Essay Re Nothing

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PARIS, Sept. 5 — On the last day of their lives, Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were hounded and pursued by photographers across Paris, from the time their plane landed in mid-afternoon until their deaths nine hours later, according to accounts provided today by Fayed's spokesman and the Ritz Hotel here.

Mohamed Fayed, Dodi's father and the Ritz's owner, released a hotel security videotape and Ritz officials offered a verbal chronology of Diana and Fayed's last hours, contending that their deaths in the crash of a speeding Mercedes-Benz were caused not by the recklessness of a drunk driver employed by the Ritz, but by the paparazzi who pursued them.

In a London news conference, the Fayed family spokesman also pictured Diana and Fayed as deeply in love and committed to each other after a summer of romance. He confirmed that Fayed had given Diana a $200,000 diamond solitaire ring hours before she died, and said gifts from Diana to Fayed had been found among his effects.

"What that ring meant we shall probably never know," said spokesman Michael Cole. "If the planet lasts for another thousand years, people will still wonder about its significance."

Millionaire businessman Dodi Al Fayed gets into a Mercedes limousine Aug. 30 upon arriving from Sardinia, with driver Henry Paul. Big Pictures Agency, NYC/Reuters
French authorities say the Ritz's driver, Henri Paul, was legally drunk when the Mercedes S-280 sedan he was driving at a speed of at least 90 miles an hour slammed into a piling in a highway tunnel along the Seine River just after midnight Sunday morning, killing Diana, Fayed and himself and leaving a bodyguard hospitalized with severe injuries.

But Mohamed Fayed told a meeting of all Ritz employees Thursday that Paul was not drunk and that reports that he was were "scandalous." Paul's funeral, planned for Saturday in his home town of Lorient, was postponed today. His family said that it had requested that tests on his blood to determine the alcohol level be repeated.

Initial tests by Paris authorities showed a blood-alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, judicial sources have said. Today, sources in the Paris prosecutor's office stood by the blood tests and said they were conducted by two independent experts.

According to officials at the Ritz, photographers were waiting for Diana and Fayed from the moment they touched down in a private aircraft from Sardinia at Paris's Le Bourget airport north of the city about 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. EDT) last Saturday. They were met by Paul, assistant security director of the hotel, in a Mercedes S-600 leased by the hotel. There also was a follow-up car, a Range Rover. According to the Ritz account, the cameramen followed the convoy down the highway into Paris.

After an unspecified stop, the two cars headed to the Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendome in the center of the city. The photographers were still behind, and tried to take Diana's picture as she and Fayed entered the hotel about 4:30 p.m.. The couple spent just over two hours there. Based on the timing, it was apparently from the Ritz that Diana called columnist Richard Kay of the Daily Mail in London and told him she planned to give up her role in public life, as he subsequently reported.

It was also from the Ritz that Dodi Fayed went to a neighboring fine jewelry store and picked up the diamond ring that he had ordered as a gift for Diana. An employee at the store confirmed today that the ring was picked up Saturday afternoon.

In addition to the ring, Fayed wrote a love poem for Diana, had it inscribed on a silver plaque and slipped it under her pillow in his Paris apartment, Cole said in London. Mohamed Fayed wants the plaque buried with Diana Saturday, Cole said.

Cole also said that Mohamed Fayed was approached in Paris Sunday by a person, whom he did not name or describe, who helped Diana during her final hours.

"That person vouchsafed to [Fayed] the princess's final words and...
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