Final views Princess Diana's last substantive interview, with journalist Annick Cojean, was published Aug. 27 by the French newspaper Le Monde. She began by focusing on a photograph.

September 07, 1997

Princess Diana was the hostess.

Yes, the princess would see me - at 11 a.m. sharp, the fax specified. She was at home - at Kensington Palace - relaxed, independent. It was probably the only place where she didn't risk being targeted by camera zooms.

She was wearing a short, sleeveless dress, matching her eyes, unless they were reflecting its color. She wore a necklace of large pearls, high heels and a quiet assurance demonstrated by her smile and her friendly way of proffering her hand. Above all, she seemed free, and her simplicity was a nice surprise coming from someone whom protocol dictates should be addressed as "Ma'am."

Diana led us to a private reception room on the second floor, a warm, feminine room decorated in pastels and beiges, with a few pieces of antique furniture and comfortable armchairs and, everywhere possible, wood- and silver-framed photos. They were mostly of her two sons, William and Harry, and also of her two sisters and brother, and her late father, Baron Spencer.

She had accepted the idea of an interview focused on a photograph of her. It seemed that the princess had drawers full of pictures. But it was our selection that interested her immediately - no stolen, private or intimate shots, but known pictures of the public personality that reinforced the legend of the warm-hearted princess focusing on a social problem or a humanitarian cause.

Diana looked at them one at a time, giving a spirited account of each: where, when, with whom.

"I pay a great deal of attention to people, and I remember them," she said. "Every meeting, every visit is special."

She passed in review a children's hospital, a shelter for the homeless, a jobless center, an AIDS research lab, a battered-women's hospice, a leprosarium tent in Zimbabwe, a nutrition camp in Nepal.

Then Diana stopped at a photocopy of a picture taken in 1996 in Pakistan.

"We were in Pakistan, in Lahore at the Shaukat Khanum Hospital, which specialized in cancer treatment. I had come for a day to see the ailing children, to encourage the staff and perhaps help in raising funds. My visit had been announced beforehand, and there was an atmosphere of friendly and joyful excitement. I was talking to different people and lingering over some of the children. Later on there was going to be a distribution of sweets and a show put on by 40 little patients in costume. But a sick child suddenly caught my attention.

"He was a serious little boy with sad eyes and a worn body. And I only had eyes for him. I can't say why. I knew he was going to die.

"I asked his mother, 'May I take him in my arms?' She smiled.

She was delighted. We were laughing softly as she was giving me the child. Then, he said in a little, worried voice, 'Please don't make fun of me.'

"My God! How could we? I was speechless. His mother explained to him that we were just talking. But the child couldn't see, not anymore. Yes, that child was blind. A tumor was ravaging his brain. I hugged him very tight.

"The child died very soon after that. I was told so on a later visit. I can't forget him."

She put it aside on the sofa and continued to look somewhat distractedly through the other pictures. She laughed out loud occasionally over some that caught her being too formal. But she returned to the picture of the child.

"If I have to pick one out, without any hesitation, it's this one," she said.

The photo showed a human experience, not an official duty.

"It's really a private moment in a public event - a private emotion that a photo turns into public behavior. It's a curious coming-together of things. Still, if I had the choice, it's in that kind of surrounding, where I feel perfectly in harmony, that I prefer to be photographed."

Private, public, where's the distinction?

A very public life

The princess created confusion by shattering the borderline between the two spheres, by introducing privacy into the public space. She put feeling and emotion into her official duties and obligations. There was no defensive outer armor. The commitment was sincere, and she put her best into it.

It was also risky. The public had felt it from the start, under the spell of her compassion and her identification with common people. The Establishment, the politicians and princes of appearance were far less appreciative. In a flash, the princess revealed their coldness, their distance, their cynicism.

Look at her gestures with the Bosnian grandmother she took to her bosom, with a young man afflicted with AIDS whose hand she held between hers so long, with the little one-legged Angolan child who sat on her lap. She kissed, caressed, embraced.

"Yes, I do touch. I believe that everyone needs that, whatever their age. When you put your hand on a friendly face, you make contact right away; you communicate warmth, show that you're close by. It's a gesture that comes to me naturally from the heart. It's not premeditated."

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