Princess Diana Car Accident: New Play Shines Light on Erasure of Dodi Fayed

Twenty-five years after the crash, there are still only two people who know what happened at the Ritz in Paris on the night of August 31, 1997.

Playwright Kareem Fahmy's Dodi & Diana, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt and currently playing a limited run at New York's HERE theater, attempts to unpack the lovers' relationship via another's: a married couple—he a white finance guy (Peter Mark Kendall), she an Egyptian American actress (Rosaline Elbay) on the rise—who have traveled to Paris to stay in the same hotel as the tragic pair, on the same night nearly three decades later.

"I had a very strong sense of the monarchy in the royal family growing up," Fahmy, who is Canadian and of Egyptian heritage, told Newsweek. "I have such a vivid memory of the day [Diana died] and I think one of the reasons it was so vivid is because of hearing on the news time and time again during those those few days, 'Princess Diana and her Egyptian boyfriend, her Egyptian boyfriend, her Egyptian lover. And I remember that sticking with me."

On August 31, 1997, Diana and Dodi Fayed left the Ritz, owned by his father, in a Mercedes and ended up in a high-speed car chase as the paparazzi pursued them. Their car famously crashed, and both were killed, along with driver Henri Paul. A fourth person in the car, bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, survived. Diana's death created a crisis for the monarchy and triggered a sense of worldwide mourning that in some ways continues to this day.

Memorial of Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed
The memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayad in Harrods department store December 18, 2003, in London. The two are the subject of "Dodi & Diana," a new play by Kareem Fahmy. Bruno Vincent/Getty

For Fahmy, coverage of the crash and of Diana and Fayed's relationship in general brought up questions.

"A couple of years ago I started thinking about him," he said. "I started realizing how little we know about him. Even though there's such a fascination with her story, it's a pretty selective fascination with like the types of stories people want to tell.… He's not necessarily a footnote but maybe just a touch above a footnote, you know? And, and even more interestingly...the points of view on him feel sort of filtered through very specific perspectives of the people who are writing those stories—you know, white people."

Fahmy says part of the exploration of Fayed and Diana's relationship—as well as the relationship of the present-day couple at the center of the play—became about figuring out how people hold space in a relationship, and what happens when one holds more.

I ask about the concept of erasure, a word Fahmy has used in relation to the play, and whether can know for sure whether Fayed has ostensibly been erased from the story because Diana was larger than life or because he was an Egyptian Muslim man dating a beloved white, blond former monarch.

"As you're asking that question, tears spring to my eyes," Fahmy told Newsweek, "because that's kind of a deeply emotional question that it is really, really difficult to answer. I don't even know if the play attempts to answer that question, but I think it certainly does talk about the idea of erasure in...let's call it the Western World.… There is I think still even to this day, even though we've come a long way, a sort of uncomfortability with the idea of how Arabs and Muslims and Middle Eastern people are welcomed into or not welcomed into quote unquote white society."

Fahmy also points to Hasnat Khan, Diana's British-Pakistani boyfriend of two years after her divorce from Charles and before her relationship with Fayed. "She had a very important relationship with another brown Muslim, man, in this case, a Pakistani, man, Hasnat Khan, who's referenced into play too. Some of my research indicates that [he was] potentially the greatest love of her life and he too is, is barely known. It makes me curious...These brown Muslim men: Are they inconvenient to her narrative for larger reasons that makes some people uncomfortable?"

As Fahmy talks, it's hard not to think of Harry and Meghan.

"Harry and Meghan are never mentioned in the play," he says, "but I certainly think their experience and what we've all come to learn about their experiences over the last couple of years will be a lens through which some people view this."

Dodi & Diana, a Colt Coeur production,is at HERE theater in New York through October 29.