Diana's death is the event of 1997 we'll never forget. Public figures recall the moment they heard the news, and the emotions that followed
James Naughtie

Presenter of 'Today' on Radio 4

I was woken up around 2.15am by my editor, who told me there had been an accident and asked if I could come in. By 3.30am I was in Broadcasting House and by 5am I was on air telling people about it until 9.30am. It was obviously an extraordinary event, but the curious thing is that although I was one of the people who was telling people about it as they woke up, the full enormity of what would happen in the course of the next few days didn't really wash over me until much later in the day. One of the difficult things was that by about 8am, we had been telling the story for hours. We were very conscious that every time we said it on the air, we were telling people for the first time. We said "This is the BBC; the Princess of Wales has been killed" and we were aware that people were levitating in their beds. It was very strange.

Anthony Clare


I got a call from my daughter in Australia around 6am. She was clearly very distressed. We were in bed and we sat up and turned on the television. It rained all day in Dublin and we spent a great deal of time watching TV. She [the Princess of Wales] had been a patron of the charity Turning Point and I had met her a few times. I wasn't a great fan; she was obviously a very complicated person and I think that is the secret of the extraordinary impact. I was surprised at the massive response, and I think the initial impetus probably did come from ordinary people, genuinely responding to a figure who had become maybe the first really big soap-opera figure. She was a dramatic character of a high order. I think what she might have been above all else was a consummate actress who played many roles. She didn't seem to be happy in the two or three roles that most of us are content to play.

Imelda Staunton


My mum phoned me at 8.30am after listening to the news. I woke up my partner and told him and then spent the whole day on the phone to everyone, saying "This can't be true". Doing Guys and Dolls [at the National Theatre] was pretty bloody grim. There we were on stage trying to be happy and they were trying to laugh. The next week we had a big picture of her and a minute's silence, and the show that night was absolutely fantastic. It was a huge release, a feeling that we had mourned all week and now "Come on, let's just let it go".

Patrick Marber


It was about 10.30am and I was idly zapping through Sky. I came to the news and I thought it was a hoax. My first instinct, bleary-eyed, was that someone had got hold of what the BBC would do if she died. We sat in front of the TV and the whole day was a cliche of shock. My first instinct was "She's been assassinated, murdered by the Palace, via MI5". I went down to the Mall and looked at the flowers. There was that event psychology in the crowd; it seemed to me like football, that people have a deep biological need to feel that they belong to a community, whether of celebration or of grief. I'm not sure it was grief. I think it was a community of shock. People said she was a young people's princess but I didn't really feel that. I felt it was women of my mother's generation that were affected, women who feel she was the daughter they never had. It was a particular kind of female thing. But it was endlessly interesting.

Cleo Laine

Jazz singer

I was up when the news came on; it was 4am and I don't go to bed early. I woke John [Dankworth] up. I heard the early news that she had been in an accident and was alive with a broken arm. It was startling to hear that someone so young and so much loved had gone, just like that. I had done Desert Island Discs, which was meant to be going out, but didn't. I thought the aftermath was slightly overdone. Quite honestly I felt more concerned for the boys. That was where my warmth and feelings went.

Ralph Steadman


First thing on Sunday, I put on the news. I was hearing about someone and I thought it was Maggie Thatcher. Who would have thought it was Di? There was an awful over-reaction, but once you have loaded the dice in a certain direction, it's going to go that way. It just seemed to symbolise something that we all needed, which was a bloody good cry. We suddenly found an icon to weep over.

Bill Giles

Weather forecaster

On that Sunday, I went to pick up a guy who had been my best man and who had come over from Canada. I hadn't seen him for about 14 years. I watched part of the funeral on television but it was much more poignant for him, because he was an Englishman and he'd lived in Canada for 20 years. I think they miss the pageantry of it. I wasn't really watching it; I was watching him watching it. I am one of those people who just forgets. We have snow today and tomorrow there's sun. That's the mentality you tend to have in my sort of game.

Anne Atkins

Agony aunt

Jim Naughtie was talking about Di and I thought "This is funny". I suppose it took a few minutes, and they must have been expecting people to be tuning in all the time. I went rushing into my youngest children's room saying "The Princess of Wales is dead" and the youngest said "Who's the Princess of Wales?" Actually, I was pretty well crying, which surprised me because who's the Princess of Wales to me? When all the family were out, I went into the garden and picked some flowers and cycled over to the Palace. I didn't know why, I just wanted to be part of it. Once I had been, that was it. When I explained [about Diana] to my youngest son, Benjamin, he immediately sat down and wrote to the princes. I find it interesting that he was so moved even though he didn't really know who Diana was. He could immediately relate to a mother with two young sons.

Hunter Davies


We were in the Lake District. My wife, the novelist Margaret Forster, and my sister both sat glued to the television for what seemed like 24 hours. I went in the room from time to time during the funeral, and when I looked down at St Paul's, I said: "So how has that shot been taken? Where's the camera?" Two hours later, having gone round the garden, I would say "They're on the motorway but where's the camera? Why isn't the helicopter making any noise?" My wife and my sister said "Piss off". I was totally uninvolved but as an observer it was totally fascinating.

