10/06/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
SINCE JOINING PEOPLE'S LONDON Bureau three years ago, Lydia Denworth had become all too familiar with the ups and downs in the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. From the weekend given up to reporting the 1994 cover on Charles's biography in which he revealed he had never really loved Diana, to the six weeks last spring she spent negotiating for, and then contributing to, our exclusive report on the dresses in Diana's charity auction, "I don't think there was a working day here where Di didn't somehow figure in," says Denworth, who last year was named our European bureau chief.
Ironically, on the night of Diana's tragic accident, Denworth was not just minutes away from her London office, but in a rented cottage in Tuscany, Italy, enjoying her first extended vacation in two years. Still, news of Diana's death reached her soon enough. At 9:30 the next morning, Denworth's husband, Mark Justh, a banker, received a call from London correspondent Simon Perry and raced down into the town of Coreglia Antelminelli, where Denworth was buying groceries. "My knees literally buckled," recalls Denworth, 30. "I almost didn't believe it." The couple took the next plane home.
By 7 p.m., when she arrived back at her office, Denworth's three-member London staff (Perry, Bryan Alexander and Nina Biddle) and Paris correspondent Cathy Nolan had been joined by eight other PEOPLE correspondents and were feverishly reporting the one story on Diana they had hoped never to cover. Investigating the causes of the crash, monitoring the arrests of the paparazzi and tapping contacts close to the royal family "was so sad," says Denworth. "Many of our sources were crying on the phone."
The following week, to cover Diana's funeral, Denworth expanded her crew to 20, bringing in reporters from New York City, Miami, Berlin, Rome and Athens. "Lydia's instincts are always right on target," says PEOPLE news director Kristen Kelch. "I never had to worry that reporting wouldn't be top-notch."
A Philadelphia native, Denworth was an experienced royals-watcher even before coming to PEOPLE. After her sophomore year at Princeton University, Denworth had a summer job working for the Philadelphia Inquirer in London, where she reported on the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. And while she'll continue to cover the aftermath of Di's death (see page 64 for a story on paparazzi Jacques Langevin and Nikola Arsov) and the ongoing Windsor saga, Denworth says, "It just won't be the same. Diana was unlike anyone else in the royal family." She speaks from firsthand experience. At the London preview of Diana's auction in June, the two chatted. "I complimented her on the success of the event," Denworth recalls. "She smiled and said, 'It was William's idea. And now he wants a cut off the top.' "