Diana Affair Speculation Sets French Tabloids Ablaze

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing with Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1994
Diana, Princess of Wales, turns and laughs with former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1994
John Schults / Reuters

"I wish that you love me," says Patricia, Princess of Cardiff, whose mangled English is one of the few notable differences between her character and the real-life Diana, Princess of Wales. Her would-be lover is French President Jacques-Henri Lambertye — drawn, it seems, to closely resemble real-life former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. "I still hear her saying it in English," the writer reveals. "It's not my memory reminding me of it, but her voice." The florid romantic tale, titled The Princess and the President, might have passed largely unnoticed into the annals of pulp fiction were it not for the fact that its author is former President Giscard himself. Although the author remains silent amid the media furor, some newspapers have covered the book as though it might be a thinly disguised kiss-and-tell. (See pictures of the inquest into Princess Diana's death.)

On Monday, Sept. 21, French daily Le Figaro ran an entire page about the book ahead of its Oct. 1 release, prompting immediate international coverage. Little wonder: Le Figaro did its best to help jolt public interest by hyping the enigma of whether the obvious similarities between the lovers referred to in the title and Giscard and Diana hinted at a real-life affair between the author and the British princess who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

"Fiction or reality?" Le Figaro asked in a headline alongside a November 1994 photo of a tuxedo-clad Giscard being gazed upon by a glowing Diana during a charity event. "Only the former President holds the key to this troubling story." So far, the former President isn't telling.

In the book, the 83-year-old Giscard traces the histoire d'amour between Lambertye and Princess Patricia. During a G-7 meeting at Buckingham Palace in the 1980s, the enchanting royal admits to the Frenchman she has thrown herself into charity work to escape a bleak married life. "Ten days before my marriage, my future husband told me he had a mistress and that he had decided to continue his relationship with her," she confides to her smitten presidential admirer — who drops the statesman act and goes French on her. (Read TIME's perspective on Diana, 10 years after her death.)

"I kissed her hand," Lambertye continues, "and she looked at me questioningly, her eyes now slate-colored and widening as she bowed her face forward."

Eventually Lambertye makes his first overt move by holding Patricia's hand during a train ride back from a 1984 D-Day anniversary ceremony in Normandy. Similar expressions of hand endearment follow, before the pair open the seriously carnal chapter of their affair in a presidential château in Rambouillet — where Giscard himself used to hold hunting expeditions in the surrounding woods.

"The ritual of the hunt was always the same," Giscard writes in yet another juxtaposition of his history and his novel.

And if such blurring of lines between imagination and reality were not enough, Giscard starts the novel with the epigraph "Promise kept." Myriad press reports of the book have paired that opener with final lines of the tale, in which Patricia tells Lambertye, "You asked my permission to write your story. I grant it to you, but you must make me a promise ..." Such subtlety is usually administered with a sledgehammer.

But could such an affair have actually happened? Certainly not in the way the book describes, because Giscard had been voted out of office and into semiretirement by 1981 — the same year Diana's royal marriage launched her rise to international stardom. However, press reports speculate over whether he could have been hinting at a postpresidential liaison by describing his fictional President's affair while in office — unfounded speculation fanned by Giscard's remaining tight-lipped. (See pictures of a service of thanks for Diana.)

Many pundits are alleging that the timing — and questionable taste — of Giscard's book is driven by the fact that fellow former President Jacques Chirac will publish a memoir of his own political career next month. Enduring hatred between the two men stretches back to the mid-1970s; each has waged a campaign of electoral war and political brawling against the other ever since. The Princess and the President, some pundits say, is Giscard's newest attempt to steal the limelight from his nemesis.

"Giscard wants to divert attention from Chirac's book and doesn't care how low he has to stoop or ridiculous he looks doing it," says commentator and humor writer Bruno Gaccio. "Giscard occupies the media with a laughable novel as Chirac rolls out the story of his life in politics."

However, Gaccio suggests French machismo may also be at work. "People always speak of [fellow former French President François] Mitterrand and Chirac as great ladies' men, and [current French President Nicolas] Sarkozy went out and married a top model, but who refers to Giscard as a seducer?" Gaccio asks. "No one — so he's decided to do so himself, with a story whose leading lady is no longer around to debunk it."

Perhaps, but if initial press attention is matched by book sales, Giscard will laugh all the way to the bank. If so, expect inquisitive observers to watch for any sign of him forking over some of the proceeds to Diana's charities.

