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Every day the Princess of Wales is stalked by the paparazzi, an experience she finds both frightening and. humiliating. Last month she fought back, but her pursuers have not given up. Marianne Macdonald reports

Marianne Macdonald
Saturday 03 May 1997 23:02 BST

As you read this, Mark Saunders is probably hunting Diana, Princess of Wales. Weekends are his busiest time. If you are reading this on Monday, he will probably be after her as well. Following her car. Tracking her movements. Waiting for an unguarded moment.

This has been Diana's life for 16 years. Almost every time she goes out she is followed. There is no moment she can be certain she is not being photographed. This is why she will not shower at her gym; this is why she rarely goes out at night. Often she has thought herself alone when a cold lens was eyeing her from the undergrowth. To get a picture the paparazzi will do almost anything: trek for miles, spend all night up a tree, stake out Kensington Palace until three in the morning.

If you think about it - which few people do, though we see her image daily - you imagine this process to be an orderly sort of stalking. The photographers appear (as we know from thousands, millions, of pictures) as she climbs from a car or leaves a building, take a picture, and leave. You do not imagine any communication goes on between them and their Princess. But this is not the case. There is a great deal said. Make no mistake. It is not civilised. It is war.

Mark Saunders, 33, is a freelance photographer from Slough. He lives in a house in Windsor bought with cash earned from selling images of Diana; he makes around pounds 75,000 a year. He wears the loafers and V-necked jumpers of a Sloane Ranger but is not one - the upper classes "appal" him, and his manners lack polish. He has a girlfriend who is an actress. He likes to read and would like to expand his mind. He is a little lonely. He is a gentle soul. Except to Diana.

Mark Saunders spends his life following Diana, and likes to start his day at the Family Tree Cafe opposite the Harbour Club gym in Fulham, west London. After a cooked breakfast he will drive round the club to see if Diana is there. If he cannot spot her car, he will drive to a side street opposite Kensin-gton Palace where he can wait in his BMW until Diana comes out in hers.

When I was there that was the routine. Harbour Club, then KP, as the paparazzi call it. At 11.05am he stiffened. The atmosphere electrified. He threw his cappuccino into the road and pulled away sharply. He had spotted what I had not: before us, in a stately procession, sailed a green BMW and gold Range Rover. It was Diana. The princes, and their backup, were with her.

The traffic of Kensington flowed unknowingly around the Royal cars as they took a left into Hyde Park and another left onto Park Lane. Behind them, Saunders kept close. But in five minutes it was over. The lights changed. Ahead of us the silent procession melted into the traffic, and disappeared.

Saunders turned off Park Lane and into Mayfair. No sign at the house belonging to Raine, Diana's stepmother. He headed into Park Street. "Bingo!" There, sitting quietly on the side of the road, were the BMW and backup. Saunders parked on a meter and took his camera from the boot. "I'm going to blitz her," he whispered. He crept down the street. I watched from the far side of the road, and as I did so, Diana got into her car. It purred away at once, leaving me with a blurred image of a woman's face anxiously scanning the street.

DIANA PROBABLY sees more of the five or six paparazzi who follow her almost daily than of her ex-husband or sons. They are as much a part of her life as her workouts or her trips to Harvey Nichols. Like a fatal disease, they will be with her until death. Saunders cannot envisage a time when Diana will not be a paparazzi target. "Will the world get bored of Diana? I don't think so. There will always be a market."

Yet this is Diana's private hell. She hates being followed by the paparazzi. She has tried everything she can think of to stop them. She has worn the same clothes again and again. She has shielded her face with shoulder bags. She has looked down. She has stayed in. She has shouted. She has pleaded. She has lectured. She has run. She has given them the silent treatment, and lately, as her ability to bear them has given way, she has taken more violent measures. But here they still are, and here they seem set to stay, long after her husband and royal status have disappeared.

In recent years the paparazzi have coined a word for Diana's angry and tearful confrontations. They call them "loon attacks", and her "the Loon". In this way they dismiss the distress, or worse, they cause her. Saunders does not like being looned. "The one I hate, because I don't know what to do, is when she stops her car and stares at you," he remarked as we watched the exit of Kensington Palace.

