Princess Diana Paparazzo Fights Back at ‘The Crown’: “Absurd and Completely Invented”

Mario Brenna, the Italian photographer who made a small fortune after snapping photos of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed embracing on a yacht, says the final season of The Crown gets it all wrong. In what Brenna says is his first English-language newspaper interview, the paparazzo tells The New York Times via email that The Crown’s depiction of how he captured Diana and Dodi is “absurd and completely invented.” 

Episode two of The Crown season six, “Two Photographs,” follows the lengths to which Brenna (played by Enzo Cilenti) went to capture the money shot of Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) yachting in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1997. As The Crown depicts it, Dodi’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed (Salim Daw), seemingly arranged for Brenna to take the photos of Princess Diana and Dodi on his yacht, the Jonikal, in the hopes that Brenna’s photographs of the couple would push their nascent relationship into the public eye. According to The Crown’s head researcher, Annie Sulzberger—sister of Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger—“there are a few theories about how Brenna managed to find the Jonikal moored somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea,” and the Netflix series decided that the “most credible” explanation was that one of Mohamed’s employees leaked the location of the boat to Brenna.

But according to Brenna, The Crown’s version of events is completely false. Brenna claims that he spent every summer in Sardinia, where the Jonikal was moored, and that he simply came across Diana and Dodi in a “great stroke of luck.” Per his account, Brenna approached the Jonikal on August 1, 1997, thinking that Diana was an acquaintance of his before realizing that she was, in fact, the People’s Princess.

Over the next few days, Brenna says, he worked tirelessly to take what he calls the “historic photo,” eventually scaling a cliff about 400 meters from the yacht to get the best angle. From there, he was able to capture Princess Diana and Dodi in a private moment.

With the help of his agent at the time, Brenna would sell those photos for about 1.7 million British pounds, or $2.1 million. At the time, Brenna was “not swimming in wealth” due to a recent divorce, he says, and the photos of Diana and Dodi “solved my personal and family problems.” 

The photos substantially changed Diana’s and Dodi’s lives as well. After one of Brenna’s photos was plastered on the front page of the Sunday Mirror, more than 2,000 photographers flooded Sardinia in the hopes of capturing similar shots. Part one of The Crown’s final season captures the media frenzy surrounding Diana and Dodi, which ultimately contributed to the fatal car crash that killed them both on August 31, 1997. 

Brenna also takes issue with The Crown’s depiction of his character. The episode shows Cilenti’s Brenna saying that for paparazzi to be successful, they must act like “hunters…killers.” 

“I do not identify with the term ‘killer,’” Brenna tells the Times. He also says that he was not contacted by anyone involved in The Crown to discuss his experiences, despite playing a pivotal role on this season. (Netflix did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.) A source previously told Vanity Fair that Prince Harry also was not consulted on this season; they added that he has no ill will toward the series or Netflix.

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