Princess Diana’s Secret Trip to Paris with Friends

In our last post, we dove into Ken Wharfe’s account of his time with Diana in his book Diana: Closely Guarded Secret and how she took a secret trip to Italy that included a midnight tour of Venice. Click here if you missed it or would like a refresher. Among many other illuminating insights (the book is truly worth a read!), the book reveals another undercover trip – a jaunt to Paris in May 1993.

Such a great read! (source)
Such a great read! (source)

Diana had travelled to Paris on a solo visit the year prior, in November 1992 (with her sister Sarah as a Lady in Waiting), and now she wanted to go on an easy, quiet trip with friends during which she hoped she wouldn’t attract any attention from the media.

Princess Diana and Ken Wharfe in Paris 1992 (source)
Princess Diana and Ken Wharfe in Paris during her public 1992 visit (source)

Here’s Lady Sara with the Princess on that official trip (feel free to check out our post on Ladies in Waiting here if you’re in the mood (when you see that post, you’ll notice that it appears that Diana and Sarah wore the same outfits for engagements in 1992 and 1994, just with different accessories).

Diana and her sister Sara (source)
Diana and her sister Sarah in Paris (source)

In a bid “to be normal” she asked Ken Wharfe to arrange the security needed for the private trip. She and two friends, Lady Palumbo and Lucia Flecha de Lima, decided to take the trip together. They flew to Paris on a private jet Lady Palumbo had access to and stayed at the Palumbo’s Parisian home, both of which helped them achieve this undercover trip. Here is his account of the trip.

I had arranged the hire of a plain Renault Espace people carrier at Le Bourget airport, and in that we headed straight for Paris’ high-fashion quarter, where Lady Palumbo had arranged for Diana to have a private viewing at Chanel…before we went on to some other boutiques in the area…their purchases included an Hermes tie for me!…and we then headed to the Palmbo’s award winning house in the exclusive district of Neuilly, close to the Bois de Boulogne, where we were to stay.

So far, no one had any idea we were there, and I had taken the decision not to ask for help from local police this time for fear of leaks to the press. Next day…she was almost skipping along as we approach the chic Marius et Jeanette restaurant.

Diana's restaurant of choice in Paris for lunch with friends (source)
Diana’s restaurant of choice in Paris for lunch with friends (source)

As I followed our party in, my heart sank. There, sitting on his scooter outside the restaurant was one man and his lens- Jean-Paul Dousset, who at that time worked with the notorious paparazzo Daniel Angelli. The year before, they had together exposed the Duchess of York’s love affair with John Brian with those infamous toe-sucking photographs….Luckily Diana didn’t spot him and so remained oblivious to the fact that we had been found out. Then I realized that we hadn’t. For in the corner of the restaurant sat the actor Gerard Depardieu, one of France’s most celebrated sex symbols, and the reason why Dousset had been waiting outside…

Princess Diana had met Gerard Depardieu the previous year in October 1992 at the Royal Premier of '1492' at the Odeon in Leicester Square, London (Getty Images)
Princess Diana had met Gerard Depardieu the previous year in October 1992 at the Royal Premier of ‘1492’ at the Odeon in Leicester Square, London (Getty Images)

Depardieu recognized the Princess at once, and like the perfect French gentleman he is, came over immediately to stand by her table, talking of her great beauty and what a privilege it was for France, for Paris and for him personally that he could be there. She was putty in his hands. And we were all putty in the hands of the freelance photographer outside, who must already have been working out exactly how much he was going to make by selling a set of pictures….I decided to act immediately…knowing that he was not a [security] threat, I offered him a deal. If he kept a discreet distance so that the Princess did not know he was watching her, I would not interfere with his job. In return, he would not release the pictures until we were safely out of France, so that she would not be mobbed and thus have her short break ruined, and her security put at increased risk. He agreed, and was as good as his word. For the rest of the day Jean-Paul trailed us, but always at a distance and never too close to alert the Princess. True to our deal, he dispatched his pictures only after we had left Paris…

Through my secret deal- for I never told the princess – I had kept the number of paparazzi to the smallest number possible -one- and Diana was able to enjoy a trouble-free break. 

These are some of those photos. They show the Princess out and about enjoying the sights, including outside of Notre Dame Cathedral. Ken Wharfe can be spotted in both set of photographs. You can see him to the left of the Princess in the long photograph below – perhaps they were picking up some wine or, if it were me, snacks for the flight home!

Out and About in Paris May 1, 1993 (source)
Out and About in Paris May 1, 1993 (source)

Ken Wharfe is also pictured standing behind the Princess in the top left photograph and to the right of the Princess in the middle photograph on the bottom below. Note that the Princess isn’t wearing any sort of disguise and yet she was able to walk around with ease. She also appears to be carrying a quilted black leather Chanel bag; I wonder if she had just bought it in the boutique the day before.

