Silent No More
03/20/2000 at 01:00 AM EST
Trevor Rees-Jones is hardly a kiss-and-tell kind of guy. The lone survivor of the August 1997 Paris car crash that killed Princess Diana, 36, and the man for whom he worked as bodyguard, Dodi Fayed, 42, the former British paratrooper has declined offers of up to $1 million for tell-all interviews. He maintained his silence even after Dodi's father, Egyptian tycoon Mohamed Al Fayed, alleged in August 1998 that Rees-Jones's "incompetence and unprofessional practices" caused the crash.
Now, in a turn of events that has stunned even the most steadfast royal watchers, Rees-Jones, 32, is offering his own 336-page account of the weeks leading up to the crash in The Bodyguard's Story: Diana, the Crash and the Sole Survivor. In exclusive excerpts that appeared last week in Britain's Daily Telegraph days before the book hit stores in the United Kingdom and a week before its U.S. publication, the 6'2" Rees-Jones dismissed Al Fayed's theory of a British secret service plot to assassinate Diana. Instead he paints a vivid picture of a capricious Dodi whose quest for private time with Diana led to the fatal last-minute driving arrangements. "I go mad thinking about if onlys," Rees-Jones told the Telegraph.
According to his account, minutes before Dodi's black Mercedes pulled away from the Al Fayed-owned Ritz Hotel, Henri Paul, 41, the hotel's deputy security director, who would die drunk at the wheel, told Rees-Jones and his colleague Alexander "Kez" Wingfield, "Dodi doesn't want a bodyguard." After Rees-Jones shot back, "You aren't leaving without security," Dodi capitulated. As for Wingfield's appeals for a backup car, Rees-Jones writes, "Dodi evoked the magic words 'It's been okayed by my father.' "
In the Daily Telegraph interview, Rees-Jones—who cannot recall the moments immediately before and after the crash—described Dodi as "a complete pain in the backside," whose mercurial attitude toward security arrangements pushed Rees-Jones to the brink of quitting. He also claims that as the swarm of paparazzi around Dodi and Diana multiplied, he and Wingfield, who were working 18-hour days, made two unsuccessful calls to Al Fayed's London headquarters asking for backup.
Of Diana, whom he praises as "the sort of woman you could take down the pub," he writes that he and other bodyguards felt "she could do miles better than this guy, for Christ's sake." He says he doesn't know if the pair became engaged, as Al Fayed has claimed, but he offers a riotous version of the evening that Al Fayed says Dodi bought Diana a $200,000 diamond-and-emerald engagement" ring in Monte Carlo. As Rees-Jones recalls, the pair went ashore from the yacht and took off on foot, Dodi s puffing as he tried to keep up with the fit Diana, then getting them lost. "The ring may be real," Rees-Jones concluded, "but the circumstances of its purchase and its purpose are lost in myth."
Al Fayed responded last week by attempting—unsuccessfully—to block publication of the excerpts. It was likely concerns about such a move that prompted Rees-Jones to keep the project hush-hush for an entire year. Moira Johnston, a California author of six books who ghostwrote the book with Rees-Jones in Oswestry, England, says, "He didn't want to write it," but felt that "his honor, reputation and credibility required him to respond" to Al Fayed's charges.
Rees-Jones, who the British press speculates could make up to $1.6 million from the tome, reportedly has already used part of his advance to buy a two-bedroom home near Oswestry, close to his mother's place. (He and his wife, Sue Jones, 31, have been separated since before the accident; they have no children.) The former bodyguard is now healthy enough to play rugby with a local amateur team, though half his scarred face remains numb. And while Rees-Jones reportedly hopes to become a security consultant, he issued a statement on March 4 explaining that he needs money to cover the tens of thousands in legal fees he incurred because of the crash investigation—some of which Al Fayed promised to pay as long as Rees-Jones was in his employ. "He's had a hard time of it," says Mark Jones, a rugby pal, "and deserves some benefits."
Pete Norman and Simon Perry in London and Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles