From the Heart

Britain buries Diana amid tears and controversy

JOE CHIDLEY September 15 1997

From the Heart

Britain buries Diana amid tears and controversy

JOE CHIDLEY September 15 1997

It was unusual for London—there was not a cloud in the sky. It had rained often during the week, but on Saturday the darkness, the gloom, was within the hearts and minds of those lined up outside Kensington Palace. An hour before the simple gun carriage bearing the coiffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, was due to emerge from the palace gates, thousands of people, most dressed in black, lined Kensington Road in queues 20 or 30 deep. There were punctuations of sound: the cry of a baby, hungry after waiting hours with its parents; the noise of security helicopters circling overhead; the half-mumbled admonition from a middle-aged mourner to a press photographer working the crowd—“On your bike, Charlie.” But even when the cortege passed, there were only a few who wailed. Most striking, on a street normally filled with conversation and traffic noise, was the silence.

For much of the funeral, broadcast to more than 60 countries and an estimated 2.5 billion TV viewers—nearly half the world—Britain was a “nation united in grief and respect,” as Queen Elizabeth II had put it the evening before in a rare televised address. As the cortege—pulled by the King’s Troop, the Royal Horse Artillery, and surrounded by a bearer party of 12 from the Welsh Guards—wended its slow way along London’s streets, the scope of feeling among the hundreds of thousands who packed the six-kilometre route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey was palpable. At the halfway point, Pall Mall, more than 500 civilians, representatives of the 100-plus charities that Diana patronized during her life, fell in behind—most in casual dress, many in wheelchairs or using canes. There, too, princes William and Harry, aged 15 and 12, joined in, walking behind the gun carriage with their father, Prince Charles, grandfather Prince Philip and uncle Earl Spencer; a flower arrangement on the hearse carried an envelope with the single word “Mummy,” handwritten by one of the boys. And as the cortege approached Buckingham Palace, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family came out to the street to pay silent tribute to Diana, killed at 36 in a devastating car crash in a Paris tunnel.

Her final rites lacked many of the formal trappings of a royal funeral—Diana, after all, had been stripped of her designation as “Her Royal Highness” upon divorcing Charles last year. Instead, the funeral procession, like the ceremony inside Westminster Abbey, was a mixture of pomp and pop culture that seemed to fit the woman who had been both a royal and a rebel, an upper-class girl turned world-class celebrity. The weak and disabled walked with the heirs to the throne; the Queen stood with her subjects to mourn. Following a segment of Verdi’s Requiem, Elton John sang a special version of Candle in the Wind, the words adapted to Diana’s memory, that left her sons William and Harry—and many other mourners—in tears.

Carefully planned by Buckingham Palace and the Spencers, the ceremony and procession enshrined Diana as the “people’s princess, queen of the people’s hearts.” As she was praised in the Abbey by family and clergy, there was an undeniable catharsis. ‘To me, it was a rare, remarkable experience to be part of,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who officially represented Canada at the event, and

who had worked with Diana on the campaign to ban land mines. “More than anything, there was a sense of healing.”

But there was also controversy. Rising to deliver a tribute to his sister, Earl Spencer—suddenly and stirringly—stole the whole orchestrated show. It began when Spencer took a subtle but unmistakable shot at the Queen, saying that Diana “proved in the past year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.” Then Spencer—who personally sought and obtained an assurance from the editors of London’s leading tabloids that they would not attend the ceremony—renewed his attacks on the media, whom he clearly held culpable for his sister’s death. Their assault on Diana, he said, had made her consider exiling herself from England. And he expressed bafflement I over their motives. “My own and only explanation,” he added, “is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum.”

Spencer, 33, then turned his remarks to the princes William and Harry, and ventured into even more controversial territory. Pledging that the Spencers—Diana’s “blood family,” he emphasized—would ensure that her children would be brought up in keeping with their standing as potential kings, he also vowed, addressing himself to his older sister, that “we will not allow them to suffer the anguish that regularly drove you to tearful despair.” The family, he said, will see that the children “experience as many different aspects of life as they can”—not just the confines of palace and protocol. “So that,” he added, again addressing Diana, “their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned.”

In more reverent times, no one would ever have criticized the monarchy—even implicitly—in the presence of the leader of the Church of England. But among the thousands of common folk assembled outside, Spencer’s comments clearly struck a deep chord. And as he tearfully concluded his speech with homage to “the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana,” another unprecedented thing happened: the crowd beyond the cathedral’s opened doors broke into applause, and it carried like a wave into the Abbey itself, where mourners at the back of the congregation began to clap, as well.

