Princess Diana death 15 years ago changes royals' relationship with press

(CBS News) When Princess Diana was killed 15 years ago, millions mourned her death - and condemned the paparazzi who were following her black Mercedes at high speeds that night, ultimately leading to the deadly crash in a Paris tunnel.

The tragedy led to new rules for the press. Life has changed for reporters and the royal family they cover.

Special section: Princess Diana 1961-1997

At her funeral, Diana's brother Earl Spencer called her, "the most hunted person of the modern age."

Niraj Tanna is one of a new generation of paparazzi on the royal beat. His job is to bag shots of Diana's son, Prince William, his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and third-in-line to the throne, Prince Harry.

Tanna, of Ikon Pictures, told CBS News, "No one's life's worth risking for a picture. Full stop."

In the end, the inquest into Diana's death blamed - not the photographers - but the drunk driver of the car. Still, Tanna says, the accident changed everything.

"We are in a better place now," he said. "I mean, we have guidelines which we have to abide by, we can't follow them, chase them, run after them, or do any of that sort of stuff, so, in that sense it is a safer place for celebrities, royalty, or whoever concerned."

Photographers pursued Diana relentlessly, in public, of course, but also at home, and on vacation, right up until the night she died.

But that tragedy and its aftermath marked a turning point as the royal family suddenly found its traditional stiff upper lip out of sync with a nation that had loved Diana's public image of humanity and compassion.

The royal household woke up after Diana's death, according to Mark Borkowski, a public relations analyst and historian. He said, "A group of people got together and said 'Look things have got to change.' This whole idea of the cynicism of the royal family towards the media, I think gradually changed into, 'Look, we have got to work together.'"

But as the royal family came to grips with this approach, the newest celebrity member of the royal entourage revived old fears. In 2007, photographers swarmed Kate Middleton, who, at the time, was not yet engaged to Prince William.

It was deja vu - Diana's ordeal all over again. An angry palace unleashed its lawyers on the press pack. The result was a new deal. Photographers would get access to apparently candid moments. In return, they'd quit long-lens ambush snapping of royals who thought they were in private, yet ended up in the headlines. On the whole, the deal has worked.

Borkowski said, "The last two years, frankly, have been sensationally good for the royal family and their PR effort. Harry in Afghanistan was a great story for them. I mean, if we look at the royal wedding, if we think of that moment - not just the kiss on the balcony, but the Aston Martin, the open-top Aston Martin down the mall. By giving controlled activities, they're pushing further and further away the bounty hunters and paparazzi."

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So far away, says Tanna, that royal coverage is now just royal spin. He said, "Well, it's all controlled and you just see William and Kate as lovely people who are doing, you know, the best things in the world by going to the Paralympics, the Olympics and all these things in the world. It's literally, they control everything. We'll see a staged picture of Harry and of the Olympics - you'll never see the real Harry."

But that changed just last week. Professional photographers may have backed off in the 15 years since Diana's death, but there's a new threat to royal privacy: cell phones.

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The fact is, we're all paparazzi now.

The technology has evolved, but 15 years later, one thing that hasn't changed at all is the public's fascination with Britain's royal family.

Watch Elizabeth Palmer's full report in the video above.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."