The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Princes William and Harry mixed with mourners, reducing many to tears as they surveyed the vast carpets of flowers and tributes that had been laid at Buckingham, Kensington and St James's palaces.
At last, they paid their respects at the Princess of Wales's coffin at St James's Palace and they spoke to hundreds of mourners, providing a focus for the grief that has taken hold of millions since Diana's death last Sunday.
As a television audience estimated at 2 billion prepared to witness Diana's funeral service at Westminster Abbey, it appeared that the personal visits and the Queen's televised address had been sufficiently uplifting to avoid the kind of embarrassing crowd scenes that were predicted by some earlier in the week.
The most moving spectacle yesterday was at Kensington Palace where Princes Charles, William and Harry appeared overcome by the scenes of sorrow and thanksgiving. After flying down from Aberdeen, the princes are understood to have asked to be taken immediately to Kensington Palace, their home since the Wales's separation in 1992.
When they arrived at the gates, they were clearly overwhelmed. Harry, 12, and William, 15, wearing dark suits, black ties and blue shirts, maintained a calm dignity, although onlookers said Harry wiped tears from his eyes on several occasions.
The crowd was clearly won over. Rosalind Wederell from Chatham, Kent, was moved to tears. She said: "Prince Charles said to me `We appreciate you coming, we appreciate all the flowers, we are very touched'. [He] seemed overwhelmed and somehow a lot more human than he ever seemed to be before.
"I said to William `You are a wonderful boy' and he smiled at me. Harry took my flowers and shook my hand. It was so emotional. I had taken a day's leave from work today as I felt that I really had to visit Kensington Palace and it was incredible but so necessary that they made this gesture today. Somehow I feel more complete after having spoken to them."
The reaction of mourners was similar at Buckingham Palace when the Queen and Prince Philip returned. Onlookers said they had tears in their eyes as they spoke to mourners and thanked them for their tributes and bouquets.
At one point, the Queen's apprehension at the anger that had welled up earlier in the week became apparent when a little girl offered her some flowers.
The child's grandmother, Enid Jones from Brighton, Sussex, said: "My granddaughter gave her some flowers and the Queen was really pleased. She nearly didn't take them and asked if they were really for her.
"We said we thought she needed some. People say they don't care - but they were both obviously filling up with tears."
Kay Foulger, 55, from Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, said she offered the Queen words of encouragement.
"I told the Queen, `Ma'am, it is very brave of you to come here and see us'. You could see she was bearing up but that she had been upset and had had a good weep. She was bearing up the British way with a stiff upper lip. I think she has been a bit isolated so far and she could have put a statement out earlier, but I hope she has made up for that now."
The Royal Standard was hoisted to show the Queen was in residence but a Palace spokesman said an incident in which it appeared to hover at half mast was an accident and not a mark of respect.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and his wife visited Westminster Abbey to see how preparations were going, as did Diana's sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, and Elton John, who will sing a revised version of "Candle in the Wind" during the ceremony.
At Westminster Catholic Cathedral, Diana's mother, Frances Shand-Kydd attended Mass last night, at which Luciano Pavarotti was expected to sing.Reuse content