Applause at a funeral? Unthinkable. Yet it was a week in which the once-unthinkable became the order of the day. In fact, Spencer’s speech was completely in sync with the public mood. He galvanized emotions that the clear majority of Britons had been expressing all week—and not always in subdued tones. One was lingering anger at the press, whom many still blame for the deaths of Diana and her boyfriend, millionaire Dodi AÍ Fayed—even as French authorities continued to sift through the evidence to try to determine what really happened that tragic Paris night.

“Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world, she was a symbol of selfless humanity. All over the world, a standard-bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a very British girl who transcended nationality. Someone with a natural nobility who was classless and who proved in the past year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.

“I don’t think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down. It is baffling. My own and only explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum.

“She would want us today to pledge ourselves to protecting her beloved boys,William and Harry, from a similar fate and I do this here, Diana, on your behalf. We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that regularly drove you to tearful despair.”

-Earl Spencer, Sept.6, 1997

More telling, Spencer also gave an important voice to widespread dissatisfaction with the Royal Family’s behavior during the week of mourning. Many felt they had snubbed Diana in death as they had in life—too absorbed with protocol, and out of touch with the extent of the public’s grief. “Has the House of Windsor got a heart?” the Daily Mail had asked on Thursday, while The Mirror implored the Queen: “Speak to us Ma’am.” When the royals finally did respond—by doubling the processional route and deciding to fly the Union Jack at half-mast at Buckingham Palace on the day of the funeral, and with the Queen giving her televised tribute—many Britons saw it as too little, too late. “I think they’ve been just awful to her—the Queen could have done a lot more in the beginning,” said Muriel Coleman, a Birmingham office worker who had camped out Friday night across from Westminster Abbey to watch the funeral in the morning. “And Charles? Disgusting.”

The question now is whether Diana’s funeral truly marked the beginning of the healing process, or whether any ceremony or symbolism can assuage such an extraordinary outpouring. The emotions—over Diana’s death and the royals’ response—ran so deep that they shocked even veteran observers. “It’s almost a kind of hysteria,” said Ingrid Seward, editor-inchief of Majesty magazine. “We’ve never had this before.” The mass grieving—as more than one commentator pointed out, often with a touch of disapproval—put the lie to the Brits’ fabled stiff upper lip. That clichéd appendage not only quivered last week, it positively drooped. And with it went the usual standards of politeness, and much of the protocol by which the British monarchy has so long lived and died.

It was, in essence, a clash of cultures that had long been simmering: the stoicism of the royals, whose repression of feeling was hardened in the

fires of the Blitz, and Diana’s 1960s-generation sentiment, a mind-set in which the greatest virtue is love. In the week leading up to Diana’s funeral, Britain underwent what can only be called a revolution—based not on politics or economic theory, but rather on feeling. And however it plays out, Britain will never be the same.

Sitting in a doorway near Westminster Abbey last Thursday, 18-year-old Amanda Dennis said she had to convince her friend Steven Campbell, 16, to come with her on the 550-km drive to London from her home town of Glasgow. But she knew from the moment she heard news of Diana’s death that she had to make the trip. She saw Diana from a distance once, on one of the princess’s trips to Scotland five years ago, she said. And to honor her memory, camping out on the street for a night is a small price to pay. “She was a phenomenon—I’m kind of uncomfortable talking about her,” said Dennis, eyes misting behind her thick glasses. “She was the princess of my heart.”

Mourning for Diana began within minutes of news of her death on Aug. 31, when hundreds of Londoners gathered at Diana’s Kensington Palace home, laying wreaths and simple flower arrangements, particularly white lilies, the princess’s favorites. As the week went on, the patch of floral tributes literally blossomed—most accompanied by notes of remembrance for Diana and of sympathy for the two young princes, and all still wrapped in florist’s plastic, earning the area the nickname “the cellophane walk.” By noon on a sunny Thursday, the ring of flowers lining the Kensington Palace fence extended all the way from the gates to the statue of Queen Victoria about 500 m to the north; by five in the afternoon, it had crept northwards at least the same distance again. The crowd, lining up in the hundreds, were quiet, reverential—almost as if they were in the reception line at a family funeral.

