This article originally appeared in the September 5, 1997 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Somewhere between the mistakes of a drunk driver and a rabid brigade of paparazzi, Princess Diana met a cruel and untimely end early Sunday morning. Her death in a Paris car crash, and its grisly circumstances, stunned the world. But it also hit me personally. Three years ago, I, too, had shamelessly stalked the Princess of Wales.
The occasion was Princess Di's August 1994 vacation on Martha's Vineyard. I was working as a reporter at the Vineyard Gazette, the local weekly newspaper, when word leaked that Diana was visiting the island as the guest of the Brazilian ambassador to the United States.
Almost immediately, the island was awash in paparazzi. The notoriously mercenary freelance photographers buzzed into the Vineyard, thirsty for the first shot of Diana's holiday in America. They seemed like Hollywood clichés: aggressive, cocky men with cannon-length camera lenses, thick British and Australian accents, and an insatiable appetite for the Next Big Shot.
The lure of big money fueled this relentless chase. The best photographers, with contacts at the richest Fleet Street publications and photo agencies, could afford to pay sources in order to locate their target. They had no qualms about hitting up caretakers, chambermaids, taxi drivers, and waiters for information, sometimes bribing them with thousands of dollars. That was a pittance compared to their payment if they got the perfect shot.
Unlike rock and film stars, who may be trailed by different snappers on separate occasions, the princess had her own personal paparazzi, men whose entire lives were consumed by chasing her. The great ones were tan and rich and lived like stars themselves. They commandeered cars, motorboats, and planes and tossed cash around like drunken sailors in an endless chase around the world — a chase that didn't end until Sunday morning in Paris.
The Gazette also decided to chase Diana, and here, we had an obvious advantage. The island was our home court; we knew it far better than did the paparazzi, who were stymied by the Vineyard's confusing network of dirt roads and the pride locals took in shielding celebrity guests from the press.
My companion for this story was Mark Lovewell, a veteran island reporter/photographer and an accomplished journalist but, like me, a neophyte paparazzo. We didn't know which trees to climb, which roads to search, which bushes to hide in to find the princess.
But neither did anyone else. For three days after she arrived on the island, Diana eluded the media, even the über-determined photogs. No one knew where she was; no one could be sure whether she was there at all.
The photo hounds were collectively freaking out, waving money at anyone with a potential Diana tip and, when no one bit, condemning the close-lipped Vineyard. No one could remember a Diana drought like this one. Wallets were full, film unused; overseas editors were angry.
"Nobody talks here," Mark Saunders, one of the most (in)famous Diana snappers, told me. "This place is like Salem's Lot."