Fleur Adcock


I woke at about 7am and turned on the radio and it had gone all solemn. I think the media coverage was very overdone; they should have allowed us the odd weather report. I didn't feel the way one was supposed to feel. I thought it was sad, of course, but I did think she was a very disturbed young woman and although she seemed to be doing a lot of good things, she wasn't a saint. I had to watch the funeral. There wasn't anything else to do, although I was trying to do a bit of autumn cleaning because I had people coming to stay, so I watched while scrubbing the window sills. It was a sacrilege to say you weren't heartbroken, although I had a few friends with whom I managed to whisper.

Jenny Pitman

Racehorse trainer

We had been at a charity ball in the evening and came in quite late. My husband was in the bathroom and I turned on the television and they said there had been a crash. I sat on the bed in a state of shock for quite a while, thinking of her children. When you have got horses you have to carry on feeding them, but there was a quietness around the place that week.

Sir Julian Critchley

Author and former MP

I remember shock, followed by perhaps an uninvited sense of relief. She had become a loose cannon, and the problems that she might have caused may have been disastrous for the monarchy. Then I thought this was faintly unworthy. There seemed to be a downward course to her life and I think that would have made trouble for her sons in particular and for the monarchy in general. She might have ended her days married to an Argentinian polo player.

Libby Purves


I was on holiday in Scotland, just off Oban. I went across on the ferry to the mainland, knowing nothing about it. The chap who drove me didn't say anything. I saw a copy of one of the Scottish newspapers, and I thought "This is a local version of the Sunday Sport". I didn't quite believe it. Then I looked around, and the evidence was all round me. Standing there were three big boys, with big tattoos, with their fists in their eyes, crying. There was a simplicity to it. I suddenly thought she was just starting to get a life and enjoy herself again, and that's why we were all crying.

Duncan Grey

Executive producer, 'The Big Breakfast'

It was the week before the relaunch of The Big Breakfast, and my girlfriend and I were in Bath. We slept till about 12, quite oblivious. We had no idea until my girlfriend's mother rang up. I thought "Oh my God". It was a five-hour journey back; we stopped at every motorway service station, frenetically and furiously calling up people to work out what on earth The Big Breakfast should do. I ended up staying up all night putting the show together. There was terrible pressure as the week went on and Channel 4 got more and more determined not to cover it. There was a fight all week between me and the people at Channel 4. I finished about 12 on Friday and collapsed. I woke about 11am on Saturday just as the funeral procession was starting. I thought, it's all over now; and I felt tremendously guilty.

The Venerable George Austin

Archdeacon of York

I had a phone call at about 5.15am from the BBC local radio. I was just shocked. I was taking a wedding the following Saturday on the edge of London, in my old parish, and we watched the funeral in the morning. The couple did consider postponing it, but life has to go on. I tried not to say anything in the sermon. I still can't make out what was going on. We called to see a friend and she said "I will tell you what it's all about. I know what it's like to live in a loveless marriage and so do a lot of other women, and we identified with her."

John Schlesinger

Film director

It was on the radio, about 9am, and I couldn't believe it. We were in the country, and I summoned the rest of the household. We went straight to the TV to see if it was true. I felt the whole thing finally built up to a somewhat fake hysteria; certainly it was hysteria. I watched the funeral, and I also went into the park and walked down the Mall one night, about one o'clock, and ran into Ben Kingsley; he was lighting a candle by a lamppost. People had told me: "You must go down there - the silence is extraordinary".

Sir Stephen Tumim

Former Chief Inspector of Prisons

I was in Spain, near Barcelona, and was woken by my wife in the middle of the night. The Spanish TV spoke of nothing else and I was astounded by the enormous interest and excitement and worry. I rather admired Diana, but she certainly went at the top of her steam. The overwhelming thought I had was of her popularity; there were programmes, pictures and posters, and when I got back to England it was much the same. I thought it showed the remarkable effect she had had on everybody.

George Walden

Political commentator and former MP

I was in central Paris. Before that, myself, my daughter aged 21, and her friend were almost rolling on the floor at her interview in Le Monde, because that sort of guff comes out even funnier in French. Like all my children, they just didn't give a toss. My own feelings were very simple. First, "Oh God what a horrible way to die", and then, I am sorry to say, I thought that in a sad way it would be good for the country because I could see this Diana thing just going on infantilising the British. Whatever she did, whether she did it in California or whatever, it would just go on and on. My thought was, "Well, at least we will hear less of that". After we got back to the UK I wanted to leave the country because of what it brought out in us; a mixture of deference and pop sentimentalism, US-style. I found that a nauseating mixture. I think we live in a country of phoney feeling and I think that is where I got her death all wrong, because I thought it would exorcise this preoccupation with royalty and all its illusions and the commerce. Having lived and worked in Russia and China, for the first time here I got the feeling of being careful before you say something; a sort of tyranny of feeling. It's still there.