If Diana was indeed the people’s princess, they were people from around the world. The tributes transcended national borders—evidence both other popularity as a humanitarian, and other status as an international media star. From Bosnia, where she had recently campaigned against land mines, to Afghanistan and the Philippines, mourners gathered to sign books of condolence and leave flowers. In Montserrat, officials for the capital of Plymouth—made uninhabitable by the volcanic blasts that have ravaged the tiny Caribbean island for the past two years—have proposed that the city, when and if it is rebuilt, be renamed “Port Diana.” Canadians grieved as well. Special services following the funeral were held in communities across the country, including Kingston, Ont., where the Princess of Wales’s Own Regiment—of which Diana was colonel-inchief until her divorce from Charles in 1996—is based. Vancouverites lined up for as long as two hours outside the British consulate on Melville Street to sign books of condolence—by Thursday afternoon, they had filled 500 pages, and additional books were opened at the B.C. legislature in Victoria and at Government House, home of B.C. Ft-Gov. Garde Gardom. Similar books were made available in St. John’s, Nfld., Charlottetown, Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Yellowknife, among other Canadian cities. In Toronto, the Princess of Wales Theatre became a Kensington Park-like home to flowers and messages. “Diana brought warmth to the Royal Family,” said Adam Demarsh, 19, who still recalls watching Diana’s 1981 fairy-tale wedding to Charles on TV. “She was the only one that brought the people to the Royal Family. The rest are very cold.”

But inarguably, the outpourings of emotion were most prevalent and persistent in England. Outside St. James’s Palace, where Diana’s body rested after Charles accompanied it from Paris, thousands lined up every day to pen their names and their sentiments into one of the 43 books of condolence—up from the five originally provided. Many stayed overnight, camped out in the cold and the rain, to get a good spot in the queue. For a time, it seemed a capital offence to air even the slightest criticism of Diana, or to question the validity of her mourners’ feelings. Some did. Several columnists, like Lynda Lee-Potter in the tabloid Daily Mail, begged readers “for the princes’ sake, don’t let Diana be a martyr.” Oliver James, a clinical psychologist, even suggested on national television that such deep emotions for someone people hardly knew-along with the growing idolization of the princess-was not only irrational but “unhealthy.”

Those, however, were clearly minority opinions. “Once the funeral’s gone and everything’s finished, people will only have regrets about what they didn’t do,” said Dr. Stephen Palmer, director of London’s Centre for Stress Management and a grief counsellor. “If people really want to grieve publicly, they should do it.” And thousands did respond in concrete, positive ways. By midweek, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, set up by Buckingham Palace to co-ordinate donations to the charities she patronized, had already collected more than $2 million. And the notes left on the “cellophane walk” around Kensington Palace spoke volumes. “I hope you can see now how many people loved you,” read one, placed like many others near a lit candle. “Heaven,” read another, subscripted with Xs for kisses, “has gained another angel.”

In the wake of Diana’s death on Aug. 31, the villains seemed well-defined: the paparazzi. They had, went the early stories, chased and hounded Diana and boyfriend AÍ Fayed through the streets of Paris, until that final, fateful second when the Mercedes limousine crashed head-on into a concrete pillar—killing both of them. As Britain mourned, more than one headline-writer made damning use of the fact that one accused photographer had the last name “Rat.” And around the world, the anti-paparazzi

sentiment translated into an all-encompassing condemnation of the tabloid press. Actor Tom Cruise and pop star Madonna joined in denouncing its obsession with celebrities’ private lives. Issues of some supermarket tabloids were yanked from the shelves of several Canadian and U.S. chain stores. Canada Safeway pulled The National Enquirer, the largest of the tabloids with a paid circulation of 2.7 million, when its latest issue, which went to press before Diana’s death, carried a cover story on her recent Mediterranean vacation with AÍ Fayed headlined: “Di goes sex mad: ‘I can’t get enough.’ ” But in Paris, the picture of events leading up to Diana’s death became g more blurry by the day, the villains I less obvious. Even as French authori« ties warned six photographers and ^ one motorcycle driver that they could § be charged with manslaughter, the focus of scrutiny fell squarely on the Ritz hotel driver also killed in the crash, 41-year-old Henri Paul. Two separate post-mortem blood tests on Paul showed a consumption of 175 mg and 187 mg of alcohol per 100 mL of blood—more than three times the legal limit. The evidence—or what was known of it—seemed to suggest that, beyond the paparazzi’s alleged recklessness, a deadly combination of circumstance, bad judgment and alcohol led to the fatal accident

What is clear is that when Paul, a former French air force officer, settled behind the wheel of the Mercedes limousine to take the princess and AÍ Fayed to his Paris home after dinner at the hotel, the atmosphere around the Ritz was electric. When the couple were ready to leave around midnight, Al Fayed’s chauffeur took his boss’s Range Rover and set off at high speed with a trail of photographers in pursuit. Diana and AÍ Fayed, meanwhile, emerged separately from a rear exit.

