It came as Elton John sang the last note of "Candle in the Wind", a song he had first recorded as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, whose iconic status Diana has now eclipsed. Unlike Norma Jean Baker, whom Elton famously never knew at all, the Princess had known the singer well, comforting him just weeks before at the funeral of their mutual friend Gianni Versace.
It was a moment for the people, far from the pomp and ceremony of a state funeral.
As the applause thundered outside, inside the Abbey the congregation fell silent. But the second time the applause came, louder this time and angrier, as Earl Spencer, the Princess's brother, finished his remarkable speech, it swept through the Abbey until people got to their feet.
The Earl had remembered a childlike, vulnerable woman who the world had no need to canonise because she stood "tall enough as a human being". He had attacked the press as he had in the first hours after his sister's death, as people looked around at the empty seats where Britain's tabloid editors might have sat, and he had pledged to protect his nephews from the intrustion she had suffered.
But he had done more than that. In one sentence, "someone ... who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic," he had summed up the emotions of the people of Britain.
The Queen looked straight ahead. Prince Harry, who with his brother William had bravely escorted his mother's funeral cortege to the Abbey, rubbed at his face. Prince Andrew, only just in control of his emotions, looked around him at his family. And around them, people clapped as if at last freed from a terrible silence.
That silence had fallen at two minutes past eleven as, with the only sound a tolling of the Abbey's tenor bell, the cortege bearing Diana's coffin, draped in the Royal Standard and shouldered by 10 First Battalion Welsh Guards, had entered the Abbey's West Door and moved slowly onward past the tombs of kings and queens buried there since Edward the Confessor founded his abbey church.
As Britain wept, the congregation sang Diana's favourite hymn, "I Vow To Thee My Country", in a tragic reprise of the day 16 years earlier, when the samehymn was also a key moment in the order of service of her wedding day.
Unlike that occasion, held under a mile away from Westminster in St Paul's Cathedral, and attended by heads of state and the world's royalty as a million people lined the streets to throw confetti and wave Union Jacks, no member of the Royal Family made an address.
It was Diana's family who spoke. Lady Sarah McCorquodale, who had with her sister Lady Jane Fellowes and Prince Charles made the solemn journey to Paris to collect her sister's coffin, read from Turn Again to Life, by the American poet Mary Lee Hall.
Lynne Dawson, the British soprano, sang the final verses of Verdi's requiem, "Libera Me Domine", before Lady Jane read "Time is too slow for those who wait ... but for those who love, time is eternity," before the congregation rose to sing from the 23rd Psalm, "The King of Love My Shepherd Is".
It fell to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, whose moving tribute to the Princess on the morning following her death and epithet "the People's Princess" had shown him to be a leader in touch with the grief of his own people, to read from 1 Corinthians 13. He ended his reading not with charity, but with love: "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, remembered the Princess's compassion, strengths, vulnerability and "her ringing laugh". He prayed for her sons and, for the Royal Family, the archbishop asked God for "wisdom and discernment".
The archbishop also remembered the two other lives lost on the night of August 31. Those of Dodi Fayed, whose father, Mohamed Al Fayed, silently wept, and the man with whom the Princess's friends believe she had, at last, found love. And Henri Paul, the employee of the Paris Ritz who had driven Diana and Dodi from the flashbulbs of the paparazzi.
Mr Al Fayed wept again as Earl Spencer said that he thanked God for taking Diana "when she was at her most beautiful and radiant, and when she had joy in her private life".
It was a people's funeral for a People's Princess, without drums, trumpets or fanfares, and a guest list which valued the marginalised just as much as the great, and the Princess's charitable concerns as much as her royalty. It was right and fitting that the applause of her people should intrude on the ceremony of her funeral.
But, at midday, as the choir sang from the closing lines of Hamlet "May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest", the nation fell silent again as the Guardsmen once more took up the coffin.
Then, as the half-muffled bells of the Abbey cut through that silence, the People's Princess began her final journey home.Reuse content