Flashback Friday: the story behind this Princess Diana cover

HELLO!'s co-editor Ronnie Whelan remembers the shocking day Diana died

Ainhoa Barcelona

The world was rocked to the core when news of Princess Diana's death broke 20 years ago. Here at HELLO!, magazine staff struggled to come to terms with the Princess' shock death, while also attempting to turn around an issue within hours. The magazine that was due to be published on 6 September 1997 showed Diana on the front cover, looking out to sea while on holiday. It was sent to press and was ready in newsagents, waiting to be put on stands when it was pulled on Sunday, just hours after the news of her death broke. It was replaced with an iconic portrait of Diana.

HELLO!'s co-editor Ronnie Whelan reflects on that day in 1997. "I can still remember the day so explicitly," she says. "I think everyone who's old enough can remember that day. I didn't find out, believe it or not, until two o'clock in the afternoon. People had heard at five o'clock that morning that there was an accident and that the Princess had been taken into hospital. I was staying overnight at my brother-in-law's, and they hadn't put the TV on."

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The Princess Diana issue that was published after her death

In the end it was a taxi driver who broke the news to her. Ronnie, in complete panic, borrowed the driver's phone and rang the editor at the time, Maggie Koumi. "We didn't carry mobile phones in those days," said Ronnie. "I went straight to the office, and there'd been discussions going on all that morning. The director, Eduardo Sánchez Junco, who is no longer with us, was very much in control of the situation. We had an issue that was about to go on sale but Eduardo decided that we had to pulp the issue and start again.

"It was Sunday, around three o'clock in the afternoon, so we had to call back the issue from the newsagents because it had that original picture of her looking very lonely on the diving board. So then we had to start the issue again. We kept in various things. We couldn't make the whole issue about Diana, because we didn't have enough time. In those days, we didn't have the technology, it was all done by hand. So we kept in certain features and put in a whole section about Diana's death. We also made sure that there was something about Dodi because of course Mohamed Al-Fayed had lost a son, as well as the nation losing Diana."

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The original issue that was pulped

Eduardo replaced the cover with the black-and-white portrait of Diana. "He chose a lovely black and white shot of her because black and white symbolises mourning and death," said Ronnie. "It's not something you'd expect to see on the cover of HELLO! because we always have colour. And also she's looking at the camera. It's a lovely shot of her, she looks very regal and that necklace is so distinctive. It's very stark. Eduardo recognised that there was no need to put anything else on there – the coverline said it all."

The whole London office was "in shock", Ronnie added. "All I wanted to do was sit in front of the TV and take it all in," she said. "Although we had to sit and work on the issue, I still couldn't get my head around the fact that Diana had actually died, and not only her, but Dodi had too. It was like a story. It was so unreal. We were in shock, we were in shock working here, and yet we had to produce the issue as well.

"I really felt like I was part of history. This person, who had been the most famous person – we lived and breathed Diana – had died. It left an effect on all of us but we had to look at it dispassionately. The sight of those boys walking behind her coffin, especially Prince Harry, he was so tiny. It tore you apart. It was just so moving. You couldn't make it up. I felt like it was really history in the making and we're still talking about it, 20 years on, her anniversary. The amount of interest in her is incredible, it's much more than I ever expected."

Don't miss HELLO!'s ultimate souvenir edition celebrating the Queen of Hearts, on sale now. Look back at her life through 148 pages of beautiful images and revealing interviews with those who knew Diana best. Her fashion, her inspirational charity work and love for the sons who now carry her flame forward — it's all there in this unmissable HELLO! special.

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