Fire Burns World-Famous Paris Ritz Hotel Where Princess Diana Had Her Last Meal

Princess Diana spent her last meal and evening in the hotel with Dodi Al Fayed before their fateful car crash in August 1997

Photo: Laurent Zabulon/ABACAPRESS.COM

The Ritz hotel in Paris, where Princess Diana spent her last meal and evening with Dodi Al Fayed before their fatal car crash in August 1997, was the scene of a dramatic blaze this morning.

No one was hurt.

The hotel, closed while currently undergoing three years and $200 million worth of renovation, became famous in the last century for its palatial luxury and the exquisite caliber of its clientele. Princess Diana was actually the most recent in a long line of colorful and illustrious guests, as varied as Ernest Hemingway, Elton John and Audrey Hepburn.

Hemingway s home-away-from-home in Paris was the Ritz s celebrated bar (now called The Hemingway Bar), where the author spent many long evenings during World War II. Legend goes that he liberated the bar as the Nazis were retreating from Paris in 1945 and then ordered champagne for everyone. Hemingway is also reported to have, on a separate occasion, thrown his wife s photo into a Ritz toilet upon learning that she wanted a divorce, and then shooting both the photo and the toilet with his pistol.

French designer Coco Chanel spent some 35 years residing in a 1,670-square-foot suite consisting of two bedrooms and a living-room and decorated with Chinese furniture, baroque mirrors and over-sized quilted sofas. And Elton John s two-bedroom suite is reportedly decorated in strawberry pink and cream with a thick pink carpet and attic windows.

Wallis Simpson, aka the Duchess of Windsor, would often appear for lunch without her husband, the Duke of Windsor, who had not yet recovered from the previous night s festivities. “I married David for better, for worse,” she s reported to have told the bartender at The Ritz, “but not for lunch.”

King Alfonso of Spain, another regular at the bar, would automatically be served his special drink, a quart of Dom Perignon champagne laced with Cognac and a dozen strawberries.

Famous French writer Marcel Proust wrote parts of Remembrance of Things Past in The Ritz. So fond was he of the hotel that, as he lay dying, Proust reportedly sent his chauffeur, Odilong, to the hotel for a bottle of his favorite beer – which was always kept on ice for him. He took a final sip of the beer and died, thanking loyal Odilon for this last kind gesture.

The Nazi German air force set up its headquarters at the Ritz during the Second World War. Officers reportedly checked their guns at a kiosk at the entrance and uniforms weren t allowed.

Queen Victoria s oldest son, King Edward VII, reportedly once got stuck in a too-narrow bathtub with his lover at the hotel and had to be pried out by two valets.

And the Marquise of Casati, an eccentric Italian heiress and patroness of the arts, reportedly kept two cheetahs in her suite and a drugged python that she wore around her neck. She would sometimes feed it a live rabbit, provided by room service.

The importance of this legendary hotel in Parisian lore may be part of the reason why the city s fire department sent 60 firemen and 15 firetrucks to battle the blaze that broke out at 7 a.m. on the top and 7th floor as some 100 workers were getting ready to start their day.

But Captain Bot, a spokesman for the Paris fire department, says there were purely practical, not emotional, reasons for the generous deployment of fire crews and vehicles. “The fire department does not distinguish buildings by their importance,” he tells PEOPLE. “The fire had to be contained. There was a strong risk of it spreading to the floors below and to the adjacent buildings.”

Place Vendome, where the Ritz is located, is owned by Egyptian business magnate Mohamed Al Fayed, father of Dodi Al Fayed. It is considered the most luxurious square in Paris with its jewellery stores, banks and expensive private apartments. Adjacent buildings are France s Ministry of Justice and two mansions owned by the Sultan of Brunei.

The fire this morning was soon contained, says Bot, but the work of the firefighters will continue into part of the day. “They have to remove insulation materials in the roof and make sure there is no trace of fire left. They will take off part of the roof,” he says, “it s a lot of work.”

An investigation is underway. The hotel s press office would not comment except to say that it had been “a terrible moment.”

Although there was disruption to the city s traffic in the nearby roads, and the Ritz s planned reopening in March might now be further delayed, “the most important thing” insists Bot, “is that no one was hurt. If there had been a hotel full of guests this morning, he added, the situation would have been a little more complicated.”

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