A former royal pilot has revealed the events that took place shortly after Princess Diana’s tragic death. Graham Laurie – King Charles’ former pilot – experienced, first-hand how the sad day unfolded in the royal household.
In conversation with A Right Royal Podcast, he recounted previously unknown details – including the trip that Prince William was due to take from Aberdeen, where he had spent part of his summer.
The plan, however, was soon derailed after word of his mother’s death darkened the world. Graham recalled the immediate moments after hearing of Princess Diana’s accident. The shocking news had been broken to him by his son, who woke him up at his home in the middle of the night.
“I dashed downstairs and rang Strike Command. I said there will be changes for tomorrow. I was due to fly Prince William from Aberdeen back down to Lyneham because he was going back to school a couple of days later,” he said.
“I got up again at about six in the morning and found out that Princess Diana had died.”
Instead of the planned flight to collect William from Aberdeen, Graham had to take the then Prince Charles to Paris.
But the events that followed were unprecedented and unforgettable. “Half an hour before we were due to take off, I got a call from the household to say that we may be bringing the body back. We had no idea that was going to happen.”
In explaining why, the news came as a shock to him, Graham explained that there was no Operations Order in place for the death of Princess Diana because she was so young. As she had died overseas in France, the working assumption was that she would return to the country on the fourth day after her death.
The change in plans meant a change in aircraft to accommodate for the coffin on its departure from Paris.
“It was between the private secretary, myself and the policeman. Between us, we were organising what we were going to do. We didn’t really know when we were coming back.
“As I was flying over London going out to Paris from Aberdeen, air traffic asked me to contact Northolt Operations. So, I did. They said, ‘when are you going to get back?’ and I said ‘Well it’s another hour to Paris, we’ll probably be on the ground for another two hours, and then there’s an hour back. Let’s say about seven o’clock.’ Ten minutes later they announced to the world’s press that the aircraft would return at seven in the evening.”
By some miracle, the aircraft arrived within seconds of Graham’s estimate. “It really was a day to remember,” he said.