It’s called “National Enquirer Live!”—the newest attraction in the amusement park capital of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, on the edge of the Smoky Mountains and just four miles down the road from Dollywood.
But death, especially Princess Diana’s Aug. 31, 1997 car-crash death, is a prominent theme inside the chock-a-block funhouse named for the notorious supermarket tabloid that slavishly supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“It’s a 3-D computer model, and you’re looking down on what looks just like Paris, but it’s three-dimensional,” amusements impresario Robin Turner told The Daily Beast about the Princess Diana exhibit, an attention-getting aspect of the attraction that opens to the public on Friday at noon.
“It’s projected, and you see the buildings and everything in a 3-D presentation,” Turner added. “And it shows the pathway as she left the Ritz hotel, and the paparazzi chasing her, and the bang-flash that we think blinded the driver—and how it happened.”
Turner, one of the principal investors in the new enterprise, insisted that the Princess Diana exhibit—one of around 100 to be featured in the 20,000-square foot space, including a tribute to the famed September 1977 Enquirer cover photo of the corpse of Elvis Presley in its open coffin—will be a sensitively handled, not a grisly, experience for customers watching the spectacle inside a darkened gallery (and who forked over the $24.99 adult ticket price or the $18.99 child price for the privilege).
For instance, Turner said, fun-seekers will not be confronted by close-ups of Diana’s limp body in the backseat of the mangled Mercedes Benz S280 sedan that smashed at an estimated 65 miles per hour into a concrete pillar in Paris’ Pont de l’Alma tunnel.
“There’s no blood. There’s none of that. You see the car crash through computer animation,” Turner explained, adding that viewers will be invited to entertain various widely-debunked conspiracy theories, which in the immediate aftermath of the crash included a claim that Diana was pregnant by her Egyptian boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and murdered by the British intelligence services at the behest of Buckingham Palace.
“You will be polled on what you believe was the cause of her death and who was behind it,” Turner said, adding that he has yet to receive any complaints from the Palace. “We ask questions like ‘Do you think the royals were involved?’ ‘Do you think she was pregnant?’ All we do is ask questions on: what’s your opinion?”
Turner insisted: “It’s definitely not in poor taste. It’s just showing the route of what happened. For people who’ve never been to Paris, it’s just showing the topography, and the distance, and the tunnel, and that kind of stuff…It’s done very professionally.”
Asked if the exhibit respects Diana’s memory and the feelings of her two sons, who were 15 and 12 at the time of her death and have repeatedly said how painful it has been to be forced by media outlets to relive the tragedy, Turner claimed it does.
“It’s done in a positive fashion,” he said. “It brings attention to the different theories behind it that the Enquirer has covered over the years…The biggest sensitivity of all is, do you think she was pregnant with Dodi’s baby?”
Asked if he believes Prince William and his younger brother Harry would be offended if they visited, Turner was ambivalent.
“I hope not,” he answered. “But that’s hard to say. I know they’re very sensitive. With everything out there, I think they’ve had to—you know, there’s nothing new that’s being presented.”
The Daily Beast asked for a response from the British royals and received three polite but firm “no comments”—two from spokeswomen for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, i.e. William and Kate, and a single “no comment” from the spokeswoman for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, i.e. Harry and Meghan.
“Thanks for getting in touch,” Harry and Meghan’s flack emailed.
Turner, however, said he’s heard rumblings of possible public protests of “National Enquirer Live!” by demonstrators who dislike the tabloid whose former chief executive, David Pecker, eagerly backed his pal Trump, paying a Playboy model and others nearly $200,000 to “catch and kill” stories about the married candidate’s alleged sexual wanderings, and ruthlessly deployed the Enquirer to slime Trump’s adversaries.
For instance, the Enquirer trashed Trump admirers-turned-critics Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (claiming that the recently-wed MSNBC hosts had engaged in an extramarital affair while married to other people) and repeatedly attacked Trump’s Republican primary opponent Ted Cruz (claiming that the Texas senator’s Cuban father Rafael was somehow involved in the JFK assassination).
