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Martyn Lewis: 'I almost broke down as I announced Diana's death'

The shock announcement about the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales nearly 20 years ago was the hardest news that Sir Martyn Lewis ever had to break. And not just because it was so unexpected.

"I'd also met Diana on a number of occasions. And I thought she was a wonderful person," says Sir Martyn, who broadcast live on the BBC for a marathon six hours about her untimely passing in August 1997.

He had earlier read a newsflash that Diana had been badly injured in a car crash in Paris, but there was no sense of foreboding that she was about to die.

"After I came off air I went to get some sleep, but my head had only been on the pillow for about 40 minutes when I was awakened again with the news that Diana had passed away in hospital, where doctors were unable to save her. It was a terrible shock and I was back in the studio very quickly," says the 72-year-old former Portrush man, who adds that his own memories of his meetings with Diana came back to him repeatedly as he relayed the awful news of her passing to millions of viewers.

"I know that people who saw Diana on their TV screens immediately fell in love with her, but when you'd met her, even slightly, there was an additional emotional ingredient."

He admits that he nearly broke down at one point. "I lost it for about five seconds when I was repeating Tony Blair's words from his interview about Diana, when he described her as the 'People's Princess'.

"I recovered, however, because it was my job as a presenter to surround myself with a sort of emotional cocoon.

"If newscasters were to allow themselves to be influenced by the emotion inherent in many of the stories they're reading, they wouldn't be able to do their job.

"If that professionalism doesn't kick in, then you shouldn't be doing the job in the first place. You can't let it get to you."

Sir Martyn, whose voice regularly features on documentaries about Diana's death - and on replayed archives of other major news stories, like the Berlin Wall coming down - says the humanity of the princess came across during his encounters with her.

He adds: "I remember, in particular, one big gala banquet in the Guildhall in London where I actually sat beside her because I was involved with the hospice movement who were fundraising.

"She was an absolute delight and she was very engaging about the charity. But she also told me that she'd been married for seven years, yet she'd only just realised what it was like to be a member of the royal family. She didn't go into detail, but that line of hers has stayed with me."

Sir Martyn, who'd met the princess at other charity events, was also involved in the production of several documentaries about her and Prince Charles and found her easy to work with.

"On one occasion I flew out with her to Vienna and we had a great chat. She also wanted to ensure that we were getting all the pictures we wanted for the programmes," says Sir Martyn, who adds that the special broadcast about Diana's death was "extraordinary" in many different ways.

"I was on air for six hours virtually without a script. For the rest of the time as this momentous story broke I was flying by the seat of my pants, with only the voice of a marvellously calm producer in my ear telling me who I was going to talk to next.

"There'd been none of the normal briefings before the bulletin and I should have been a nervous wreck, but it all happened so quickly."

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