"We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair," he promised his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales. "And beyond that, on behalf of your mother and sisters, I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned."
It seemed to be what the nation had been waiting for. In contrast to the cold absence of the Royals, the burning hot pain of a wounded person with real feelings that mirrored their own.
And we believed him. We believed he would help these vulnerable children to escape the evil clutches of the monarchy and all the black abnormality that goes with it.
Sitting in the transept, wiping tears from his eyes, was Mohamed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi - the man who had made the Princess of Wales happy for the first time in years.
After a decade of being eschewed by the Establishment, of being portrayed as the arch-villain, the man who acquired Harrods by deceit, it seemed that Mr Fayed had finally been accepted by the nation that would not give him its nationality. It had happened by the most terrible means - the death of his son- but it appeared his years in the wilderness were over.
Two men, so completely different, had touched a nation by their association with an extraordinary person and it seemed some of her magic would rub off on them and stick.
But it did not. A year on, the two men who seemed redeemed by the tragedy are again condemned. There are no winners in the story, but if there are losers, they are Lord Spencer and Mr Fayed.
Lord Spencer's fall is easiest to chart. It was brought about by hypocrisy. When, after turning his sights from the Windsors at Diana's funeral service, he rounded on the media who he claimed had hounded his sister to death, newspaper editors ran for cover. But when they discovered that the Earl, like Prince Charles, also had a wife driven to an eating disorder by his adultery, they rapidly re-emerged.
Lord Spencer, 34, had chosen to divorce his wife, Victoria, 33, in South Africa, where he lives, rather than in England, where settlements are invariably higher. During the hearing last December, it became clear why he was so anxious to muzzle the press - because he had so much to hide.
His wife teamed up with Lord Spencer's former mistress, Chantal Collopy, and between them they painted a picture of a cruel and arrogant man, a drunkard who had bedded a dozen women while his wife was recovering from an eating disorder at a private clinic. In comparison, the Prince of Wales appeared angelic.
After days of bile spewed in and out of the courtroom, Lord Spencer ended up settling with Victoria for pounds 1,815,000 cash, joint custody of their four children - after describing his wife as an "unfit mother" - and a pounds 250,000 home in Cape Town.
Once the dust had settled, Lord Spencer sought refuge in the memory of his sister. His reputation, his thinking appeared to go, was inextricably linked to hers. But the more he did in her name, the more he appeared to cheapen it.
There was loud criticism over the conversion of stables at the family home, Althorp, into a museum dedicated to Diana, her life and times and, inevitably, her dresses. Some thought the admission fees, at pounds 9.50 with "at least 10 per cent" going to charity, were too high while others, notably the Archbishop of York, David Hope, said it had contributed to an unhealthy cult. Throughout the year, Lord Spencer's plans for his sister's memory - a pop concert near her grave, tours of Althorp - drew criticism. Whether warranted or not, he had quite clearly become a target for the press he had so chided.
"It is difficult for people to understand how completely he was overcome by Diana's death," said a colleague who worked with Lord Spencer in television. "They were very young when their mother left them, so they grew closer than most brothers and sisters. Some of his behaviour is a little worrying, almost obsessive, and that has led to some errors of judgement. To criticise some of the projects undertaken by the Diana memorial committee as tacky, and then go on to plan a pop concert yourself, was seen as a bit silly.
"But he needs to be given some leeway. This has been an unimaginably terrible year for him. Give the guy a break."
The fall of Mr Fayed stemmed from many sources. He saw persecution and rejection at every turn. He genuinely believes his son was murdered by the security services because he was a muslim who was about to marry the mother of the next King of England.
He insists Dodi and Diana were planning to marry - something the Spencers and the Windsors reject out of hand. And he still stands alone in his claims that Diana uttered these last words: "I would like all my possessions in Dodi's apartment to be given to my sister Sarah, including my jewellery and my personal clothes and please tell her to take care of my boys."
All the evidence suggests there were no last words and the person who was supposed to have conveyed them to Mr Fayed, a nurse, does not exist. The fabrication of such a last message, when all the medical evidence says she could not have spoken, is something the Spencers and Windsors cannot forgive.
Mr Fayed believes that at the root of the continuing refusal to grant him citizenship is racism - rather than the criticism of his character and honesty contained in a Department of Trade and Industry report into his acquisition of Harrods in 1985. When, immediately after the tragedy, he was shunned and slighted by the Windsors and the Spencers, this belief welled up into a tide of bitterness and anger. Mr Fayed's grief, it seemed, counted for nothing; the life of his son, a muslim and a commoner, was less important than the life of a Christian aristocrat.
