In the episode «Two Photographs» of the sixth season of The CrownPrincess Diana and Dodi Fayed are relaxing on the sun deck of a £15 million yacht, when Dodi’s overbearing father, Mohamed Al Fayed, phones a member of the crew with an urgent question.
“Do they go to bed together?” he asks.
It’s an impudent question, but according to what was reported by Tom Bowerauthor of an unauthorized biography of the billionaire entitled Fayed, during this August 1997 cruise Mohamed actually checked on the couple every hour. The late Princess was aware of the arrival of these calls and she joked about them with Dodi: «God is calling», she commented when she heard a ring. This according to the spiritual healer of Dodi, Myriah Daniels, who was on board. In 2007, during the inquest into the 1997 accident in which the Princess, Dodi and their driver, Henri Paul, lost their lives, Daniels said that this was one of Diana’s recurring jokes, which made Dodi laugh a lot.
Diana had spent a holiday aboard the Jonikal at the beginning of the summer, together with Mohamed and the Princes William And Harry. As described in the episode «Persona non grata» of the sixth season of The Crownthat first holiday on the Jonikal was characterized by jet skis and eventful dealings between Diana and the flotilla of journalists nearby.
«The young princes, however, did not appreciate the journey very much»he writes Tina Brown in The Palace Papers. «The ostentation and excesses of hospitality [di Mohamed] – the gargantuan buffets and sumptuous bathrooms – embarrassed William above all». «Dodi, whom his father asked to join him once the journey had already begun», did not help the situation with the «unnecessarily exaggerated gesture of renting a nightclub entirely for William and Harry, so that they could have fun privately»says the royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith in Diana in Search of Herself.
Mohamed was a controversial figure who had long sought to be embraced as an equal by the British elite and hoped that an affair between his son and the recently divorced Diana might seal the deal. In the summer of 1997, the billionaire ordered Dodi to abandon everything, including his model girlfriend Kelly Fisher, and to court the late Princess. Speaking of Mohamed, Bedell Smith stated some time ago a Vanity Fair: «He was the puppeteer who pulled the strings of the very short love story between Dodi and Diana, which lasted just over a month». In practice Dodi did everything his father told him to do.”
Diana’s association with Mohamed provoked serious reactions from the press: “Nowadays, Diana, you are no longer the Teflon Princess,” she warned. Andrew Mortonthe biographer who wrote the book-exposé Diana: the true story from her words, on the The Sun. “You may be running a £20 million yacht, but your friends and fans see a woman who is drifting on the sea of life and in serious danger of foundering.” Referring to Diana’s cat-and-mouse game with the paparazzi during that initial trip, the columnist Judith Whelan he wrote on the Sydney Morning Herald: «Diana has had irregular behavior in the past. This time, however, she had them while she was the guest of one of the most hated men in Britain.”
Despite the outrage in the press over her association with Mohamed, Diana agreed to return to the show Jonikal for the intimate journey proposed again in «Two photographs». «In August, alone and attracted by Dodi, a pleasant and non-threatening listener, on 31 July she accepted the invitation for a second trip with him on the Jonikal»writes Bower in Fayed. “Over the next six days, the two enjoyed themselves on the decks, in the sumptuous interiors and at sea.”
In the pages of Diana in Search of Herself we read that Dodi indulged Diana with his favorite meals, «which included carrot juice in the morning, fruit at lunch and fish in the evening, as well as champagne, caviar and pâté de foie gras at will». Even music suited Diana’s tastes: George Michael’s 1996 album, Older; some songs by Frank Sinatra and the soundtrack of The English Patient. “A wonderful film,” Diana said to Dodi’s butler, Rene Delorm, second Fayed. «And when you look at it you miss the music».
Mohamed’s staff was extremely attentive to the needs of Diana and the head hostess Jonikal, Deborah Gribble, she is able to remember the smallest details, such as the fact that some of Diana’s contraceptive blisters were half used. She also confirmed that Dodi and Diana “clearly had a relationship and were a couple.”
During their six-week courtship, Dodi lavished Diana with numerous gifts, including a pearl bracelet, a diamond-encrusted wristwatch, a silver photo frame and a gold and diamond ring. When it Jonikal docked in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, second The Diana Chronicles of Brown, Diana and Dodi went shopping and returned with cashmere sweaters of every color for the Princess.
Mohamed, meanwhile, was busy behind the scenes communicating with the press. The news of the relationship between Diana and Dodi was released in the first week of August, less than a month before the Princess’s death. The Sun published the news with the headline «Diana’s secret love affair with Dodi, the Harrods bigwig»while Mohamed’s publicist called the relationship “the love story of the century.”
At the end of the trip, however, according to the opinions of those who knew Diana, their relationship would not have changed. According to Brown, the late Princess suspected that Dodi might ask for her hand in marriage, but she confided to a friend that, if he ever arrived, the engagement ring would “certainly end up on the fourth finger of my right hand.” As is told in «Two photographs», there was a chaotic evening in Monte Carlo, when Dodi suddenly decided to call the tender and take the princess for a romantic walk which turned «into a long walk up a hill, in an attempt to evade the paparazzi,” Brown writes.
The embarrassment was such that Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard on Mohamed’s payroll, “began to feel sorry for the Princess; she believed she deserved better.” According to Gribble, Dodi also became impatient with the enormous attention Diana received from the press. “The tension was evident and constant and increased as time passed,” Gribble revealed. «Even in Paris there was tension. It was amazing”.
Days before the fatal accident, Diana called her sister from Jonikal, by confiding in her every possible love spell cast on her previously had been broken. Pur not going into details, Sarah McCorquodale he later declared in court: “I didn’t think the relationship could last much longer.”
During the last trip on the Jonikal, Diana was photographed sitting alone on a diving board in an aqua-colored swimsuit. The image remains so iconic that, 26 years later, Netflix recreated it in promotional material for the sixth season of The Crown.
Contrary to what the photo showed, however, Diana was never truly alone. By the end of the cruise, the Princess suspected that Mohamed did more than just periodically check in with the staff Jonikal. As McCorquodale revealed during the inquest, she “was convinced that the vessel was being spied on directly by Al Fayed Senior”.