With Trevor Rees-Jones, a British bodyguard hired by the AÍ Fayed family, in the front passenger seat, Paul drove the Mercedes down the rue Cambon. As the car wound through the streets, a pack of photographers pursued, drawing level and trying to take pictures through the smoked glass. Police sources said some of the films confiscated from the photographers showed the driver and the bodyguard lowering their sun visors, apparently to avoid being dazzled by camera flashes. When Paul passed the eastern end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, witnesses said, the Mercedes was zigzagging erratically. Then, the driver turned onto the long, straight embankment road that runs along the Seine River—and accelerated hard. By the time the car dipped into the Tunnel de l’Alma, scene of the fatal crash, the nearest photographers were about 150 m behind, according to eyewitnesses. Survivor Rees-Jones was the sole occupant to fasten his seat-belt, and was also protected by an air bag.

Two police, who arrived first on the scene, charged in a court statement that the photographers gathered around the crash site had displayed “virulent, disgusting” behavior. They quoted one as saying:

“In Sarajevo, the cops let us work. Go and get shot at and you’ll see what it’s like.” The accused photographers told a different version of events when they were released after spending 48 hours in a Paris jail. The headline-writers’ Romauld Rat—accused by bystanders of moving the princess so he could take a better picture—claimed that he had merely been taking Diana’s pulse. When the ambulance arrived, he added, he stood back and let rescuers work. Still, late in the week, three more photographers, who had come forward on theft own after the accident, could also be charged with manslaughter, and a second examining magistrate, Marie-Christine Dévidai, was appointed to assist Judge Hervé Stephan in the investigation.

Meanwhile, the AÍ Fayed family, who has filed a civil suit in the case against the photographers, as have the Spencers, demanded that the driver’s body be retested for alcohol; the body was returned to Paris last week from Paul’s Brittany home town of Lorient for more tests. Michael Cole, a spokesman for Harrods, which the AÍ Fayed family owns, also produced a sketchy security videotape from the Ritz. In it, Paul can be seen waiting for AÍ Fayed and Diana to finish theft dinner, pacing up and down a corridor and apparently—at least according to the AÍ Fayed family’s interpretation—not drunk at all. Cole also said the car speedometer was stuck at zero—not at 210 km/h as had been claimed. But a police source told Maclean’s that it was the limousine’s tachygraph—a professional recording device similar to an aircraft’s black box—that had recorded that speed.

No matter who is ultimately blamed for Diana’s death, there is no doubting its impact. Historical comparisons abound: Marilyn Monroe, John F Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco. But the most lasting legacy of Dianamania, beyond ensuring her a place in the world’s collective memory, may be something uniquely British, and far more historically significant: the end of the monarchy as it has been known for much of this century. Suddenly, as the Queen and other royals— at the urging of Charles, observers say—bowed to public pressure to mourn Diana more openly, vox populi has become the dominant voice in Britain.

The question is, can the Royal Family maintain its relevance in the new, touchy-feely post-Diana world—the antithesis of the reserve, decorum and protocol that has defined British royalty for so long? “I never thought this would happen before the Queen Mother died,” says Seward of Majesty magazine. “But I think it will happen now—a sort of modernization of the monarchy.” Many—including, not surprisingly, the country’s republicans—disagree. “Whatever the Royal Family do, it seems crocodile tears,” said Stephen Haseler, leader of the republican Common Sense Club. “Diana’s going to become a democratic legend.”


Now, Diana lies in a secluded grave on the family estate in Althorp, 120 km north of the city. Her resting place is on an island in an ornamental lake, cut off from shore. There, her children will be able to do something they perhaps have never done: visit her away from the prying eyes of the media, far from the pressures of her position and celebrity. In that sense, the applause and bouquets of white lilies that greeted her hearse as it left London were entirely appropriate, like the last standing ovation for a retiring, beloved performer. A celebrity, a humanitarian and— perhaps now more than ever—the queen of the people’s hearts, Diana always knew how to play a crowd.