"She'll just stare and stare and just stare and you look away and you look back and look up and she's still staring. There's no emotion on her face. It's horrible. Eventually you do the only thing you can do. You go: `What?' Then she just drives away."

The bizarre thing is that although these men - and they are all men, usually five or six of them, against a woman on her own - spend their lives trying to get close to Diana, they do not want to talk to her. Like dirty old men, they make off when she turns on them. They want the pictures, but they don't want to face her. Does it make them feel guilty? Once Saunders and Harvey jumped on a bus to escape Diana. Another time she had to shout at them to come out of a rhododendron bush. ("I know you're in there!") If it wasn't so appalling it would be funny.

It is chilling to hear the slang the paparazzi use for photographing Diana. To take a number of pictures is to "hose her down". They also "blitz her", "target her" and "whack her". To do this they stick their cameras right in her face. Another tactic is baiting her so that she gets angry and they get better, more lucrative photographs. Although she puts the pizza on their table and the beer in their fridge, they don't feel obliged to treat her with respect.

Saunders says that Diana "has the most boring life in the world", but just as he does not connect Diana's outbursts with his harassment, he does not consider that her life is curtailed by his activities. He thinks Diana is obsessed by her appearance. Which came first - her preoccupation with physical perfection, or the unending paparazzi attention? He thinks Diana often goes out of her way to be photographed. Could 16 years of being photographed every day become addictive?

Last year Saunders and his paparazzo partner Glenn Harvey rented a flat opposite the Harbour Club to get pictures. Diana - who has developed an uncanny instinct for spotting the paparazzi - had been trying to work out where their pictures came from and saw the open window. She stormed across and shouted: "You cowards! I know you're in there!" The pair dived behind a sofa and began bickering over who should face her. "You go." "No, you go." "It was your idea." A crowd of children had gathered by the time Saunders peered over the window ledge. "What are you doing?" the Princess demanded. "Nothing!"

Our heroes have written a book about their "adventures" with the Princess of Wales called Dicing With Di, lavishly illustrated with their pictures. When it came out in October Diana chased them, and lectured them.

"We were at the Harbour Club," relates Saunders, "and Diana left and drove away and we waited 20 minutes and then we left. She was waiting for me in her car and she drove up my rear and started flashing her lights. I rang Glenn. I said: `The fucking lunatic's on my tail!' Glenn had gone to get a coffee in Sainsbury's. He said: `Well don't bring her here!' I said: `I'm not bloody seeing her on my own!'

"She followed me to Sainsbury's and blocked us in. She said: `What about this book, this ridiculous book?' I was offended. I said: `It's not a ridiculous book. We wrote it.' She said: `You don't know what it's like being me,' you know, woe is me. Pure Shakespeare, Diana at her best. She was saying she was going to leave the country. We were like: `No you're not, you always say that. Where are you going to go? France?' She said: `I can't go to Europe!' `New York then.' `Don't keep saying I'm going to go to America!' I said: `What about Outer Frigging Mongolia then?' "

Why had he run from her? "I already had the photographs in the can. I didn't want to talk to the stupid woman! Once she starts talking you can't shut her up. She said: `I didn't want a divorce!' Like, out of nowhere. I said: `Why did you get one then?' "

WE WERE driving back from Eton. Saunders had been tipped off, wrongly, that Diana would be watching William row. In front of us a well-coiffed woman hailed a taxi and climbed in, clutching bags of shopping. Saunders watched her. "That's what Diana wants," he said. "That freedom." The woman was looking at us now, annoyed. "I don't fancy you," Saunders mouthed. "I'm just pointing you out to my friend."

"Diana can have that freedom, can't she?" I asked. He sniggered. "You're kidding! If that was Diana I'd be on the phone to Glenn saying I'd seen Diana! Pictures of Diana getting into taxis are worth a lot of money ... Once she got into a taxi and we were all surrounding it trying to snap her and she buried her head. A Spanish photographer shouted: `Put your fucking head up and start acting like a fucking Princess!' She snapped her head up and said: `What!' - very angry, like. And we got the snap."

