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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.” (FOX)