Princess Diana’s relationships with the press, the paparazzi and Camilla Parker Bowles (now Queen Camilla) filled pages of news reports in the weeks before her untimely death in 1997, a period that has now been dramatized in the newly released episodes of Netflix‘s hit royal show, The Crown.

Portrayed by actress Elizabeth Debicki in the first four episodes of the final season, Diana is shown developing her romance with movie producer and Harrods heir Dodi Fayed, beginning with their meeting on a vacation at the home of his father, Mohamed Al Fayed, in July 1997.

In the show, Diana tells her elder son, Prince William (Rufus Kampa), that she wanted to take the vacation to St. Tropez to be out of England while Prince Charles (Dominic West) hosted a lavish 50th birthday party for Camilla (Olivia Williams).

Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in St. Tropez in Season 6 of “The Crown,” 2023, and (inset) Camilla in England on June 13, 1996. Camilla’s 50th birthday party is included in “The Crown.”
Netflix/Dave Benett/Getty Images

In one scene, Diana is shown on Camilla’s birthday sailing out on a speedboat to speak to the press and pose for the paparazzi, who had rented vessels to stake out the villa at which she was staying.

The show then depicts Charles being angered that his ex-wife’s display pushed coverage of Camilla’s birthday off the front pages.

Newsweek looks at the real story behind The Crown‘s portrayal of Princess Diana‘s summer vacation while Camilla turned 50.

Was Princess Diana on Vacation for Camilla’s 50th Birthday Celebrations?

Princess Diana took a summer vacation with Prince William and Prince Harry from July 11-20, 1997, at the home of billionaire Harrods department store owner Mohamed Al Fayed in St. Tropez, France.

The royals were closely followed by members of the press and paparazzi for the length of their stay at the private villa, known as the Castle St. Therese. The villa looked out to sea, where photographers had rented boats to capture images of the royals, which appeared in British and world newspapers.

Camilla Parker Bowles turned 50 on July 17, while Diana and the princes were on vacation. Camilla had been romantically linked to Charles for a number of years and was widely accepted to be his long-term partner at this point.

In 1995, Diana publicly commented on her then-husband’s affair with Camilla, saying: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

The prince and princess formally divorced in the summer of 1996.

For Camilla’s 50th birthday, Charles hosted a lavish birthday party for her at his Highgrove country estate in Gloucestershire. No members of the royal family attended.

"The Crown" Camilla 50th Birthday
Dominic West as Prince Charles and Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker Bowles in Season 6 of “The Crown.” On July 18, 1997, Charles threw Camilla a 50th birthday party at Highgrove, while Princess Diana was on vacation.

Did Princess Diana Show Off to Paparazzi on Camilla’s Birthday?

While on vacation, Princess Diana was accused in the press of attempting to steal attention from Camilla’s birthday by courting the paparazzi.

During her time at the Al Fayed villa, Diana was photographed wearing a series of striking swimsuits on the private beach and taking part in jet ski races with her sons in front of the paparazzi, who had rented boats moored to watch the royals.

On July 14, three days before Camilla’s birthday and four days before the party hosted by Charles, Diana shocked the press by appearing in a speedboat that approached them, passing the paparazzi to stop by a yacht on which tabloid reporters from Rupert Murdoch‘s Mirror Group Newspapers were stationed.

The princess was wearing a leopard-print swimsuit and was photographed speaking to the journalists, images of which ran alongside the news scoops they were given in the next day’s papers.

According to the reports filed by the reporters she spoke to, Diana asked for privacy while on vacation, revealing that William and Harry had encouraged her to move away from Britain to escape the press intrusion into her life. She also said she couldn’t be expected stay behind locked doors at Kensington Palace.

She also famously told the journalists that she was passionately working on her landmines charity work and that: “You will get a big surprise with the next thing I do.”

Contrary to The Crown‘s portrayal of the interaction, it didn’t take place on Camilla’s birthday or the day of her birthday party.

Princess Diana in St Tropez
Princess Diana in a leopard-print swimsuit in St. Tropez, France, in July 1997. The paparazzi photographed the royals from boats moored near the Al Fayed villa.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

Diana did, however, make a media splash on Camilla’s birthday. On July 17, the princess was once again photographed wearing her leopard-print swimsuit in St. Tropez.

On the day of Camilla’s party hosted by Charles, July 18, the Daily Mirror in Britain published the revealing images of Diana by the water with a satirical headline, reading: “Dear Camilla, This will keep you off the front page. Happy Birthday & Breast Wishes love Diana.”

The Crown Season 6 Part 1 is available to stream on Netflix now.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek‘s royal reporter, based in London. You can find him on X (formerly Twitter) at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek‘s The Royals Facebook page.

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