The sightseeing princess, chic in black & white (source)

Unfortunately, Wharfe resigned from his post later that year when he felt that for a number of reasons related to his relationship with the Princess he was no longer able to do his job effectively. To his credit, in my opinion he doesn’t sound bitter or vindictive; he comes across as evenhanded and excellent at his job. I highly Diana: Closely Guarded Secretsuggest picking up the book to have a good read yourself – you might just find yourself still reading in the early hours of the morning like I was.


Princess Diana’s Secret Visit to Italy

I recently stayed up waaay too late reading a copy of Diana: Closely Guarded Secret which is full of interesting insights. Written by her longtime Personal Protection Officer (PPO) Ken Wharfe (with Robert Jobson), the book seems to me to be an even handed account unto what daily life was like working for the Princess of Wales. It is available on Amazon, and we highly recommend picking up a copy.

Such a great read! (source)
Such a great read! (source)

The book isn’t a new one- it came out in 2002- and it covers the story of how Wharfe worked for Scotland Yard and was eventually hired to protect Princes William and Harry in 1986 (he’d accompany Prince William during his school day at Wetherby Prep School, for example) before moving onto the team protecting Princess Diana the following year.

Ken accompanying William, Harry, and Diana on a trip to the shops (source)
Ken accompanying William, Harry, and Diana on a trip to the shops (source)

This post will give particular attention to a particularly interesting account in the book – an undercover trip to Italy that Diana managed to take with Wharfe’s help. Wharfe reveals how the Princess loved Italy and particularly enjoyed a visit to Villa Rizzardi with her mother Frances Shand Kydd. They were guests of Contessa Maria Christina Guerrieri-Rizzardi aka ‘The Countess of Verona’, a longtime family friend.

Villa Nizzardi n Moonlight (source)
Villa Rizzardi n Moonlight (source)

The plane tickets were booked under ‘Mr. and Mr. Hargreaves’ which evidently was their pseudonym of choice for many trips. It was a short 3-day visit and on the final night the party went to see Pavarotti perform at a nearby concert. They had a marvelous time despite the fact that the concert was cancelled before the end due to a torrential rainstorm.

Princess Diana,and Luciano Pavarotti at Hyde Park concert July 30, 1991 in London. (source)
Princess Diana,and Luciano Pavarotti on a separate occasion at Hyde Park concert July 30, 1991 in London. (source)

Diana, her mum, and the Countess had been spotted by Pavarotti in the crowd and he invited them backstage which they were all excited about. Afterwards, Diana was so thrilled that they had managed not to attract media attention that she asked Ken to arrange for them to drive to Venice- 70 miles away- that very night. Not seeing any security reasons not to, Wharf agreed to help facilitate this request. Here is a snippet of his account of the midnight visit:

Diana jumped out of the Contessa’s car and start[ed] kicking the puddles, as if she were Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. The Venice Carabinieri then arranged for two motor boats to take us off to enjoy the astonishing beauty of Venice by moonlight…

There was no one else around. For the next hour we saw Venice as few have ever been privileged to do. We sailed along the Grand Canal, with the ancient city silhouetted against a stormy sky pierced by a full moon. Armed with a  flat of coffee and a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio, from which Diana would take the occasional swig as we had no glasses, we were midnight tourists in an empty city. She then announced that she wanted to walk through Saint Mark’s Square. The Italian police, who by now had embraced the mood, agreed. We docked our launches at the Hotel Danieli and, still with the tarpaulin over our sodden heads since it had started to rain again, walked towards Saint Mark’s Cathedral at the end of the square. It was an enchanting, if almost unreal experience. The, from nowhere, Sergeant Dave Sharpe appeared with a  tray of hot croissants and small loaves of freshly cooked break which earned him a round of applause from the by now ecstatic Princess. 

They left shortly afterwards, before tourists started to mill about again, and the Princess was able to catch a couple of hours of sleep at the Villa before returning home to London that day. Doesn’t that sound delightful? It’s fun to hear about her spontaneous, bubbly side.

Diana did have two other public trips to Venice. One was with Prince Charles in May 1985. The couple arrived with great fanfare on the Royal Yacht Brittania. The footage below is from a BBC news broadcast and you can spy Diana on the deck of the yacht as it arrives in Venice, with her  binoculars at the ready to see the city.

Upon spotting a can of hair spray floating along in the canal during a ride in a gondola, Diana was said to have remarked that it appeared her hairdresser had fallen in – ha!

The Princes and Princess of Wales in Venice (source)
The Princes and Princess of Wales in Venice (source)

Diana returned in 1995 and attended a dinner in aid of the Serpentine Gallery wearing a red beaded cocktail dress by Jacques Azagury. Pictures from that evening were splashed around the world.

Diana in Venice (source)
Diana arriving at the event in Venice looking like a million bucks (source)

If you’d like to pick up a copy of the book for yourself, it can be found here.  But we’re not done with this great book yet – next up we have a look at Wharfe’s account of Diana’s undercover visit to Paris with friends during the spring of 1992. Are you charmed that she was able to have a midnight adventure in Venice, too?