On March 7 2021, a highly-anticipated interview of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by Oprah Winfrey aired, and among discourse about that interview was a claim that Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, lost her royal protection — which was in turn purportedly a contributing factor to her 1997 death:
In the very popular tweet embedded above, Twitter user Ellen Tumposky stated:
Diana lost her royal protection and would be alive today if she had retained it. So a powerful issue for Harry.
That particular claim involved both the contents of the interview and historical context about the life and death of the Princess of Wales.
Royal Protection and the Oprah Interview
A March 8 2021 VanityFair.com article (“Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Security Protection Was Such a Big Deal “) specifically addressed the focus on security detail and its relevance to the Oprah interview. It examined a lot of the specifics surrounding the couple’s decision to distance themselves from the monarchy, and the manner in which their departure was handled:
Harry made one part of it very plain, however: “My family literally cut me off financially” at the beginning of 2020, he said. That was the period in which he and Meghan were negotiating the terms of their exit as senior royals, and security costs played a major role in the discussions; at the time there were reports that they had struck a deal similar to one arranged by former prime minister Tony Blair, in which they would reimburse some of the costs of their security. To do that, however, they would need to make money. Before he and Meghan signed their lucrative details with Netflix and Spotify, Harry said in the interview, they were relying on the money left to him by Princess Diana—and “without that we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
The debate around security for members of the royal family is an old one, and there are no publicly available rules about who does and doesn’t get it.
VanityFair.com described a patchwork effort involved in securing Harry, Markle, and their son Archie — including occasional involvement by law enforcement and the intervention of actor Tyler Perry (who provided security for them when they stayed at one of his homes). However, it appeared issues around security and protection for the couple arose prior to their decision to move away from royal duties.
Harry said that at one juncture during their transition away from the palace, their security detail was abruptly canceled. Harry said he “pushed back,” telling them that the risk to the couple and their son remained:
But according to Meghan in the Oprah interview, the debate around their security detail began much earlier. When she was pregnant with Archie in the fall of 2018, she said, she was told by palace officials and family members that Archie should not be given the title of prince—which meant he would not receive a royal security detail either. “There’s no explanation,” she said when Oprah pressed for details. Later in the interview Harry said that there had been a suggestion that Meghan continue her acting career to make money for the family, implying that the royal institution had made efforts to cut their funding in multiple ways.
It was while they were in Vancouver, Harry said in the interview, that they were told on “short notice” that their royal security detail would be cut off—even as they were still in the process of finalizing their exit, with the intention of continuing to serve the queen. “Their justification was a change in status,” Harry said explaining the change. “To which I pushed back and said, is there a change in threat or risk?”
Harry also said that the cost of privately replacing that protection was significant, and that he relied on money left to him by his mother.
Diana’s Security Following Her Divorce from Prince Charles
On the afternoon of March 8 2021, viral news site Meaww.com lifted the content of Tumposky’s tweet for a Facebook post:
‘Diana lost her royal protection and would be alive today if she had retained it’
In the attached article, Meaww.com claimed that Diana’s security was decreased after her divorce from Prince Charles:
When she was a member of the Firm by marriage, Diana was allowed a large travel budget and police protection. Wherever she went, she was given her own security team that ensured her personal safety at all costs. Post-divorce, Diana was able to use police protection only when she attended public events and was carrying out royal duties.
Even her staff at Kensington Palace was drastically reduced. She was only allowed a cleaner, cook, and dresser on the royal family’s dime. As a result, Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, began playing the roles of a personal assistant, driver, delivery service, confidant, and “crying towel” for the princess. Diana also had to give up her office at St. James’s Palace, which incidentally was next to Prince Charles’s office.
Claims about Diana’s loss of security staff were common across the internet, but rarely substantiated with any detailed citations. The Meaww.com excerpt above appeared to have been lifted from a November 2020 ReadersDigest.com article, “9 Things Princess Diana Lost After Her Divorce from Prince Charles.”
A separate November 2020 MarieClaire.com article about Diana’s royal protections (“Princess Diana’s Friend Says Her Explosive BBC Panorama Interview Contributed to Her Death”) included the following:
[Friend of Diana, Rosa] Monckton believes the BBC interview led directly to Diana losing her royal title and the protection of the royal family. “Had she retained it, she would have still been in the embrace of the Royal Family when in Paris on August 31, 1997,” Monckton said.
A portion of the article read:
Monckton said Diana “was in the grip of interviewer Martin Bashir, and there was not even a glimpse of the level-headed, fun-loving and compassionate person who was my friend” during the interview. What’s more, Monckton sees the interview as an important turning point in Diana’s life that “probably changed the course of history,” and prompted divorce proceedings between Diana and her then-husband, Prince Charles. Because of the interview, Monckton believes those proceedings were rushed and that “decisions about their future were made hurriedly, with long-term implications not thought through.”
