MOST people woke on Sunday morning to the stunning news that Princess Diana was dead.

But there were some who had been up since the early hours after being alerted to the events in Paris.

Linda Dawson, who ran the Princess Diana Fan Club from her home in Poole, told the Daily Echo how she was rung by a press agency at 2.30am that August 31, 20 years ago.

The reporter only knew then that the Princess’s companion, Dodi Fayed, had been killed in a car crash and that Diana was injured.

“I was stunned when the announcement came and I’ve been crying ever since,” Linda told the Echo that day.

“It’s going to leave a huge void in everybody’s lives.”

The crash had happened in a Paris underpass, with paparazzi photographers pursuing the couple's car. It would later emerge that their chauffeur, Henri Paul, had been drinking.

“She once said she would be hounded to death by the press,” said Linda.

“It was just an expression but it’s turned out to be very true.”

At 4am, Bournemouth’s town centre rector, Canon Jim Richardson, received a call from the Spencer family home at Althorp, Northamptonshire. He had been chaplain there from 1992-96 and had met the princess on numerous occasions.

“When she was there, she relaxed and she was one of us,” he told the Echo.

“Everyone there knew her and lover her. They remembered her as a teenage girl running to the village shop, and when the day of her wedding came there were parties in the street and immense joy.

“She was such a lovely, bubbly personality. One didn’t feel at all uncomfortable in her presence.”

The following days would see an unprecedented outpouring of public grief for the 36-year-old woman described by prime minister Tony Blair as “the people’s princess”. The mourning would culminate in a funeral at Westminster Abbey, with 32million people watching on television and many thousands lining the streets of London.

The public and the media had been besotted with Diana since the earliest days of her courtship with the Prince of Wales. The couple’s wedding in 1981 had been a national celebration.

The couple’s good times, including the births of sons William and Harry, were chronicled as exhaustively as their eventual separation and divorce.

Diana came to Bournemouth in December 1987 to officially open Homelife House, the striking headquarters of retirement developer McCarthy & Stone, in her capacity as patron of Help the Aged.

The following year, she was in Poole to launch the Dorset Light Up a life Candle Appeal – the county’s fundraising effort to rebuild Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, of which the princess was a patron.

The event, which saw her lighting a giant candle at Poole Hospital, began an effort which eventually raised £300,000 against a target of £100,000.

Lady Dione Digby, who was president of the Dorset appeal, said in 1997: “It was certainly some measure of her enormous popularity that we raised as much as we did.”

During her visit, Diana also visited Poole Arts Centre to help celebrate its 10th birthday. She watched a rehearsal by Bournemouth Sinfonietta, enjoyed a children’s fun shop and saw a run-through of Guys and Dolls by pupils of Corfe Hills School.

During a 1991 visit to Bournemouth’s Anglo European College of Chiropractic, Diana told of her own trouble with back pain. She was a patron of the college for six years before giving up the role following her divorce.

Patient Geoffrey Gibbs, 70, recalled: “She was lovely. She came in, plonked herself down and started telling me about her bad back. She said her height didn’t help.”

The trip to Bournemouth also saw her arrive by helicopter at Milton Mount School, Southbourne, and visit North Bournemouth Family Centre, which had just opened.

At the family centre, she indicated to one well-wisher that she would like a sister for William and Harry.

Tracey McGowan of Ensbury Park told the Echo then: “She said she thinks boys are more content than girls and then said ‘But I can’t really say as I’ve not had any girls’.

“I asked her if she would like another one and she said ‘yes’ and indicated she would like a little girl.”

Diana also spoke to Andy Arch of Kinson, who had the words “West Howe” tattooed on his neck and AFC Bournemouth on the back of his hand. She was interested to know what West Howe was.

“I explained it’s a housing estate and AFCB is AFC Bournemouth football club. She told she likes pretty tattoos with lots of colour and details,” he said at the time.

With Diana’s death, tributes were paid not only to her way with people, but also to the causes she had championed – whether it was the lives wrecked by the use of land mines or the suffering of people with HIV and Aids.

The Rev Neil Thomas, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church in Pokesdown, said when she died: “The amount of work Diana has done with HIV and Aids victims has made it an issue that people will actually talk about.

“She took the issue from the underground and got it out in the open.”