Mr Fayed, 66, has never been known for his lightness of touch. He hires expensive public relations people to do his talking for him, but often he speaks over them in a torrent he later regrets. So it was to be with the death of his son.
In spite of the fact that his employee Henri Paul, the driver of the Mercedes in which his son died, was drunk, and in spite of evidence that the car had problems with its brakes, Mr Fayed until this week did not acknowledge that his own staff at the Ritz might be to blame. The Spencers would have a good case against him should they choose to sue. Instead, he prefers to argue that dark forces were at work. He likes to draw attention to something Diana once said herself: "One day I'm going to go up in a helicopter and it'll just blow up. MI5 will do away with me."
Many of the public believe him, but the Spencers and the Windsors do not. They feel his claims are sensational and do nothing to help the Princes overcome the death of their mother. As a result, they refuse to speak to him and, in the kind of underhanded way that caused Diana to refer to them as "the Enemy", they plant stories about him in the tabloid press. In one of these stories, he was accused of trying to buy the princes' affections with gifts which, according to a Buckingham Palace source, were left unopened, given to charity or locked away in the bowels of the palace.
"Charles was astonished when the first presents turned up from Harrods," the newspaper quoted "a close friend" as saying. "Then more and more arrived. It was extremely inappropriate. The boys had lost their mother - a new toy wasn't going to cheer them up.
"They were never fond of this man before their mother died and that remains very much the case."
"That was a very hurtful story," said an associate of Mr Fayed. "I have personally seen letters of thanks the boys have written to him. He got to know them quite well when they went on holiday and he is very fond of them. All these put-downs are having a terrible effect on him."
But there were more. His 12-year sponsorship of the Windsor Horse Show, which is attended by the Queen, was terminated and he was informed that Harrods was to lose its royal warrants, which indicated the withdrawal of royal patronage.
Finally, it all became too much when Mr Fayed and Frances Shand Kydd, Diana's mother, were summoned by Judge Herve Stephan, the examining magistrate in the case, to attend a hearing in Paris in June. Mrs Shand Kydd refused to speak to Mr Fayed, a snub that resulted in a torrent of abuse outside the courthouse.
"She is pursuing her matters, I am pursuing mine," he said. "She lost her daughter and I lost my son. She's a snob. She's not a good mother either. If you leave your child when she is six years old, how can you call yourself a mother? She thinks she's related to The Queen Mother, and this is a kind of snobbery. I don't give a damn about her."
Any chance he might ever have had of patching things up vanished in a puff of angry smoke.
"He feels that people remember Diana but they don't give a damn about his loss, about Dodi," said the associate. "As far as he is concerned, his son was going to marry Diana - he told him 20 minutes before the crash - and he was told her last words at the hospital. You can understand why he thinks there is a racist conspiracy. He simply believes there is no way the British establishment would have allowed a dark-skinned chap from north Africa to become step-father to the King of England. And that hurts."
It was perhaps inevitable that, as the anniversary of Diana and Dodi's deaths approached, the two men most damaged by the tragedy should turn on each other.
When Lord Spencer opened the museum to Diana last month, Mr Fayed was astonished to find there was no reference to his son in it. Pronouncing himself "disgusted", he said: "I am sure the people who visit will be amazed there isn't a mention of Dodi's name and there are so many of Prince Charles, who brought her so much unhappiness. Earl Spencer just wants to get back at me. Why is Earl Spencer distancing himself from the relationship between his sister and my son? He himself admitted in his speech on the day of her funeral that she had finally found happiness in her private life."
Lord Spencer had already made clear in a television interview what he thought of Mr Fayed's claims of last words and marriage. "There were no last words," he said. "Her injuries were such that it was impossible for her to say anything. The French doctors were adamant and my family believed them. It is very upsetting that anyone should want to suggest otherwise. Why should anyone want to do that? To pretend somebody said something when they were supposedly dying? It's monstrous, isn't it?"
On Mr Fayed's claims of a conspiracy, he said: "I have seen absolutely no evidence that it was anything other than a tragic accident."
And on the prospects of Dodi and Diana marrying: "Certainly none of my family are aware of any plans for them to marry. I think we all know what the early stages of a relationship are like. It is heady and exciting. Tragically their relationship never went beyond that heady stage. Speculation about what might have happened is completely ridiculous in my view."
A year on, one can only wonder what Diana would have made of it all. Of the grieving, the mountains of flowers, the margarine tubs bearing her signature and the bitter enmity that has grown between two men she cared for. Perhaps, given her nature, she would simply have urged us to remember that one of them has lost a sister and the other has lost a son.Reuse content