This, according to Monckton, played a direct role in Diana’s untimely death in Paris in August of 1997. In her Daily Mail piece, she writes:
“Among those decisions was the fact that Diana lost her royal title. Had she retained it, she would have still been in the embrace of the Royal Family when in Paris on August 31, 1997. And she would almost certainly not have been in the incapable hands of a speeding drunk driver employed by Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owned the Ritz Hotel where she and his son, Dodi, had dined.”
Monckton’s quotes were taken from a piece she authored for the tabloid Daily Mail, published on November 9 2020. In it, Monckton broadly cited the BBC interview with Martin Bashir as an influence both on Diana and on the chain of events leading to her divorce and later, her death:
[Diana] believed Bashir’s outrageous claims — one of his skills, clearly, was in exploiting her susceptibility to the idea that she was being spied on by ‘enemies’. He even commissioned forged documents to prove this. You have to remember that this was a woman who spent all her married life being chased by the paparazzi. Little wonder she was susceptible.
It matters because the mother of our future king was forensically exploited. It matters because HM the Queen instructed Prince Charles and Diana to begin divorce proceedings as a result of the interview. Which meant that decisions about their future were made hurriedly, with long-term implications not thought through.
Among those decisions was the fact that Diana lost her royal title. Had she retained it, she would have still been in the embrace of the Royal Family when in Paris on August 31, 1997. And she would almost certainly not have been in the incapable hands of a speeding drunk driver employed by Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owned the Ritz Hotel where she and his son, Dodi, had dined.
But what Monckton more accurately said was that the interview led Diana and Charles’ divorce to be rushed, in turn leading to more hurriedly-made decisions. Monckton said Diana “lost her royal title,” and speculated that without the loss of her title, she would not have been killed in Paris in 1997.
Based on the reverse chronology, Monckton’s writing was excerpted, referenced, and eventually evolved into the claim that Diana lost her “royal protection,” versus the source claim that she had “lost her royal title.”
Did Diana Retain Security? Was She Cut Off from It?
In a follow-up with far less engagement, the original thread’s author tempered her initial statement with a clarification that Diana had “refused” protection:
A September 3 1997 Baltimore Sun article, published shortly after Diana’s death, detailed an assessment of the incident:
Princess Diana would still be alive if she had allowed Scotland Yard to protect her, an international security consultant said [on September 2 1997].
“The accident was completely avoidable,” said Robert L. Oatman, speaking from London. Oatman, whose main office is in Towson, arrived from Paris a day before the fatal high-speed crash in a Seine-side tunnel that killed Diana, 36; her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, 42; and chauffeur Henri Paul, 41, who French authorities say was drunk at the wheel.
Although Diana used Scotland Yard’s highly trained Royalty Protection Group when she was with her sons, Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12, she refused it in her private capacity in her determination to be independent from the royal family since her divorce from Prince Charles last year.
“It never would have happened if she had not done that,” said Oatman. “The driver would have been stone sober and he would have been a skilled professional. The RPG is the best in the world, they’re a model to be around.
“The close-in protection officer would have had her interests first in mind, he wouldn’t have jeopardized her life under any circumstances. He would have automatically requested help from French police, who don’t tolerate this [paparazzi] nonsense.”
The article referenced private security detail for Diana and Dodi Al Fayed, who was also killed in the crash, and the debate about the circumstances under which they died:
Scotland Yard had expressed concern at Diana’s decision to abandon its protection and members of Parliament [on September 2 1997] raised questions about her protection.
Peter Luff, a Conservative member of Parliament, said, “The question that needs to be asked is how the mother of a future king was allowed to be driven by someone over the limit. It is all very well to protect people from the IRA, but we should be able to protect them also from being driven by drunkards, a much more mundane but, as it turned out, fatal threat.”
Why Diana didn’t have proper protection “is one of those questions which we will not get an answer to,” said Lawrie Quinn, a Labor member of Parliament.
Without official protection, Oatman said, Diana was bound to find herself eventually in the hands of people unequipped to handle such a highly charged situation.
A London security expert told Reuters that the Mercedes-Benz should have been followed by at least one fully equipped chase car with additional bodyguards. “You’d love to have a package like that but that was not the lifestyle she and Al Fayed chose, to bring attention to yourself,” Oatman said.
As the article noted, the sole survivor of the crash was a bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones. But more importantly, the article examined concerns that Diana was insufficiently protected along with the level of security needed for people like Diana, who have left the palace but remain high-profile public figures.
In the immediate aftermath of the interview given by Harry and Meghan, a popular tweet claimed that Diana had “lost her royal protection and would be alive today if she had retained it.” In a follow-up, the same account clarified that Diana had refused protection, rather than been denied. Discussions about Diana’s death and “royal protection” was prompted by the couple’s discussion of having abruptly been cut off from royal security; a November 2020 editorial authored by Diana’s friend appeared to be the source for the muddied claim that she had “lost” her royal protection.