How One Giant Casino Could Turn Around Vegas

The catalyst is MGM-Mirage's much anticipated CityCenter, an $8.5 billion complex of shops, condos and boutique hotels that is set to open in December. Designed by a klatch of world-renowned architects and anchored by a 4,000-room hotel casino, the new resort is hiring 12,000 people in what Michael Peltyn, CityCenter's vice president of human resources, describes as the "single biggest hiring opportunity in the history of the U.S." It sort of needs to be, given that the unemployment rate in Nevada is a formidable 13.2%. The company has already offered 4,000 of those jobs to current MGM employees (95% of whom accepted). And on Monday, Sept. 21, it started to process the remainder — all previously vetted. In total, to fill the 12,000 positions, CityCenter fielded 160,000 applications. (See pictures of hard times in Las Vegas.)

About 500 applicants arrived on the first day of what is likely to be a multiweek procedure. They gathered in a large, nondescript shed, sandwiched between Interstate 15 and the rear end of the Mirage. Despite the occasional muffled burst of applause or cheering from the back of the giant room, it was hardly the exuberant chaos Las Vegas is known for. The atmosphere was more like an agreeable visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. But it was pure Vegas in its methodical choreography. An army of MGM-Mirage employees, bedecked in navy blue CityCenter polos and khakis, effortlessly squired the prospective hires from station to station, where they received their job offers and made arrangements for ID badges and uniform fittings. Meanwhile, reporters and photographers, with p.r. docents bolted to their hips, followed close behind. All were surrounded by banners, flat-screen TVs, holographic pictures and models conveying the scope of their new place of employment; at one point, Janet Jackson's "All for You" drifted by from hidden speakers. (Read Joel Stein's cover story "Less Vegas.")

The new hires came from Vegas and beyond — from New York City, from L.A., from small-town Ohio. They've come to be salon receptionists, bellmen, pit clerks, spa managers. Deborah Peterson, 38, had been out of work since April 2008. She was laid off from Mandalay Bay, where she used to work as a linen supervisor, tasked with making sure the napkins at use in the resort's many restaurants were adequately stocked and properly maintained. Since then? "Looking for work and looking for work. I put in anywhere from 50 to 100 applications every week." Her unemployment ran out in July, and she took a job working security, trying to support two kids. The work doesn't pay much, and she's fallen behind on her mortgage.

But she got a job on Monday and she's starting as a linen attendant in December. "I enjoy the textiles and knowing the difference between a nice spun polyester and a full-cotton product or Egyptian cotton. I'm so excited. I don't know what to do. When does December get here?"

It's the question Las Vegas has been asking itself since the $8.5 billion project was first announced in 2004, and it's taken on greater urgency after the city was pummeled by the recession. Two casinos sit half-built on the Vegas strip. Neighborhoods are dotted with foreclosure signs.

The scale of CityCenter is unique even in an oversized environment such as Las Vegas. "In good times we've had states fall all over themselves to try to get that kind of economic activity," says MGM-Mirage senior vice president Alan Feldman. "We'd be happy as a community to have someone do a $100 million tower." The project, however, has been plagued by mishaps: construction-worker deaths, a near bankruptcy, and defects at one tower, the Harmon, that resulted in plans to lop off its upper 21 stories. Meanwhile, the hiring is taking place as indicators across the city remain poor: room inventory is up slightly, but occupancy is off 6% vs. last year;

There were no Cirque du Soleil acrobats pirouetting around the ceiling. No celebrity red carpeteers. No Happiest Mayor — a nickname for Las Vegas gladhander Oscar Goodman — cavorting about his city, a showgirl on either hip. Just a day when economically troubled Sin City began offering thousands of jobs to people hungry for them.

room rates are off at least 25%. But MGM-Mirage says the project is in good shape. The company is carrying $1.8 billion in debt on the project but says financing to complete it is in place. MGM-Mirage also says it has closed on about half of the 2,440 condos for sale and has collected $350 million in deposits.

CityCenter could mark the much hoped-for resurgence of Las Vegas, but then again, it might mark the end of an era, a sort of peak the city won't easily reach again. Owing in part to wobbly credit markets, Feldman doesn't think another project of this size will be completed in the city for at least a decade.

But as it rises, the frayed spirits of Las Vegas have risen too, at least a little. "You see it on the freeway — its stature is just ridiculous," says Marc Beltran, 24, who just got hired as a front-service bellman. "It's one of the nicest hotels, not only in Las Vegas but in the country, if not the world. Regardless of the rough economy, I think we'll still be successful."