Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed are lounging on the sundeck of a reportedly ?15 million yacht in The Crown’s season six episode “Two Photographs” when Dodi’s domineering father telephones an onboard employee with an urgent question.
“Are they sleeping together?” Mohamed Al Fayed demands to know.?
It’s an audacious question—but Mohamed really was checking in on the couple hourly during this August 1997 cruise, according to Tom Bower, who wrote an unauthorized biography of the billionaire called Fayed. The late princess was aware that these calls were coming in—so much so that she joked to Dodi, “God is calling,” when she heard a ring, according to Dodi’s spiritual healer, Myriah Daniels, who was onboard. In 2007, during the inquest into the 1997 crash that killed the princess, Dodi, and their driver, Henri Paul, Daniels said that this became one of Diana’s inside jokes with Dodi. “They’d both have a giggle,” she said.?
Diana had vacationed with Mohamed, as well as Prince William and Prince Harry, aboard the Jonikal earlier that summer. As depicted in The Crown’s season six episode “Persona Non Grata,” that first Jonikal vacation featured Jet Skis and a flirtation between Diana and the flotilla of press nearby.?
“The young princes didn’t like [the trip] much,” Tina Brown writes in The Palace Papers. “The flash and excess of [Mohamed’s] hospitality—the groaning buffets and the palatial bathrooms—embarrassed William in particular.” Dodi, who was asked by his father to join the trip midway, did not help matters by making the “oddly flamboyant gesture of renting a disco for William and Harry to enjoy privately,” according to royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith in Diana in Search of Herself.
During the summer of 1997, the billionaire ordered Dodi to drop everything—including his model fiancée, Kelly Fisher—and romance the late princess. Speaking about Mohamed, Bedell Smith previously told Vanity Fair, “He was really the puppet master behind Dodi and Diana’s very brief, barely more than a month, romance…. Dodi basically did whatever his father told him to do.”
Diana’s association with Mohamed caused serious backlash in the press. “These days, Diana, you are no longer the Teflon Princess,” warned Andrew Morton, the biographer behind her bridge-burning tell-all, Diana: Her True Story, in The Sun. “You might have the run of a ?20 million yacht, but your friends and fans see a woman who is drifting on the sea of life, seriously in danger of becoming shipwrecked.” Referring to Diana’s cat-and-mouse game with the paparazzi during that initial trip, columnist Judith Whelan wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, “Diana has been erratic before. This time, however, she has done it while hosted by one of the most reviled men in Britain.”
Despite the press outrage over her association with Mohamed, Diana agreed to return to the Jonikal for the intimate trip reimagined in “Two Photographs.” “Alone in August and attracted to [Dodi], [a] sympathetic, unthreatening listener, she accepted the invitation for a second trip alone with Dodi to the Jonikal on 31 July,” wrote Bower in Fayed. “Over the next six days…the two frolicked on the sundecks, inside the sumptuous craft and in the sea.”
Dodi indulged Diana with her favorite meals—“which included carrot juice in the morning, fruit at lunch, and fish in the evening, as well as plenty of Champagne, caviar, and p?té de foie gras,” according to Diana in Search of Herself. The music was Diana’s selection as well: George Michael’s 1996 album, Older, the occasional Frank Sinatra tune, and the soundtrack of The English Patient. “Such a marvelous film,” Diana raved to Dodi’s butler, Rene Delorm, according to Fayed. “And you miss the music when you’re watching.”
Mohamed’s staff was so attentive to Diana that the Jonikal’s chief stewardess, Deborah Gribble, could remember the tiniest detail, like that some of Diana’s birth control packets were half-used. Speaking at the inquest, she also confirmed that Dodi and Diana “were clearly having a relationship and were a couple.”
Dodi lavished Diana with gifts during their six-week courtship, including a pearl bracelet, a diamond-studded wristwatch, a silver photo frame, and a gold-and-diamond ring. When the Jonikal docked in Sardinia’s Porto Cervo, according to Brown’s The Diana Chronicles, Diana and Dodi went shopping and returned with cashmere sweaters for the princess—one in every color.?
Mohamed, meanwhile, was busy behind the scenes calling press. News of the relationship between Diana and Dodi broke the first week of August, less than a month before Diana’s death. The Sun ran the news with the headline “Di’s Secret Hol With Harrods Hunk Dodi,” while Mohamed’s publicist touted the relationship as “the romance of the century.”
But by the end of the trip, according to those who knew Diana, she intended their fling to be just that. The late princess suspected that Dodi might propose to her, according to Brown, but she told a friend that an engagement ring would be “going firmly on the fourth finger of my right hand” should it be presented. As recreated in “Two Pictures,” there was “a chaotic evening ashore in Monte Carlo when Dodi suddenly decided to send for the tender and take the princess for a walk.” Rather than going for a romantic stroll, however, Dodi “got her lost after a long pant up a hill trying to evade the paparazzi,” Brown writes.?
It was so embarrassing, she continues, that Trevor Rees-Jones, a bodyguard on Mohamed’s payroll, “began to feel sorry for the princess; he believed she deserved better.”
According to Gribble, Dodi also became impatient with the amount of press attention Diana was receiving.
“The tension was noticeable throughout the trip and increasing as time wore on,” Gribble revealed during the inquest. “By the time we went to Paris, there was real tension. It was incredible. It was all so tense.”?
Days before her fatal accident, Diana called her sister from the Jonikal, confiding that any love spell cast on her earlier had been broken. While she did not get into specifics, Sarah McCorquodale later told the court, “I just did not think the relationship had much longer to go.”
During that final trip on the Jonikal, Diana was photographed sitting alone on a diving board in an aqua swimsuit. The image remains so iconic that, 26 years after it was taken, Netflix recreated the visual in its promotional materials for The Crown’s sixth season.
Contrary to what the photo showed, though, Diana was never really alone. By the end of the cruise, the princess suspected that Mohamed was doing more than periodically checking in with the Jonikal staff. As McCorquodale revealed during the inquest, “She thought the boat was being bugged by Mr. Al Fayed Senior.”