Newsweek published this story under the headline of “The Day England Cried” on September 15, 1997. To commemorate the life of Princess Diana 20 years after her death, Newsweek is republishing the story.
First, there were the tears, more than a million wept as they struggled to glimpse the cortege's precisely measured progress from Diana's home at Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. The guests cried inside the vast church, and the crowds sobbed outside: they had all been touched, in one way or another, by the life of a woman who struggled with her own emotional problems even as she reached out to the victims of homelessness, AIDS, cancer and land mines. "Diana profoundly influenced this nation and the world," the dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. Dr. Wesley Carr, solemnly said in his bidding to the congregation. "Although a princess, she was someone for whom, from afar, we dared to feel affection, and by whom we were all intrigued." Diana was gentle, flamboyant, down to earth, regal -- sometimes foolish, often brave and always glamorous, whether in a baseball cap or a tiara. Her husband rejected her; the people loved her. They needed to say goodbye.
And there were the flowers. Acres of carnations and roses at the gates of the palaces, along the funeral route, at the Spencer estate where she was laid to rest -- so many bouquets that florists declared a national shortage. The most poignant were atop the casket: three wreaths of white roses, lilies and tulips from her children and the Spencer family -- and a white card inscribed with a single, heartbreaking word: MUMMY.
And above all, there were her sons. They were her best friends, she once said, and her emotional anchors, the most important people in her world. As the boys walked behind the gun carriage, between their father and their uncle and their grandfather, their heads were bowed. In 15-year-old William especially, there were eloquent reminders of Diana -- the blond hair, the shy sidelong glances. Next week Harry turns 13. It will be his first birthday without his mother.
The funeral pageantry was a moving mix of ancient and modern, a particularly fitting tribute to Diana, who was both a symbol of a cosmopolitan New Britain and a mother of kings. The cortege began at Kensington; at St. James's Palace, Prince Charles, William, Harry, Prince Philip and Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, joined the procession, marching a few paces behind the carriage. Until that moment, no one had known for sure whether the young princes would escort their mother's remains through the streets. They were followed by representatives of Diana's charities: people with AIDS, the homeless, the Red Cross, victims of land mines in wheelchairs.
The length of the route was extended several times in the days before the funeral as the estimates of the expected crowd grew ever larger. Prime Minister Tony Blair had chosen the day, Saturday, so that working people would be free to stand along the streets or watch on television. Indeed, much of the nation came to a halt. Most businesses, museums and stores were closed (including Harrods, which is owned by Mohamed Al Fayed, the father of Diana's boyfriend, Dodi). Huge screens were set up in Hyde Park so that mourners could watch the proceedings; many also carried small portable TVs and radios.
Finally the procession came to Westminster Abbey, one of the most hallowed places in England, the venue for coronations stretching back to William the Conqueror. The casket was shouldered by Welsh Guards clad in crimson; the procession paused as the congregation sang "God Save the Queen." Then the coffin was borne down the long nave. The young princes followed, and joined their grandmother and great-grandmother in the sanctuary -- not far from the spot where Elizabeth was crowned in 1953. Before the prayers began, Charles and Philip each bent down and placed bouquets of white lillies at the foot of Diana's bier. Charles made the sign of the cross as he straightened; his face looked flushed. William and Harry stood next to their father for a moment. Then they all returned to their seats and disappeared from public view. On this occasion, at least, photographers were not allowed to show their faces.
The service itself included traditional Anglican prayers and hymns; Blair brilliantly read from the 13th chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians. Diana's sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, read poems, and her brother, Earl Spencer, delivered a provocative eulogy. And there was Elton John's performance of "Candle in the Wind," rewritten especially for Diana: "Your footsteps will always fall here/among England's greenest hills;/your candle's burned out long before/your legend ever will."
It was Prince William's idea to have John perform, a source told NEWSWEEK. Martin Neary, the Abbey's director of music, then asked the entertainer -- a long-time friend of Diana's -- to redo that particular song, one originally written to honor Marilyn Monroe. William also picked "I Vow to Thee My Country," Diana's favorite hymn. Charles requested John Taverner's "Song for Athene," which was written for a close friend of the composer's who was killed in a cycling accident. "The key thing about Diana's funeral," Neary said afterward, "that everyone felt and agreed on was that there be something for everyone, from all walks of life. The feeling was that the service and music should not have a remoteness, a formality that would make it out of touch, but that it should echo the feeling that she was truly a 'princess of the people'."
