Why Princess Diana conspiracy theories refuse to die

Derek Arnold is an Instructor in Communication at Villanova University


August 31 is the 20th anniversary of the stunning, tragic death of Princess Diana in Paris, France, when Diana’s chauffeured Mercedes hit a pillar inside an underpass just after midnight, killing her, her boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed, and her driver, Henri Paul.

As the news quickly circulated, theories about the causes of the crash also spread, with some veering into conspiracy. Did the ruthless paparazzi, in hot pursuit of the car, cause the driver to panic? Had the royal family murdered her to avert an embarrassing marriage?

Twenty years later, these conspiracy theories still persist.

I’ve taught classes and researched the nature of conspiracy theories for over a decade, and I’m especially interested in the role of logic in these conspiracies – how it’s used to warp and concoct stories that explain extraordinary events.

In the end, our reasons for entertaining conspiracy theories about luminaries, whether it’s the princess of Wales or John F. Kennedy, often have more to do with our lives than theirs.

What people were saying

Shortly after Princess Diana’s death, numerous notions started to circulate suggesting conspiracies against her.

Some suggested that MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, caused the crash by blinding Diana’s driver with a strobe light. The thinking went that the royal family wanted to prevent Princess Diana from marrying her boyfriend, Fayed, the son of a prominent Egyptian billionaire. (Others say that Diana was pregnant with Dodi Fayed’s baby.)

Some have also been suspicious about the emergency response to the accident. The initial call notifying emergency services came at 12:26 a.m.; she arrived at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris (3.5 miles away) at 2:06 a.m., over 90 minutes later.

Could she have been saved? Why was the response so slow?

Most of these theories were proven to be either wrong or misleading. In 2008, after a lengthy investigation, the…

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