees-Jones, who was part of the security detail in Saint-Tropez, was tasked with the job. He was badly injured in the car accident that killed the couple, as well as the driver Henri Paul. At the time, the vehicle was speeding as it was being chased by paparazzi.
“The talk of the time [before the accident] was, ‘We need to beef this up,’” said Sansum. “The lads were saying, ‘We need to send more guys over.’ But the trip was supposed to be a low-key one.”
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Sansum said that he, along with the rest of the world, was shocked to hear of the fatal crash. He does not believe in the numerous conspiracy theories that have emerged over the years, but he does wonder what could have been done differently to avoid such a tragic accident.
Today, Sansum said he hopes his story will offer a different perspective “without a hidden agenda.”
“The way she interacted with me and the team was straight from the heart,” he said. “… Some of the things that happened on the holiday are not in the book. They’re a little bit more private, which I’ll never speak about… But it’s a story of how a normal man from a working-class background, whose only passion was martial arts… led this remarkable life.”
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