Princess Diana's bodyguard on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's car chase: 'Only getting a part of the story'
Lee Sansum served as the late Princess of Wales' bodyguard in July 1997, one month before her death in a tragic car accident at the age of 36
Princess Diana's former bodyguard Lee Sansum shared his thoughts on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's alleged "near catastrophic" car chase in New York City.
The ex-Royal Military Police officer provided security for the late Princess of Wales and her sons Prince William and Prince Harry during the summer of 1997, prior to Diana's fatal collision that August.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Sansum weighed in on the May 16 incident, during which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex claimed paparazzi relentlessly pursued them and Meghan's mother Doria Ragland for over two hours through the streets of Manhattan.
"I think really from the information that we're reading — that is put out by the press and whoever — I think we're only getting a part of the story," he said.
Sansum continued, "Whether it's entirely the correct story, it's a version of the story. But from my experience in the past, the paparazzi, the people taking the photographs… they are so intrusive. And eventually it just breaks you down.
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"Initially, you can just can get on with it and you can kind of put up with it. But it's very oppressive. And eventually, even the coolest of us, you're just, ‘Enough, man.’"
The security professional noted that paparazzi pursuits to get the "money shot" can not only jeopardize the safety of the photographer's subjects, but also that of bystanders.
"I find it absolutely crazy that these people are allowed to do this and put the public at risk, chasing people," Sansum said. "We say ‘chasing,’ we assume that they're going really fast. They don't have to be going fast, but they're cutting people off… They're advancing through traffic in an aggressive manner to catch a vehicle, to take a photograph that is going to make them money. And it's putting people at risk."
Sansum went on to cite Diana's accident as a "classic example" of a paparazzi chase that ended in tragedy. The princess, her partner Dodi Fayed and their chauffeur Henri Paul were killed on Aug. 31, 1997, when their vehicle crashed in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris as they were fleeing from photographers.
The car's fourth passenger, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, was severely injured but survived the accident. At the time, Rees-Jones and Sansum were employed by Fayed's father Mohamed Al-Fayed as part of their family's protection team.
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In his 2022 memoir "Protecting Diana: A Bodyguard’s Story," Sansum recalled how he became part of the security detail tasked with guarding Diana and her sons during their vacation in Saint-Tropez, France. The royals stayed with Fayed, an Egyptian film producer, on Mohamed's luxury yacht the Jonikal in July 1997.
Sansum remembered that he befriended Diana and became one of her confidantes. He told Fox News Digital that the then-36-year-old shared her fears regarding the paparazzi's aggressive behavior.
He said, "This is what Princess Diana told me. She was trying to get the government in the U.K. to pass a bill and she failed. To stop them pursuing people. It's relentless and it just grinds people down. And I just sympathize with anybody that has these people chasing them."
In his memoir, Sansum wrote that paparazzi swarmed the Jonikal daily in an effort to snap photos of Diana and Fayed. However, he explained that William and Harry, who were 15 and 12 at the time, appeared mostly unaffected by the media attention due to their young ages.
"At that time, they were young boys," Sansum said. "When kids are so young, they don't kind of grasp what's going on."
He continued, "I think they were so kind of focused on enjoying the hospitality of the Al-Fayed family and all the toys that they had and the boats, the jet skis and all the rest of it. I think they were more focused on that."
"We were trying to circumnavigate the paparazzi to get them some respite and some peace, so they could enjoy the holiday," Sansum added. "They were kind of shielded from what was going on. So I think at that age, they were aware of it, but it didn't kind of get to them as it would an adult. But I do know they disliked the paparazzi."
Sansum said that he took issue with the term "paparazzi," which he noted was more of a European descriptor at the time.
"We all call them the 'paparazzi’ now," he said. "But originally it was a European kind of thing. And the paparazzi now… this is how I personally feel. It's kind of dehumanizing these people. And we give them a name and everybody goes, ‘Oh, it’s the paparazzi.'"
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Sansum continued, "But, for example, in the USA or wherever, these people are — they're neighbors. They live in our communities. They're earning money. You know, they're taking photographs of people. They're not ‘the paparazzi.’ They are our people, they live in our communities. And I think, you know, we kind of call them ‘the paparazzi’ and we kind of distance ourselves from them. But they live next door to the people. They are probably listening to this. They are normal people."
In a 2022 interview with The Sun, Sansum revealed that he could have been on duty on the night of the fatal car crash. He recalled that the security team drew straws to determine who would accompany Rees-Jones in the vehicle. Sansum went on to tell the outlet that Diana and Fayed might not have died in the accident if he had been in the car with them as he always insisted that they wear seatbelts.
Sansum elaborated on his remarks during his interview with Fox News Digital. "I was merely trying to say that if I was on duty that night, it would have changed the whole dynamics of the whole thing," he explained.
