Diana 1961-1997: A village voice - 'The funeral does make it so real, doesn't it?'

Clare Garner watched from home with a family who live next to Althorp

Clive Kightley, 36, always operates an open house policy, and yesterday was no exception. He welcomed friends and family into his home, a converted stables adjacent to Harlestone House, which backs onto the Althorp estate, to watch the final episode of Diana's life.

The only sound in the house which didn't come from the television was the tick of the clock. "There will be bits that just get to you, however thick-skinned you are," said Mark Sawyer, 37, a golfing friend of Clive's who lives in nearby Duston. He wondered aloud what Earl Spencer would say. "No one knows anything about that yet."

At 9.50am Clive's fiancee, Georgina, appeared. "Like a tea or coffee?" she asked: a question repeated through the morning.

"There's Robin Cook," remarked Mark. "Amazing. All these politicians and they're not arguing for a change."

Mohamed Al Fayed entered the Abbey. "Three people died in that crash," commented Mark. "The reporting this week has been 99 per cent on one person."

Mark's mood was relatively buoyant at first, and cracking jokes. "You won't get much of a reaction from me, I'm afraid. I'm not very emotional."

Or so he thought. As events unfolded on the screen before him, he was as moved as the rest - if not more - despite Clive's predictions. "I have to be honest with you," he had said a couple of days earlier. "I'll be wanting to watch a bit of the golf on Sky. It's the women who'll be glued to the box." The men were rooted to their seats throughout.

By 10.40am everyone had congregated in the lounge. Georgina's parents, Maureen, 54, and George, 56, sat at the back of the room; her sister's children sat bare-footed on the floor at the front. Everyone's eyes were fixed on William and Harry. "I tell you, those young princes have got a lot of guts. I don't think I could do that," said Clive.

Georgina's best friend, Joanne, 29, had come from the housing estate at Duston, a few miles away. "I feel quite privileged to be able to do what we're doing, getting this close."

Rarely did anyone's eyes veer from the screen. "Do you see Elton John going in?" asked Joanne. "I don't think he'll be able to sing. He was crying at Versace's funeral." Georgina reflected, "To think she was comforting him at Versace's funeral - and now it's hers."

The whirr of helicopters above the house was a reminder of just how close Diana's final resting place was.

"We still don't know what's going to happen when she goes through the gates," said Clive, adding that he thought it would be "quite lonely" to be buried on a pond. The managing director of a construction company, he used to rent an office in Althorp Park itself. "I know the grounds quite well. It's quite eerie."

Back on the television, the plot was unfolding. The pallbearers entered the church "on the dot of 11", as someone commented. The chatting continued, and they remembered Diana's father's funeral.

"The funeral does make it real, doesn't it?" said Joanne, as Verdi's "Requiem" rang through the house. One person remarked on how similar Lady Jane's voice was to Diana's, someone else imagined how the Abbey must echo. The older ones reminisced about watching Churchill's funeral on television.

Tony Blair's reading quietened everyone down, and when Elton John started singing, they fell silent. Tears rolled down Maureen's face; Dave wiped away a tear; Joanne left the room, murmuring, "Oh God".

Then came Earl Spencer's tribute. No one said a word throughout. They simply stared wide-eyed, their eyes welling with tears.

In strode Joanne. "He's the only one who talks any sense," she said forcefully. "That was a great speech," Dave agreed. Joanne continued: "That's what I like about him. He's honest, isn't he. Straight to the point. It's like last Sunday - do you remember - when everyone was chat, chat, chat about what had happened. Then along he comes and everyone goes silent. He says what everyone's thinking."

Throughout the prayers, everyone talked about the speech. Then came the minute's silence. Daniel 11, was first to speak as it ended. "So is she going to go now?" he asked. Joanne turned to him and said warmly, "Yeah. She's travelling here. Home."

Two and a half hours later, at 2.30pm, they wandered down the drive and up Church Lane to the A428, to wait alongside other villagers.

The helicopter drew nearer and then, at 3.30pm, came the police cars.

The hearse seemed to pass quickly and there was no William or Harry, but no one minded - they understood this was not a public spectacle.

That morning they had seen the coffin on television. Now it was almost close enough to touch. This was for real, and just for one moment television was exposed for what it is: Not real.

"It didn't look like it did on telly," said Daniel, as the hearse disappeared over the brow of a hill towards the gates of Althorp House. "The coffin didn't look as big. It looked the size of a real person."

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