“That was a little bit far-fetched,” Turner said concerning the Rafael Cruz conspiracy theory, explaining why it isn’t included in the JFK exhibit that entertains a dozen other theories of the assassination. “We didn’t touch that one at all.”
Another bogus conspiracy theory to which “National Enquirer Live!” is devoting a gallery focuses on the nutbag claim—covered over the years by the tabloid as though it were legitimate news—that NASA faked the moon landing.
Also included: various “story-behind-the story” accounts (featuring the audio-video testimony of the journalists involved) of such Enquirer scoops as the cover photo of model Donna Rice sitting on Sen. Gary Hart’s lap on the yacht Monkey Business, the revelation of Sen. John Edwards’ out-of-wedlock love child, and the damning photo of O.J. Simpson wearing the size-12 Bruno Magli Lorenzo boots that fit the bloody footprint discovered at the murder scene of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.
Among other exhibits, there will be a dedicated theater showing a short film celebrating Generoso Pope, who purchased the Enquirer in 1952 (allegedly bankrolled by mafia boss Frank Costello) and transformed it from a relatively sedate broadsheet into scandal-mongering tabloid powerhouse.
Turner, meanwhile, stressed that “National Enquirer Live!” makes absolutely no mention of the 45th president—a rare Trump-free zone in American daily life.
Instead, visitors will have the experience of entering the ramshackle complex through the lens of gigantic camera, strolling down a red carpet while being blinded by flashes and hectored by virtual paparazzi, and can even take selfies with Big Foot and an alien (that is, an extraterrestrial, not an undocumented immigrant).
Turner, who has been toiling in the amusement/entertainment industry for five decades (dating back to when he was 16-year-old Disney World employee costumed as the Big Bad Wolf and Br’er Bear), said he expects that “National Enquirer Live!” will easily draw 450,000 paying customers in its first year.
That is a tiny fraction of the more than 11 million tourists who annually visit the Great Smoky Mountain National Park along with Pigeon Forge’s Dollywood and more than two dozen other attractions, including the Titanic Museum, Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud, the Elvis & Hollywood Legends Museum and the Biblical Times Dinner Theater.
The private investors behind “National Enquirer Live!”—who say they’re spending a combined $25 million on the Pigeon Forge attraction and a similar one in Branson, Missouri, scheduled to open in late June—are venturing into the theme-park market at a moment when the National Enquirer’s financially-stressed parent company, American Media Inc., has been forced to sell the tabloid because AMI’s controlling shareholder, hedge-fund manager Anthony Melchiorre, reportedly can no longer stomach being associated with the scandalous brand.
Melchiorre apparently has had enough after AMI’s chief content executive, Dylan Howard, allegedly threatened Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos with the publication of embarrassing photos of his private parts, which Bezos apparently had sent to his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.
Melchiorre “became disillusioned with the reporting tactics of the Enquirer and the legal and political pressure that resulted from them, according to people familiar with the deliberations,” the Bezos-owned Washington Post reported last month in a story that broke the news that the tabloid was being sold—supposedly for $100 million—to Pecker pal and Hudson News heir Jimmy Cohen.
Turner said he and his partners in FrontPage Attractions, notably “Ripley’s Believe It Not” franchise owner Bill Simms, have been developing ideas for “National Enquirer Live!” for the past seven years, and acquired a 30-year license from AMI to use the Enquirer’s brand and content.
FrontPage Attractions’ arrangement with AMI requires them to seek specific approval to exploit specific Enquirer material that might be controversial or has prompted litigation, but generally allows them to use their own judgment.
The 3-D presentation of Diana's death didn't raise any red flags with AMI, Turner said. “They're fine with it,” he said, while AMI declined to comment.
As for the recent sale of the tabloid to Cohen, which has not yet closed, “I don’t know what the impact will be,” Turner said.
Cohen didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.