Only Diana could draw together Hillary Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Henry Kissinger and 43 members of the royal family, including Princess Margaret, Sarah Ferguson and the 97-year-old Queen Mother, who walked determinedly on her own, with only the help of a cane. The other 2,000 invited guests included personal friends and hundreds of people Diana had met through her charity work.
The ceremony followed days of behind-the-scenes maneuvering punctuated by regular phone calls between the royal retreat at Balmoral, Scotland, and 10 Downing Street, the residence of the prime minister. The intense emotional outpouring in the days before the funeral had taken the royal family by surprise. For most of the week the queen, Charles, William and Harry remained in seclusion at Balmoral while Britons complained they were not showing sufficient grief.
The Windsors appeared immobilized by royal precedent and their estrangement from Diana since her separation from Charles. If there was one symbol of the supposed deep division between the mood of the people and the royal family, it was the flagpole at Buckingham Palace. Flags throughout the country were lowered to half-staff, but the palace flagpole was bare, a traditional sign that the queen was not in residence. On Thursday the tabloids blared: YOUR PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING. SPEAK TO US MA'AM and WHERE IS OUR QUEEN? WHERE IS HER FLAG?
It was Charles who heard the message most clearly. On Sunday, when he flew to Paris to escort Diana's body home, he appeared badly shaken by his ex-wife's death. His eyes were puffy and red. Hours earlier, he had had to wake William and Harry to tell them that their mother was dead.
All week Charles was regularly on the phone to Blair and constantly pushing for the royals to show more emotion. On Wednesday, his press secretary told reporters that the Prince of Wales and his sons were "taking strength from the overwhelming support of the public." On Thursday the other Windsors began to respond as well. That afternoon the queen's press secretary announced, in a highly unusual admission, that "the Royal Family have been hurt by suggestions that they are indifferent to the country's sorrow." In the evening, after a church service at Balmoral, the family stopped to look over tributes to Diana among a mound of flowers outside the gates. At one point Harry reached out for his father's hand, and they held on to each other tightly, a rare gesture of intimacy. The press, and the public, responded approvingly the next day, when the papers ran the images. The Mirror's headline: IN SAFE HANDS. The Sun's: DAD'S HAND OF LOVE.
The queen, who normally addresses the nation only at Christmastime, spoke live on television late Friday afternoon. It was only the second time in her 44-year reign that she had addressed her subjects out of season (the first was on the occasion of the gulf war). Her Majesty called her former daughter-in-law "an exceptional and gifted human being." Elizabeth seemed sad, and referred to herself by the pronoun "I" instead of the royal "we." During the broadcast from Buckingham Palace, she stood next to a window; over her shoulder, viewers could see mourners placing even more flowers and written tributes on the vast pile between the Queen Victoria Memorial and the palace gates. The next morning the queen watched from those gates as the funeral procession passed; the sovereign bowed to the cortege. A few minutes later, when the queen left for the Abbey, the royal colors -- which were also on Diana's coffin -- were lowered, and a Union Jack was set in its place at half-mast.
After the funeral, the hearse and a small procession of cars left the Abbey for the two-hour journey to Althorp, the Spencers' ancestral home in Northamptonshire. There were crowds along that route, too, and tears and flowers. By the time the hearse reached Althorp, the roof and hood were covered with bouquets. Plans to bury Diana in the local church had to be canceled because the Spencers feared her grave would become a kind of celebrity shrine, like Graceland, overrun by tourists. Instead, she was laid to rest on an island in the middle of a small lake. The burial was private. The world watched, in a final live broadcast, as the procession of cars passed through the gates of the Spencer estate. And then the cameras stopped.
A Gathering of Friends
A remarkable collection of more than 2,000 admirers from the worlds of politics, fashion, business and entertainment came to pay Princess Diana their last respect