Saunders has an elder brother whom he calls a "professional Yuppie". He lives in Muswell Hill and is an accountant. When Dicing With Di was published, Saunders said he would give him a copy. His brother said: "What should I want with your book? Neither I nor my friends want to read a book on that subject." Saunders' girlfriend also dislikes what he does. They have an unspoken agreement not to talk about it.

Saunders does, I think, feel guilty about what he does. But he will not admit it. He certainly does not seem to care that Diana may not know, when photographers are following her, that they are paparazzi and not psychos. Once, when he was following her down a dark street, she kept looking behind her. (More, that is, than usual. Saunders says she "walks round constantly looking over her shoulder, her eyes darting this way and that".) He realised she didn't know who was behind her. So he stepped forward and said: "Your Royal Highness ... ?" And she recognised him and they had a nice chat, and he was "totally captivated". And then he said: "Can I have a picture now?" And hostilities resumed.

"Diana once said that being photographed all the time was like being raped," Saunders says indignantly. "Comparing that to the most serious crime that can ever be perpetrated on a woman is an insult to anyone who has ever been raped, or worked in a rape crisis centre. But then Diana is good with the old sound bites, isn't she?

"I don't think of her as the Princess of Wales," he continues. "Which is a shame, really, because she does a lot of good for the country. I don't buy all this crap about Queen of Hearts and all that. Queen of Hearts! Diana! She's a girl, isn't she? Panorama was great. We sat there with beers and pizzas and laughed our heads off ... "

In 1993 Diana took the princes to Leicester Square to see Jurassic Park. After the sort of adrenaline-pumped chase in which these paparazzi seem to delight, Glenn Harvey started snapping the Princess as she came out of the cinema. He recounts the story in the book.

"A flash of black shot across my view. It was Diana, but this was a Diana I had never seen before. It was her face but it was now red and twisted. She was racing towards us through the crowds. Her eyes were fixed on us and then she let out a scream like a wild animal. The hundreds of milling pigeons took to the sky. The shocked tourists stopped walking and looked our way. William and Harry rushed up behind to see what the bellowing was. No monster's roar they'd heard in the film could have scared them as much as this one.

" `YOU MAKE MY LIFE HELL,' she screamed. `YOU MAKE MY LIFE HELL.' She had reached Keith first, the veins on her neck protruding and her face contorted with anger. Keith is not a small guy, standing well over 6ft tall, but this did not seem to faze Diana in the slightest. She was shouting inches from Keith's nose. She stared into his eyes a moment, her fists still slightly squeezed and I thought for a second she was going to punch him.

"Shocked and shaken, Keith put his cameras down on the ground. Diana now seemed shocked and embarrassed at her explosion ... her hands covered her face as she strode towards the car. She brushed away beads of sweat from her brow and then ran the last few metres, still crying with rage. William and Harry chased after her, now very concerned for their mother's welfare. The car sped off with Diana still holding her head in her hands, crying ... "

The beast at bay. Harvey and Saun-ders profess shock at her behaviour. What do they expect when they treat her like an animal? She may have walked into the gilded cage, but it is the paparazzi who have taken the key.

The book testifies that such outbursts from Diana are not unusual. These men should remember they are dealing with a woman under pressure with a history of emotional fragility - who has admitted to self-mutilation and self-hatred ("just a feeling of being no good at anything and being useless and hopeless and failed in every direction," she said on Panorama). Every time they take a picture it feels to her like "rape". It probably would if it happened every morning, every afternoon, every evening. The paparazzi are saying: you deserve no privacy. Your image is ours for the taking. What effect would this have on someone who craves control over their body, as Diana does, as all bulimics do?

When her father, Earl Spencer, died five years ago, Diana was as usual surrounded by her ruthless retinue. She was in Lech, in Austria. Glenn Harvey was waiting outside her hotel while the press were being told of her loss. "The moment Glenn had raised his camera, the door to the balcony was thrown open and a hysterical and tearful Diana raced out," the book records.

" `NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOT NOW,' she screamed, as Glenn's motordrive sprung into action. Diana crumpled on the balcony ... Afterwards, for the only time in his career, he felt pangs of guilt when he was told the sad news. He now realised why Diana had been upset ... Glenn decided to sell the pictures and within 20 minutes every single frame had been sold."

