Princess Diana’s death was one of the earliest conspiracy theories on the internet, and people still believe it | Panda Anku

Kraig Hall, 20, doesn’t remember Princess Diana. He was not old enough to watch her funeral on TV on September 6, 1997. To see the procession from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey or their two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, following on foot. Despite all of this, Hall firmly believes he knows one thing about the Princess of Wales: that she was murdered.

Hall first heard about the Princess of Wales when he was 13 years old. His family sat around the dining table and spoke differently about them than the rest of the British monarchy. “Every single member of my family or anyone I spoke to said the same thing; that Diana was the best,” he says. “She was almost seen as a goddess.” It wasn’t until Hall began studying Diana at school that he became hooked: “That’s when I got pretty obsessed, I’ll be honest.”

Hall is among a growing number of Gen Zs drawn to the memory of Princess Diana. His TikTok account, which shares monarchy-related conspiracy theories alongside other more light-hearted videos, has grown to over 130,000 followers.

He’s not alone: ​​Enter “Princess Diana” in TikTok and terms like “Princess Diana is still alive” and “Princess Diana conspiracy” are offered as the most popular search fields. “I think for my generation, we can all agree that her death was very suspicious,” says Hall.

Princess Diana died in Paris aged 36 (Picture: John Stillwell/PA)

In the early hours of Sunday August 31, 1997, Princess Diana and her partner Dodi Al-Fayed were traveling in a Mercedes from the Hotel Ritz in Paris when they were involved in an accident. Their driver, Henri Paul, drove through an underground tunnel at high speed in what appeared to be an attempt to flee photographers. None of the passengers were wearing seat belts.

Despite numerous studies concluding that it was an accident, as recently as 2013, 38 percent of people in the UK in a YouGov poll thought Diana’s death was not an accident, and a further 21 percent said they didn’t know. .

Conspiracy theorists have since grasped at straws to blame everyone from the security services, with the help of HRH Prince Philip, to the IRA. Now, 25 years after her death, a new Channel 4 documentary seeks to debunk those theories once and for all.

In particular, the show examines how the early internet — chat rooms and forums that boomed before the turn of the millennium — thrived on these baseless speculations. These digital death conspiracy theories were then fed back into the mainstream discussion.

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The first theories to surface in the months after Princess Diana’s death spread like wildfire in comments on CNN’s website and in Yahoo’s chat rooms, says Fred Henson, assistant producer on the series, who spent hours archiving to browse. According to Henson, one forum that particularly added fuel to the fire was Usenet, a forum that existed before the World Wide Web.

“The person who built and ran Usenet had a very particular worldview,” says Henson. In the 1990s, the network was notorious for conspiracies and users frequently discussed theories about the British Army and cover-ups in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. But then the forum in the UK became more and more popular among women. “Housewives were prominent posters. I felt like for them it was more like they stumbled upon this group and their discussion of Diana and then they kind of went down the rabbit hole. The site had a lot about deep state conspiracy stuff, assassination and spies and stuff like that,” adds Henson.

In fact, these theories became so widespread that an investigation, Operation Paget, was set up to address them head-on and forensically dismantle them. “The main purpose of Operation Paget,” says the 832-page report released after the inquest, “was to assess all credible evidence supporting the charge of conspiracy to murder, and not that of the French investigation to re-investigate issues under investigation.” .

Former Met Police Detective Dave Douglas was one of the lead investigators at Paget. He retraced the steps of the French investigation, looking for clues and clues; Interview with Prince Charles and full access to MI6 files. The result of the investigation? According to French police, the crash was simply a tragic accident.

Douglas tellsI he wasn’t sure about appearing in the new doc: “Then I thought it’d be better to be there than to have an open field where people can [make] stupid claims again. I thought it’s better to tell people what we think is the truth and then let them do it.”

Lady Diana Spencer unveils her engagement ring (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Operation Paget systematically took and dissected hundreds of theories. This is in marked contrast to the approach taken by most law enforcement agencies following other global events that have fueled their share of online conspiracy theories. For example, after September 11, 2001.

“It was clear from the start that this whole thing was about transparency,” says Douglas. “When you’re dealing with conspiracy allegations, you have to shine a light on everything, you can’t take anything away because then it just becomes a conspiracy.” But even this type of investigation had never been done before.

After much discussion, the Metropolitan Police decided that making Operation Paget as public as possible was the right thing to do. “We wanted the public to know as much as we do; just letting it all out,” says Douglas. “There are some people who just want to believe conspiracy charges. You can give them all the facts you want, but people prefer to believe. It’s more interesting; it’s not that boring.”

But why does this fascination with conspiracy theories surrounding her death continue online nearly two decades later? The Covid-19 pandemic could be partly to blame, says Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent. “[Conspiracy theories] Reach out more to people in times of crisis. This is possibly one reason why conspiracy theories have become more prominent since the outbreak of the pandemic.”

And sometimes an event can be so catastrophic to society that a mundane explanation just doesn’t make sense — it doesn’t feel explained enough for the break. “Official explanations can seem pretty mundane, and conspiracy theories offer an explanation that’s proportional to how the event feels,” Douglas explains.

Not to mention that Princess Diana herself is still unavoidable: her image is inspirational Fashion photo shoots; her images plastered across the internet; Her sons still pay tribute to her 36 years of work. “There is no modern equivalent of a celebrity of this magnitude; not even the Kardashians, which we now think are huge,” says Fred Hinston, Assistant Document Producer.

“The fact that she died in such a spectacular yet mundane way made it difficult to close. I think that’s why we find it so difficult to accept her death and why the conspiracies continue,” he adds.

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