The Crown: The Lone Survivor of Princess Diana’s Fatal Crash

The Crown: The Lone Survivor of Princess Diana’s Fatal Crash


“I have never seen so many fractures on a man who was still alive,” said the surgeon who treated Dodi Fayed’s bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones.

revor Rees-Jones does not remember the moment his head hit the dashboard of the Mercedes-Benz carrying Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed during that tragic 1997 car crash. In fact, the bodyguard, who was employed by Fayed’s billionaire father Mohamed Al-Fayed at the time, does not remember much about the doomed drive in Paris, beyond getting into the front passenger seat of the vehicle not far from the Ritz the night of August 30. He would only learn the gruesome details about 10 days after the accident, when he awoke from a medically-induced coma inside the Hospital La Pitié Salpêtrière—the same hospital, he was told, where surgeons unsuccessfully attempted to revive Diana.

“I had a tracking tube out of my throat so I couldn’t make any sound,” Rees-Jones later told CNN, recalling the horror of of the news, coupled with the shock of his condition. His jaw was wired, his head was bandaged, and his broken neck was contained in a brace. “[I] just had to lie there and just absorb it, and that was quite difficult to do.”

Rees-Jones was told that the Mercedes-Benz he was in had collided with a pillar of the Pont de l’Alma with such force that the vehicle crumpled like a metal accordion. (“Anytime I look at the vehicle, it amazes me how anyone got out of there alive, especially myself who was sitting in the front seat,” Rees-Jones told CNN.) Diana suffered chest, lung, and head injuries, and was moaning inside the car when some photographers found her—and, rather than helping the princess, began snapping photos.

Though the first four episodes of The Crown’s sixth season revolve around the crash, Rees-Jones is not depicted on the series.

In real life, the bodyguard hit his head so hard during the crash that his “face was completely smashed…[and] crushed” according to Luc Chikhani, the surgeon who reconstructed the bodyguard’s face during an 11-hour surgery. “I have never seen so many fractures on a man who was still alive,” the doctor later told the BBC.

Chikhani rebuilt Rees-Jones’s face based on photographs, using 30 metal screws and plates, plus bone from his skull to make cheekbones and grafting cartilage to create a new nose. Despite the severity of the bodyguard’s injuries, recalled the surgeon, “No one seemed to care about this man…Secret Service and police from England and France came to ask when they could talk to him, but no one asked how he was recovering.”

Wracked with “survivor’s guilt” and the horror of knowing his charges had “died on my shift,” Rees-Jones told The Guardian that, in his darkest moments, “I thought…it would be a lot less hassle if I wasn’t around.”

Rees-Jones resumed working for Al-Fayed within six months of the accident. But the relationship between bodyguard and boss—the latter who floated conspiracy theories about the accident to the press—eventually grew sour. Rees-Jones left Al-Fayed’s employ, and the billionaire began publicly blaming the bodyguard for contributing to Dodi and Diana’s deaths.

Though Rees-Jones had mostly stayed mum in the aftermath of the crash—even reportedly turning down a million dollars from The National Enquirer—Al-Fayed’s claims eventually inspired the bodyguard to publish a book in his own defense.

“[Al-Fayed] has now accused myself and [Keiran Wingfield, a second bodyguard on duty] of saying that our lack of professionalism—as is his words, not mine—our lack of professionalism contributed or caused the accident that killed his son and the princess,” Rees-Jones said in 2000, explaining his motivation to write The Bodyguard’s Story: Diana, the Crash, and the Sole Survivor. During a press tour for the book, Rees-Jones respectfully skirted questions about the details of Diana’s relationship with Dodi, instead explaining the chaotic events leading up to the fatal crash.

Recalling Diana and Fayed’s departure from the Ritz in Paris, Rees-Jones claimed that “Dodi wished to leave from the rear of the hotel in a single vehicle and with no security”—a plan that his team tried to quash. “Our advice was to leave from the front of the hotel with the regular two vehicles…the crowd was pushed back [there].” Though Rees-Jones succeeded in convincing Dodi to bring him in the vehicle, Dodi ended further conversation by claiming that his exit plan had been approved by his father, according to Wingfield: “Once Mr. Fayed was mentioned in any capacity like that, in that organization, argument was pointless.”

The Crown: The Lone Survivor of Princess Diana’s Fatal Crash

During the 2008 inquest into Diana’s death, Wingfield said that Fayed had also ignored the security team’s request for more backup given the paparazzi that would likely swarm Diana. “His words to me were: ‘I want this to be low-key. It’s only going to be for two or three days,’” remembered Wingfield. “If we were allowed to have done our jobs properly by the organization we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”

In his book, Rees-Jones wrote that he would have traded his life for Diana and Dodi’s. In the decade after the crash, the bodyguard said he was haunted by his lack of memory of the accident. But the lone survivor could only make guesses. Speaking to 60 Minutes, he said, “If [driver] Henri Paul had been driving so fast that it was a security risk, that his driving was—that he couldn’t control the car, that it was going too fast, then I would like to think that I would have said, ‘Slow down.’”