DIANA IS the first person in history to be subjected to such relentless papar-azzi attention. What kind of pressures does it put on her? She spoke in the Panorama interview of November 1995 of her "rampant bulimia" and the "daunting and phenomenal" press interest. Her remarks were not among those reproduced the next day. "I never know where a lens is going to be," she told Martin Bashir. "A normal day would be followed by four cars; a normal day would come back to my car and find six freelance photographers jumping around me ... I can't tolerate it because it's become abusive and harassment. It goes on and on and on and the story never changes ... "

When will the story change? What can Diana do to escape a harassment which may threaten her sanity? Saunders thinks about this. "If she went and bought a house in Cornwall and lived there, for about two months the world's press would be on her door-step. After three months it would be just the [press] agencies. After six months, there would be just a couple of freelancers, and after a year there probably wouldn't be anyone." So she would have to live in Cornwall forever? "Yes. That could be a problem."

But if she had a bodyguard the problem would diminish, Saunders says. "They know where we're going to hide. They'd say, `Back off,' and everybody would." Then she couldn't have any freedom. "Well, she's the first person in the world who has undergone this level of interest and attempted to lead a normal life. By going out to the shops instead of sending someone she's just putting money in a lot of people's bank accounts. Can you really blame photographers for her foolishness?"

So: she could become a hermit and have no love life and never go out. Or she could be permanently accompanied by more men she does not know. Or she could wait 10 years. Then William might get engaged to a pretty girl and the satanic merry-go-round could start up again. The poisoned chalice would be handed on.

What was Saunders after - what picture was he hoping for? "The million- dollar picture: positive proof Diana is seeing a man." Was that gettable? "Extremely gettable ... it would have to be Diana embracing him, having oral sex with him, I don't care

Have the paparazzi ever wondered what their Princess looks like when she is vomiting into a lavatory? Would they take the picture? Yes. Could they sell it? Probably not. Too close to the bone. Proof the Princess is a real woman, not a two-dimensional icon. Proof that we might have to treat her like a human.

Saunders and Harvey followed Diana after the Panorama interview. He tells it best in his book.

"She drove out of Kensington Palace with her arm covering her face to avoid being photographed by the snappers ... She then proceeded to drive three times around the perimeter of KP searching for lurking photographers sitting in their cars. It was a pretty pointless exercise. As we watched her slowing down and craning her neck to look down side streets we almost wanted to yell: `We're behind you!'

"Satisfied she wasn't being followed, Diana headed towards the M4 with Glenn and me on her tail. Once she had cleared the inevitable roadworks on the Chiswick flyover, she pulled into the fast lane and increased her speed. I pulled across too, hoping that as there was another car between mine and Diana's she wouldn't be able to see me. Unfortunately, the other car pulled back into the middle lane leaving me directly exposed to Diana.

"It took her about five seconds to realise that she was being followed. Diana knows my car well enough and I could see her looking at me in the rear-view mirror. She indicated left and pulled across to the middle lane, slowing down considerably and forcing me to pass. And then, in a moment of insanity which to this day neither Glenn or I will ever understand, she increased her speed and lurched back into the fast lane, coming up directly behind me. We were travelling at 90mph when I felt her bumper touch the rear of my car.

"`What the hell is she doing?' shouted Glenn. He gestured wildly at her: `Back off ... back off.' But Diana made no attempt to slow down. The cars carried on, bumper to bumper in the fast lane of one of Europe's most dangerous roads. By now I was genuinely scared. I could see Diana's face in the rear-view mirror. She looked possessed. She was driving with only one hand, with the other gesturing wildly at me. Her car remained just millimetres from mine. Putting our lives on the line, I increased my speed, thinking it was the only way to escape her. At about 120mph I lost her and managed to slip into the middle lane. Diana sped past ... "

This is not an isolated incident. The book suggests that Diana has often jumped lights and broken speed limits in a bid to escape her tormentors. They have then done the same. If this harassment continues, her story could no longer just end in tears. Someone could die, and it might not be a paparazzo.

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