The Crown: Who Is Photographer Mario Brenna?

'If it hadn't been me, it would have been someone else,' he said of photographing Princess Diana.


by Charlotte Roberts |
Published on

The final season of The Crown has dropped its highly anticipated four episodes, picking up with the 1997 car crash that saw Princess Diana's (Elizabeth Debicki) and Dodi Fayed's (Khalid Abdalla) tragic death. Another storyline being unpacked is the royal family’s tumultuous, and often invasive, relationship with the paparazzi - with one depicted in the show being Mario Brenna.

While the Italian photographer was known for his work with luxury fashion houses such as Versace, Mario's career defining moments arrived during the summer of 1997 - where he captured the first photographs of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed embracing on a yacht off the coast of Sardinia.

Want to know more about the photographer depicted in the show, and just how accurate the events that unfold onscreen are? Here’s everything to know about Mario Brenna.

Who is Mario Brenna, and what happened with the photographs of Dodi and Diana?

Mario – who was 40 years old at the time – had worked as an official photographer of fashion houses before capturing the candid image of Dodi and Diana on the family yacht in August 4th 1997.

On August 1, 1997, Mario said he approached Diana’s yacht after mistaking a blonde woman making a phone call for an old acquaintance. It was only upon approaching that he realised it was the princess. It was said that Mario was simply completing another assignment nearby, however other reports have claimed that Diana called Mario herself to stage the photo opportunity.

Diana posing for Paparazzi in The Crown. Credit: Netflix

After spotting the couple, Mario spent the next few days following the boat – going so far as to climb a cliff to get his shot. From about 400 meters away, the photographer was able to snap several blurred snaps of Diana and Dodi in an embrace.

The first snap of the couple’s budding romance, the picture kicked off an intense bidding war – with the Sunday Mirror earning rights to print it on their front cover. Fuelling rumours of Dodi buying an engagement ring, they wrote ‘Locked in her lover’s arms, the princess finds happiness at last.’ In the months following, Mario has since revealed he made around £1.7 million from the snaps of the couple.

But a 2006 report from the British Metropolitan police noted that this picture was a huge turning point. It became the moment that signalled the start of a tabloid frenzy over the princess and her new lover, with members of the paparazzi desperate to secure their own payout.

By the end of the month, Diana and Dodi were dead. The pair died in a tragic car crash on August 27, 1997, said to be caused after their vehicle was chased by paparazzi.

How accurate is The Crown's portrayal of Mario Brenna?

There’s no denying that the Netflix show has more than one historical inaccuracy. Now, Mario has spoken out about the show’s misrepresentation of him and his infamous picture.

Mario – played by Enzo Cilenti in the show – is introduced to viewers during episode two. Talking about his profession, Mario says, 'Everyone wants pictures of celebrities. Pictures that show famous people. They are no different, just like us. Making mistakes just like us. People pay one, two hundred thousand dollars for the right shot. But the right shot is hard to get. You have to be like hunters. Killers.’

Diana in The Crown. Credit: Netflix

However, Mario has since shut down this opinion of his work – saying ‘I do not identify with the term "killer."' He also alleged that he was not contacted by anyone from The Crown to discuss his experience.

In The Crown, Mohamed Al-Fayed – Dodi’s father – also appears to hire Mario to take the high-profile shot it the hopes it would encourage the pair to marry. However, Mario has insisted that any idea of him being hired by Mohamed is ‘absurd and completely invented.'

Where is Mario Brenna now?

It’s been reported that Mario now lives in Italy, near Lake Como, where he has photographed celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Beyonce.

And although Mario has spoken about the huge financial benefits the snaps of Dodi and Diana bought, he previously admitted that her death had a huge impact on him – with him deciding ‘not to speak or disclose anything about the incident until William and Harry reached adulthood.’

‘[The thought that my images] could have contributed to fuelling the hunt for Diana and Dodi obviously saddens me,’ he said, ‘but if it hadn’t been me, someone else would certainly have captured those images.’

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