Diana: Unique, complex, extraordinary, irreplaceable

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The Independent Online
I thought about wearing gloves but then I remembered her hands. Always bare, always open, holding weaker, frailer, smaller hands in her own. There seemed to be no need for gloves. We waited quietly underneath the clearest of skies outside the Abbey. We waited to say goodbye to the young woman that we never wanted to leave us. Each one of us took a deep breath as we sat down, as if it were possible to prepare ourselves for such an event.

All doubt had gone. Every one of us knew why we were there. "For Diana, for history," as one so-called ordinary person put it to me yesterday. It is impossible to imagine another person who could have brought together Chris de Burgh and Henry Kissinger, Michael Barrymore and Hillary Clinton. More importantly, it is impossible to think of anyone else who could have brought the nation to its knees as Diana has done. Yet, this week much of what seemed impossible has become possible. The quietest, the most dignified, the most moving of revolutions has taken place. The death of the People's Princess has allowed the people to speak. They have responded remarkably to this loss and they have forced the monarchy to respond to them.

As the two families filed in and took their seats on opposite sides of the catafalque, it was as if, before anyone had spoken, lines were already being drawn. Frances Shand-Kydd, Diana's mother, led her family and I was reminded that she had lost a child just as the Princes had lost a mother. Inside the Abbey, all the richness of the ritual began to unfold; scripted, rehearsed, organised. But just outside on the railings of the Abbey, white teddy bears and handwritten messages and little bunches of wilting flowers signified a more spontaneous, but heartfelt, expression of grief.

And then beyond the railings, the people, the masses of people, who have felt these past few days no longer excluded, but part of a community united in sorrow. When the coffin appeared, my tears began to flow. I was not embarrassed. There is no longer the need to be embarrassed. For surely part of Diana's legacy is that we need not repress our emotions. Like many people, I wept for this loss and the other losses brought back to me. I wept for Harry and William and I wept for all of those who loved Diana both near and far. Before we had gathered our thoughts, her favourite hymn was being sung, "I Vow To Thee My Country". Some of us could not sing at all, others at the top of their voices. We tried not to look at William, his head bowed before his mother's coffin. Each and every one of us will have been touched by particular readings, certain hymns, but I was waiting. Waiting for the two elements of the ceremony that would perhaps allow some spontaneity - Elton's song and Earl Spencer's speech. We did not wait in vain. After "Candle In The Wind" we heard a sound that at first we mistook for rain, yet the light was streaming in through the Abbey windows. It was the sound of the people's applause outside. Then Earl Spencer rose to make his tribute. We did not know what he was going to say, we only hoped he would express some of our love. But he did so much more than that. His words were brave and true. He did more than speak of his sister, he brought her back to us, not as some sanitised saint, but as she was, "the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana".

On this day, he dared to speak of her vulnerability, her insecurity, even of her eating disorder, and in doing so he did not diminish her but conjured up her great life force. Then, in front of the family who had stripped her of her title, he told us of her natural nobility that did not require any royal title. He pledged to her that he would help protect her sons, protect them from being destroyed by the very things that had made their mother's life so painful. These things, quite clearly, were the Royals' notions of duty and service that sacrifices all in its wake. He asked "that their souls would be allowed to sing openly" as their mother would have wanted. As his voice cracked with emotion, the family that he made his address to showed little. Outside the Abbey we heard again the huge applause and this time we knew exactly what it was. Then slowly, very slowly, from inside the building, the clapping started again, moving from the edge to the centre. In that moment all tradition was thrown over, for Earl Spencer had done what Diana had done. He had broken through centuries of protocol by speaking from the heart, speaking the truth and speaking for the people.

You couldn't help feeling that Diana's spirit has not been broken, but was outside cheering in the sunshine. In the midst of so many tears, and so much emotion, so many barriers have come down between people of all descriptions. Here, in front of us, the final barricade was being torn away, and here in front of the monarchy who failed to understand Diana's significance when she was alive, her brother was forcing them to confront it in death. His honesty had pierced the centuries of darkness, it had let in her light.

He spoke of intuition and he trusted his own. He told us what we wanted to hear, he expressed so much of what should have been said when she was still with us. In his grief, he gave her back to us so that our hearts are not so empty. Rather, we have realised that we had more space in our hearts than we ever knew. Just as we never knew that this nation could be so open, that we have changed so much. We have only connected, and we will continue to seek signs of connection from those that would lead us.

In her passing, something strange and beautiful and mysterious has passed between Diana and her people, and it will live on because it is founded on no less than love. For such love to grow, it requires freedom and that, finally, is Diana's gift to us all.