In the third episode of the fifth season of The Crown, Elizabeth Debicki’s Princess Diana is shown meeting Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla), the son of billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw), for the first time. However, it is not that former boyfriend, alongside whom she would perish in a car crash in Paris in 1997, who is presented as her main love interest in the latest instalment of the Netflix behemoth. Instead, it is Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed), the British-Pakistani heart surgeon who she dated for two years, between 1995 and 1997, following her separation from Prince Charles in 1992. But, how did the then Princess of Wales really cross paths with the cardiologist, how did their relationship progress, and what precipitated its end? Below, we separate the fact from the fiction.
How did Princess Diana and Hasnat Khan actually meet?
The new season’s seventh episode, “No Woman’s Land”, sees Princess Diana meeting Khan for the first time in a hospital while comforting her acupuncturist and friend Oonagh Toffolo as her husband recovers from heart surgery. When Khan emerges to deliver his verdict on his patient, Princess Diana is visibly taken with him. She spots his name written on his shoes and, after he leaves, calls him “dishy”. In real life, the scene played out in almost exactly the same way: on 1 September 1995, Khan was indeed the attending surgeon at Royal Brompton Hospital and had come to the waiting room to give Toffolo an update on her husband’s triple-bypass surgery. Toffolo introduced him to Princess Diana and she later said to Toffolo, “Isn’t he drop-dead gorgeous? And his name is Hasnat Khan. It’s written on his shoes.”
In The Crown’s retelling, Princess Diana then returns to the hospital several times to meet patients. She and Khan run into each other again, and plan to meet after his shift. Following a touching conversation about the limitations placed on both of their lives, over crisps and chocolate bought from a vending machine, they plan a first date: going to see Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 in the cinema, where Diana arrives in disguise, dressed in a dark wig and sunglasses.
In reality, Diana returned to the hospital every day for the next few weeks, and soon found herself alone in an elevator with Khan. Their eyes locked, they had a conversation, and about two weeks later, they went on their first date: a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit Khan’s aunt and uncle. “I did not think for one minute that she would say yes, but I asked her if she would like to come with me,” Khan told the police in an interview following Diana’s death. “I was very surprised when she said she would. After this, our friendship turned into a relationship.” Despite this crucial change in the story, there do appear to be other kernels of truth in The Crown’s depiction: Diana did, in fact, wear dark wigs and sunglasses when venturing out with Khan in his Chelsea neighbourhood or queuing with him outside jazz clubs; and Khan was a fan of junk food, with the pair frequently having KFC for dinner together at Kensington Palace.
What was Princess Diana’s relationship with Hasnat Khan really like?
The next portion of their relationship largely plays out off screen in The Crown, barring a sequence in which Princess Diana kisses Khan goodbye and another in which she tells her son, Prince William, that she’s seeing someone. In real life, their romance remained mostly under wraps, but was, by all accounts, serious. They discussed marriage and having children together, the possibility of moving to Pakistan, and Diana even introduced him to her sons. In February 1996, she also flew to Pakistan to visit a cancer hospital run by Imran Khan, a distant cousin of Hasnat’s, and made a significant effort to win over the rest of his family, including his grandmother, with whom she’d had a long-standing correspondence. Friends described their relationship as Diana’s most significant since her marriage.
Why did Princess Diana and Hasnat Khan’s relationship end?
The Crown is vague about the reasons behind the end of Princess Diana and Khan’s relationship. In one scene, she is shown speaking to her therapist about him through tears, saying that he has “suddenly gone silent”, and when Prince Charles asks her about him, she replies that she’s “scared him off”. In truth, the end of their love affair was more complicated. Once news of their romance broke in the Sunday Mirror in 1996, Khan found it difficult to cope with the press scrutiny. He began receiving threats and having second thoughts about his future with the Princess. He eventually decided that he couldn’t marry her or even go public. “My main concern about us getting married was that my life would be hell because of who she was,” he later told the police. “I knew I would not be able to live a normal life and if we ever had children together, I would not be able to take them anywhere or do normal things with them.”
In July 1997, a month before her death, Khan stayed with Diana at Kensington Palace on the night before she flew to St Tropez for her holiday with Mohamed Al-Fayed. “After a few days, I felt something was wrong,” he added. “I told her I thought something was wrong because of the way she had been acting, but she just said that because of the geography of where she was, she was having problems getting reception on her phone.” The pair met again, at the end of the month in Battersea, and Khan told the Princess that he suspected there was now another man in her life. She denied this. “At the end of our meeting in Battersea Park, we arranged to see each other again the following day at Kensington Palace. It was at that second meeting that Diana told me that it was all over between us.”
Diana then flew to Paris to see Dodi Fayed. Some of her friends speculated that she was still in love with Khan at the time, and using her new partner to send him a message. Even after their break-up, she remained in contact with Khan’s family and gave them the impression that they were still together. Khan tried to call Diana again, on the night of her death, but she had, by that point, changed her number.
From British Vogue