Diana 1961-1997: A day of emotion

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Britain said a painful goodbye to its Queen of Hearts yesterday as the country stood still for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The nation united in grief after a week of turbulent and unprecedented emotion that culminated in a devastating attack on the Royal Family from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey by Diana's brother, Earl Spencer.

During a dignified but powerful tribute to the Princess, whom he described as "unique, complex, extraordinary and irreplaceable", Lord Spencer promised to shield Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12, from the kind of "anguish" that Diana had suffered.

Standing only yards from the Queen and in front of a worldwide audience estimated at more than a billion, the Earl said: "We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair.

"And beyond that, on behalf of your mother and sisters, I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned."

It was a measured attack that in no way diminished the dignified nature of Diana's funeral or the day of national mourning. And, after he promised to shield the princes from the paparazzi, he was applauded by the 2,000 congregation inside the Abbey and cheered by hundreds of thousands more who had gathered in front of video screens in Hyde Park.

Describing how tabloid newspapers had made his sister's life a misery, the Earl said: "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."

It had been a day raw with emotion. Since Friday, more than a million people had begun lining the two-mile route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey in central London in order to catch a glimpse of the Princess's coffin. As Diana's body began its journey from the gates of Kensington Palace, mourners wept, casting flowers before the horses that pulled the gun carriage bearing the coffin. Resting on top of it were three wreaths, one from Lord Spencer and two from the princes. One of the princes' wreaths, of white roses, bore the word "Mummy".

The princes cut forlorn figures as they joined their father, the Prince of Wales, their grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Lord Spencer to walk the final stretch of the route, from The Mall to the Abbey. Dressed in dark suits, white shirts and black ties, they bowed their heads, staring resolutely at the ground beneath their feet.

Their presence - they were followed by more than 500 representatives of Diana's favourite charities, some in wheelchairs, others blind and carrying lillies - provoked applause from some and caused others to break down tearfully. They were bombarded with flowers as the crowds occasionally broke silence to shout "We love you, Diana", and "God bless you".

During the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, gave thanks for Diana's charitable work and prayed for her friend, Dodi Al Fayed. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, read from Corinthians and Diana's sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, read poems.

Then, Elton John, the Princess's friend, sang his reworked version of "Candle in the Wind". It was a performance which made the service as eclectic an event as Diana's friends say she would have wanted.

The composition of the congregation was further evidence of Diana's catholic tastes. It included Steven Spielberg, the film director, the Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, the tenor Luciano Pavarotti, the singer George Michael and the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.

After the service, the coffin was borne in a hearse the 77 miles to the Spencer ancestral home, Althorp Park in Northamptonshire. Here, on an island at the centre of an ornamental lake called The Oval, Diana's body was interred. The Spencer family, the Prince of Wales and the young princes were present.

En route, tens of thousands more had turned out to pay their respects, throwing flowers in front of the hearse. At one point, the vehicle was forced to stop because flowers were obscuring the driver's view.

Lord Spencer's attack on the Royal Family was made in spite of earlier moves by the Queen to dispense with some elements of royal protocol in order to answer criticism of her apparent uncaring attitude towards Diana. First, she allowed the Union flag to fly at half-mast above Buckingham Palace and then she gathered most of her family together and stood with them on the pavement of Birdcage Walk outside the palace gates to honour the Princess as her coffin passed.

It was an astonishing sight and it was warmly welcomed by onlookers. However, after Lord Spencer's outburst, it might not be enough to win back the confidence of doubting subjects.

The general tone of public reaction was strongly in his favour. Among the crowds outside the Abbey people said they applauded Lord Spencer's comments because they showed an appreciation for what Diana stood for. Brendan Quinn, from Hampshire, said: "Lord Spencer's oration was one of the most heartfelt I have ever heard. All he said was the truth and what's wrong with that ?"

Shaun Butcher, 29, from Manchester, said: "Parts of the speech were very vehement, almost savage, but that was right. It certainly captured the mood."

Anne Fleuret from Clapham, south London, said: "Lord Spencer was so full of emotion and everything he said was so true. He touched on everything. I think there is a lot of hurt there."

Paul Ryan of Surrey Quays, south London, said: "We have all got to learn from Lord Spencer's speech and I think we will."

Twins Stephanie and Jenny Marks, 21, had travelled from Warrington "to be close to the Princess today". Jenny said: "The atmosphere was amazing, as was the way people pulled together."