Bouquets were laid, rituals observed, but somehow the mood had changed

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The Independent Online
AFTER THE remarkable scenes of national mourning that greeted the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, a year ago today, the first anniversary was expected to unleash another tidal wave of grief.

But public displays of sentiment at the weekend were distinctly muted, and the huge crowds that were anticipated at symbolic sites around the country failed to materialise.

Not that the rituals were not being observed. Bouquets were laid yesterday outside Kensington Palace, the Princess's home; pilgrimages were made to her final resting place on the Althorp estate; loyal subjects gathered to see the Royal Family at Balmoral.

But as the nation prepared to mark the anniversary of a cataclysmic event in British public life, the mood was more contemplative than last year, the grieving less conspicuous.

It was a strikingly small congregation that attended services at Westminster Abbey yesterday to hear prayers said in the Princess's memory - in contrast to last year, when the Mall was thick with mourners waiting to see the cortege pass.

The funeral service, the climax of an extraordinary week, was watched on television by more than 31 million British viewers. Yesterday the memory of the Princess, who died in a Paris hospital after her Mercedes hit a pillar in an underpass by the Seine, was invoked at churches around the country.

At the Abbey, the Precentor, the Rev Dominic Fenton, said during prayers for the dead that "we particularly remember Diana, Princess of Wales".

The scenes outside Kensington Palace were unexpectedly sober. Last year, the surrounding gardens were a focal point for people who, despite having never met Diana, felt personally bereaved. They thronged the park in their tens of thousands.

Yesterday, the crowd barriers erected by police were redundant. There were no more than 500 visitors in and around the gardens at any one time.

But the sentiments of those who made the trip to Kensington were genuine nonetheless. Maeve O'Hanlon, 61, who brought a spray of lilies, said: "I came out of respect, love and admiration, a great feeling for a very special person who changed my life."

Some 2,500 people congregated at Althorp, in Northamptonshire, where Diana is buried. Earl Spencer, her brother, will hold a private memorial service there today with other family members.

In Paris, a stream of tourists and locals visited the crash site, at the Pont de l'Alma underpass, near the Eiffel Tower, to lay flowers at a small monument that has become an unofficial shrine to the Princess.

The real mourning, though, was going on at Balmoral, where the Princess's two sons, William and Harry, spent the weekend with their father and other senior royals, as well as the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. They attended a service at Crathie Church, where private prayers will be held for Diana today.

It may be that the anniversary itself will witness larger-scale exhibitions of public sorrow. Or it may be that, a year on, people are finally starting to let go of this beguiling and flawed woman whose death affected them so profoundly.