"That's the only thing I meant by that," Sansum added. "But also I was extremely strict on all my clients putting their seatbelts on. Always. I've been all over the world. I've been in war zones. I've been in Libya during the second war, working with the Americans up in Somalia when we were getting shot at and all sorts. And every single time before we set off, I tell my people to put their seatbelts on. I've lost a few friends in road traffic accidents all over the world. And, you know, I can say this, that with a hand on my heart, they would have been wearing their seatbelts."
Sansum reflected on how he would have handled last week's incident involving Harry and Meghan if he had been part of their security team.
Sansum explained the importance of having a plan in place ahead of time, as well as anticipating that high-profile clients such as Harry and Meghan would likely be followed by paparazzi after attending an event.
"But sometimes when you have the people that you're looking after, that you're bodyguarding, who are getting stressed and they really lost the plot… Sometimes it can affect the security team," he said. "Those anxious feelings, those feelings of safety and ‘I just want to be on my own with my wife,' it can spill over into anxiety, into anger, and sometimes it can light the security team up."
Sansum continued, "When I speak to my teams that I've had in the past and we've been out in all sorts of places even including war zones, before we go on a mission, you'd say, 'Look, it's highly likely that this is going to happen.' And you go through the scenarios. You say, ‘Right, this happens.’ We've got to keep our cool. We've got to keep our heads. We've got to remember that the mission is to get these people from A to B safely.
"And if the paparazzi in this instance are following and taking pictures, well, we knew it was possible that was going to happen. We've just got to stick to our mission. Kind of forget what's going on in the back of the car, keep a cool head and just get in there safely. And it's difficult when you've got people in your vehicle who would possibly behave in a way that affects the driver. It affects the team. And it can get very personal for somebody working in close protection, executive force protection. This is the number one rule. You cannot take it personally. You've just got to stick to your mission, stick to your drills and do what you know you need to do."
Sansum told Fox News Digital he also believes communication with the clients is key and he always makes them aware of the plan. "If it was me, I'd be saying to Harry and Meghan, 'This is where we're going. This is what's going to happen. This is likely to happen. We're likely to get paparazzi following us. And this is the plan. We're going to drive at a normal speed through the city. They will be trying to get close to us. They will be taking photographs. This will happen. Are you okay with that?,'" he explained.
"And you always get their permission to be calm and collected about this," he added. "And once they understand, when it does start to happen, you can say, 'Excuse me. Do you remember the security safety brief before we started? We're going to stick to the plan. Is that okay? Pretty soon they're going to get bored and they're going to leave us alone.' And just reassure them."
Following the incident, a spokesperson for Prince Harry and Markle told Fox News Digital: "Last night, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms. Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi.
"This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers. While being a public figure comes with a level of interest from the public, it should never come at the cost of anyone’s safety."
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According to royal watcher Omid Scobie, the paparazzi were confronted by police multiple times as they chased the royal couple, who were on their way to a private residence where they were staying. Scobie alleged on Twitter that the photographers had driven on a sidewalk, run through red lights, reversed down a one-way street, photographed the couple while driving and illegally blocked a moving vehicle.
Prince Harry, Meghan and her mother are "understandably shaken but thankful everyone's safe," a source told Scobie.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams criticized the "reckless and irresponsible" incident during a press conference, but also said he found it "hard to believe" a "two-hour, high-speed chase" happened in the densely populated city wrought with traffic, pedestrians and ongoing construction projects.
And Julian Phillips, NYPD deputy commissioner of public information, said, "The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived at their destination and there were no reported collisions, summonses, injuries, or arrests in regard."
Earlier this week, Prince Harry lost a legal challenge seeking the ability to make private payments to police for protection while in the U.K. Lawyers for the government opposed allowing wealthy people to "buy" their own security from the police, according to the BBC.
In September 2021, Prince Harry originally applied for a judicial review of a Home Office decision that kept him from personally paying for police protection while he and his family were in the U.K. Harry and Meghan's tax-payer funded police protection was revoked when they stepped down from their roles as senior royals in 2020.
Sansum told Fox News Digital that he was "not surprised" that Harry's legal challenge was rejected.
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"I'd love to speak to Harry to find out why he wanted the police protection. And I'd like to know and understand about that," he said.
Sansum continued, "If you think about Harry, he's just a normal human being just like you and I. He's obviously coming back to U.K. He's got concerns about his personal security. And he probably knows having the police looking after him, he'll get the best security possible because of the top cover that they have. So he's obviously got issues about certain things.
"I wasn't surprised at all that it was refused. Not at all. But there are companies and there are people here in the U.K. that could give him an extremely high level of security. And he probably knows that as well. But he obviously has some serious concerns."
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Fox News Digital's Lauryn Overhultz and Stephanie Giang-Paunon contributed to this report.