Prince William's Paris visit brings dark past to light

Prince William and his wife, Duchess Kate of Cambridge, are traveling to Paris on Friday. It will be William’s first official trip to the city since his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash there nearly 20 years ago.    

The palace told CBS News William and Kate will not be visiting any of the sites associated with Princess Diana’s death, but her memory is still very much alive, especially above the tunnel where the accident took place, where pictures and flowers are laid in tribute.

No other country is closer to the kingdom the royal couple will one day rule than France, and this trip is aimed at getting closer still, reports CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata.

For Prince William, it’s also a chance to put this week’s media backlash behind him after being seen partying in the Alps on a “boys only” ski trip featuring cringeworthy “dad dancing.” He faced criticism for shirking his royal duties.  

Royal correspondent Roya Nikkhah said the Paris visit is a charm offensive.

“This is definitely about William and Kate being sent to France by the British government to make nice on the international stage. We need that at the moment,” Nikkhah said.

But while the visit may be about Britain’s future, the City of Light will forever hold a darkened past for Prince William. Twenty years ago this August, Princess Diana and companion Dodi Fayed had been dining at the Ritz, and when it came time to leave, they made a fatal mistake.

That night an area in front of the Ritz was packed with paparazzi so they tried to slip out the back, but the paparazzi was waiting there too. Driver Henri Paul, under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs, sped off in a bid to outrun them. He lost control and slammed into a pillar in an underpass.

Fayed and Paul died at the scene. Diana later suffered a cardiac arrest at the hospital. William was only 15 at the time.

French journalist Anne Elisabeth Moutet said it would forever carry a sense of responsibility.

“The feeling in general was what a sad waste of life. What a horrible thing. She was glorious, she was luminous. She died in the most stupid way you could think of,” Moutet said.

Diana dazzled during her official trip to Paris with Prince Charles in 1988, and while inevitable comparisons will be made, Kate has always been able to hold her own in the style stakes.

“All eyes will be on the duchess of Cambridge. Everyone will want to know what’s she wearing,” Nikkhah said.

On the schedule over the next couple of days: a black tie dinner at the British embassy Friday night. Saturday they visit a military hospital where they will meet victims of the Paris and Nice terror attacks. They’ll finish up with a rugby game between Wales and France.