Princess Diana’s funeral, held less than a week after her shocking death in a high-speed Paris car crash, drew more than a million people to London. Millions more watched on TV.
Nearly two decades after its original publication, The Associated Press is making available correspondent Maureen Johnson’s Sept. 6, 1997, report on the event.
With timeless splendor, a sea of tears and a brother’s rage, Britain bade farewell today to its “Queen of Hearts,” a million mourners or more seeing Diana, Princess of Wales, to her final rest after a life of golden days, heartache and too few years.
“All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity,” said her brother, Charles.
But the ninth Earl Spencer was bitter, too, in his eulogy from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey, taking aim at a gossip-hungry press that may have contributed to Diana’s death, and vowing to keep the royal family from smothering her sons in “duty and tradition.”
Hushed throngs strained to see the stately procession bearing Diana’s coffin to the abbey funeral, as it passed at “dead march” step through corridors of humanity massed in central London to bid godspeed to the much-loved but star-crossed princess.
At the funeral’s end, just after noon, the nation fell silent in a one-minute tribute, as echoes absorbed the final strains of the abbey choir’s “Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you.”
A motorcade then carried the princess’s remains north on a 75-mile route to her ancestral home, Althorp Park, where a grave awaited on a quiet, wooded island in the estate grounds.
The hearse was quickly blanketed with flowers tossed from the grieving crowds. As it entered Althorp, police shut the estate’s gates, and Diana’s family took her into the privacy she had often craved – a burial service attended by a few Spencers, her former husband, Prince Charles, and her beloved sons. The Spencer family said no details of the burial would be made public.
Charles and his sons left Althorp at about 6 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT), police said. They were believed to be going to Charles’ home, Highgrove, in Gloucestershire in western England.
Within Westminster Abbey’s hallowed and soaring walls, black-clad ranks of royals, glittering rows of celebrities, and hundreds of ordinary people whose lives felt her human touch had gathered to hear words of praise and prayer for Diana, killed at age 36 last Sunday in a Paris automobile crash many blame on pursuing photographers.
“Although a princess, she was someone for whom, from afar, we dared to feel affection,” said Westminster’s dean, The Very Rev. Dr. Wesley Carr.
But along with his own paean of love and prayer, Diana’s brother delivered an indictment of the media, in a eulogy that drew long applause in the abbey and across London, where hundreds of thousands watched the funeral on giant TV screens.
“She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hand of the newspapers,” said Earl Spencer, 33, holding his tone of rage under steely control.
Spencer also alluded to his sister’s troubled years within the royal family, which took away Diana’s “Her Royal Highness” title when she was divorced last year from Prince Charles.
She was “someone with natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year she needed no royal title to generate her particular brand of magic,” he said.
The earl vowed he would protect Diana’s sons, Prince William, 15 and second in line to the British throne, and Prince Harry, 12, from the press and from being swallowed by the “duty and tradition” of royalty.
Amid the sorrowful tones of Bach, Verdi and Purcell in the abbey, the 2,000 mourners also heard a gentle pop hymn from Diana’s friend Elton John, a song that left her boys in tears.
“Goodbye England’s rose,” he sang, “… your candle’s burned out long before your legend ever will.”
The ceremonies today, a day when this nation shut down as for the death of a true monarch, will help make the legend of Diana.
Six gleaming black horses had pulled a gun carriage bearing the coffin down the city’s boulevards and avenues in the cool sunshine. Slowly striding behind on the last mile of the 3 -mile journey were her adored sons, heads bowed; their father, Prince Charles; their grandfather Prince Philip; and the earl.
Hundreds of representatives of the charities Diana championed trailed behind, some in wheelchairs, some in nurses’ whites.
The coffin was shrouded in the royal flag and topped with white lilies, tulips and roses, one wreath each from her brother and her sons. A card propped atop the casket read simply, “Mummy.”
Sobs and anguished cries of “Diana!” were heard. Some in the throng, often 50 deep, tossed flowers as the cortege passed. “No one can hurt you now,” a banner read. “Just feel the love.”
As the cortege passed Buckingham Palace, before the men joined the procession, the royal family, led by the queen, bowed their heads.
Police estimated many more than 1 million people lined the sidewalks and filled London’s parks to watch the requiem on TV screens. But silence reigned, seldom broken by more than the clop of hooves and the bell’s sad call.
Uncounted millions of others around world watched on television as the British people buried the earl’s daughter and former kindergarten teacher who became perhaps the most-photographed woman on Earth.
In the six days since the princess’s death, there has been a remarkable outpouring of public grief. Diana’s astonishing popularity, which had troubled the royal family in life, was now humbling it in death.
“They (the royals) must get closer to the people to survive,” said Doreen Duffell, who joined a subdued throng before the procession. “Di was the only one who showed expression in her face. The expressions of the others hardly ever change.”
That very sentiment had led Queen Elizabeth II on Friday to shatter royal protocol by making her first live, televised address since the early days of her 45-year reign to pay tribute to her former daughter-in-law, describing her as a “remarkable person” whose memory would be cherished.
Diana herself had once said she aspired most of all to be “a queen in people’s hearts.” And on Saturday, the multitudes crowned her – mourners pinning simple playing cards to the chests.
Among the 2,000 guests gathered for the 45-minute funeral were first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, royalty from across Europe, celebrity friends of Diana from the worlds of entertainment and fashion – including movie stars Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, and opera’s Luciano Pavarotti – and many others who had known her kindness.
Pool television cameras were operated under instructions not to show the royal family during the service.
The mixture of old and new at the royal church – solemn choral music, Diana’s favorite hymn, “I Vow To Thee My Country,” and Elton John’s song, originally written for Marilyn Monroe and reworked for Diana – reflected her life and passions.
Hugh Mulligan, an AP special correspondent who was inside the abbey, said he was reminded of covering Charles and Diana’s wedding in St. Paul’s Cathedral when he saw designer David Emanuel weeping openly at John’s song.
Then, in 1981, Diana emerged from a glass coach to march up the aisle in an ivory taffeta dress of his design, trailing a 25-foot train, to become the Princess of Wales. Today it was just as glorious, with crowds in the streets and sunshine slanting through stained-glass windows, but the muffled bells were tumbling out a dirge from their tall towers.
That “fairy-tale” marriage, between an awkwardly beautiful young woman just out of her teens and a prince 12 years her senior, deteriorated year by year. Diana complained he was cold and the royal family unfeeling. Charles’ friends said she was a moody, difficult wife. Both eventually admitted to extramarital affairs.
But, meanwhile, the free-spirited, radiant Princess of Wales had won a rapt following worldwide, people who admired her style and spunk.
In the year since her divorce, which the queen had demanded, Diana seemed to be rebuilding her life. Then, last Sunday, it all ended in the twisted wreckage of a Mercedes sedan in a Paris tunnel, when she was killed her with her new beau, Dodi Fayed, and their driver in a high-speed flight from paparazzi photographers.
Many blamed the photographers. Later it was also reported by prosecutors that a blood test showed the driver was legally drunk.
At least six photographers and one press motorcyclist are under formal investigation in Paris on possible charges of manslaughter and failure to aid accident victims.
Even to the end, fame dogged the former Diana Spencer.
She originally was expected to be buried in the village church at Great Brington, near Althorp Park, where 20 generations lie at rest. But instead a site within the estate was chosen, for fear the hamlet would become overrun with sightseers and tourists.