Diana - The Mourners: One woman's pilgrimage: flask, sandwiches and a mission of love

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Helen Simpson boarded the 9.05am Leeds to London train to set off on a very personal pilgrimage.

Her friends, she said, would follow after they had finished the day's work. But she wanted to travel as soon as she could to join the queues of people waiting to sign books of condolence at St James's Palace where the body of Diana, Princess of Wales, is lying.

"I had never done anything like this before," said Helen, settling into her window seat. "I have always liked Diana but I have never wanted to intrude into her personal life. I would never read about her in the tabloid newspapers, that side of things just doesn't interest me."

Helen, 33, an accountant with Leeds city council, moved to one side the mixed bouquet of flowers she had bought just before the start of her journey.

"I do not know where I will place these flowers. I have not decided yet. I think I will wander around and take things in. I am staying with friends tonight.

"I am not worried about being in the best position to see everything at the funeral. I just want to be there, to be part of things."

It wasn't long into the journey before conversation with fellow traveller Sarah Haines turned to the subject of the Princess of Wales.

"It's difficult to believe she is dead, because you can see film of her everyday on television and pictures in the newspapers" said Helen. "That's why coming down to the funeral is so important. Just in the same way as pictures of her coffin arriving home brought home the fact that she was dead, the funeral will also help me to accept the fact that she has gone.

"Perhaps one of the most positive things to come out of her death will be greater privacy for her sons. No one should have to suffer the kind of intrusion to their private lives as she did."

Sarah Haines said it was a good thought but highly unlikely to happen. "There will always be interest in the private side of their lives, it's only human," she said.

Helen added: "I know I'm not an emotional person but I think it's enough to have official pictures.

"I liked Diana for what she stood for, for her work with Aids sufferers, victims of landmines, the homeless and the dying.

"She never held back, she was always natural and just herself. These images of her should have been enough. We don't need to know about her holidays or her romances."

The conversation lulled as time was taken for coffee and the scanning of newspapers. But before long the women were chatting again. "It must be very difficult for the Queen and the Royal Family," said Helen. "I can't feel anger towards them because they are not saying very much at the moment.

"Diana was divorced but still a royal to us. The Royal Family cared and loved her once, they must still at least care for her now."

It seemed moments instead of the two and a half hours before the train was approaching King's Cross station and Helen prepared for the next part of her journey.

Her rucksack was heavy with flasks and sandwiches and overnight clothes. The flowers were held carefully so as not to be crushed.

She headed for the Piccadilly Line and the Tube for Green Park after a brief glance at a London map.

"I don't come down to London very often" she said dodging the lines of people heading for the escalators.

She emerged on to the street and began striding towards St James's Palace.

"None of this has sunk in yet," said Helen as she approached a swell of people.

Mourners and television crews, press photographers and reporters thronged outside the entrance.

Police officers diverted mourners including Helen to the end of what seemed like a never ending line of people.

"Well, at least I'm in the queue," said Helen, showing no sign of despair at the countless number of people ahead of her.

It could be between eight and 11 hours before she would be able to sign her name in the condolence book.

Soon the queue began to grow behind her and she was swallowed up in the growing line as it moved ahead.

She said few words as she prepared for her long wait but her pensive expression clearly told of her need for time to herself to reflect and remember someone she cared for and admired.

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