No flag flying, a Family far away, and the people feel uneasy

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The Independent Online
National mourning for Diana, Princess of Wales, began turning to dismay yesterday at the Royal Family's apparent failure to join in public displays of grief.

The dismay - and in some cases anger - indicated a growing gulf between the mood of the general public and its tributes to Diana across the country and a Royal Family remaining closeted from view at their Balmoral redoubt.

Some experts sympathetic to the monarchy even feared a public desire for a scapegoat over the tragedy could weaken the institution irrevocably. The potential seriousness of the situation was illustrated by a defence by Downing Street last night of the family's actions.

It pointedly made public the fact that Mr Blair had a 15-minute "private" telephone conversation with the Prince of Wales in which the Prime Minister pledged his full support. His office said the press could not expect the Royal Family to "jump in and be extras in a media event".

Mr Blair emphasised his support for the Royal Family. "They are trying to make all the practical arrangements, which are very complex, obviously, for the funeral, at the same time as comforting the two boys. They share our grief very much and we should respect that."

But then, as if to illustrate the gulf that exists between the family and the public, and providing a lesson of how things should be done, Mr Blair walked to the end of Downing Street to talk to mourners.

Some of the attacks on the Royals have been over the decision to issue a "business-as-usual" message by taking Princes William and Harry to church at Balmoral on Sunday morning, a few hours after Prince Charles had broken the news to them of their mother's death. There was also concern that, in keeping with protocol, there was no flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. The flag only flies when the Queen is in residence.

The fear for the family was that these immediate concerns, combined with reawakened anger over the way it allegedly mistreated Diana, could prove a potent cocktail of discontent. The mood was particularly strong among people interviewed by the Independent as they queued - some for up to 11 hours - to sign the books of condolence at St James's Palace.

Sandra Seed, a lecturer, said: "I don't think the Royal Family is aware of emotions the British people have. They treated Diana very badly. They should have been here for these days. I hope they don't treat anybody else like this at all." Ellen Byrne, who works for the Sue Ryder Foundation, said: "I thought the Queen might have gone on the television and said how sorry she was. Everyone would have loved it. Just to hear her say that." A woman who declined to be named said: "Why does she have to hide behind the gates of Balmoral? My God, if I died I hope my mother-in-law would say something, even if she wasn't that fond of me. Diana was such a public person that we expect them to show their grief."

Susan Connolly, a housewife from Pembury, near Tunbridge Wells, agreed. "This happened on Sunday. It's now Wednesday. I think it would have been nice for some member of the Royal Family to make a statement. That's been a bit slow in coming perhaps."

Joey Daley-Land, an anthropologist, from Chelsea, said: "How come all of England, all of Britain, all of the world, knew something the Royal Family did not know? I don't think they've ever understood where Diana is coming from and what she meant to so many people."

Another woman said: "I heard somewhere that Charles had spent 30 days with the boys last year. He needs to get off his backside and stop employing people with silly names."

Attempts were made yesterday to involve more members of the public in Saturday's day of grieving when the Palace said the funeral procession to Westminster Abbey will be doubled in length and two large television screens erected in Hyde Park. A statement by the Palace said Prince Charles will fly to London with Princes William and Harry tomorrow evening to view Diana's coffin in the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace. The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Mother will travel on the royal train, arriving in in the capital on the morning of the funeral. Whether the young princes and their father will walk behind the coffin to Westminster Abbey will depend on whether it is thought the boys can cope. The Prince of Wales's press secretary said that the family, in particular the princes, were "taking strength from the overwhelming support of the public, who are sharing their tremendous sense of loss and grief".

Ronald Allison, the Queen's former press secretary, said that members of the Royal Family were devastated by the Princess's death. "They are genuinely grief-stricken. They are genuinely devastated by this - the whole of the family and particularly, of course, the Prince of Wales. "I am absolutely certain that the funeral will demonstrate the family's ... real anguish and the depth of their feelings in a very real way.

"Above all else, the Queen and the rest of the family are concerned about the two princes - Prince William and Prince Harry. They have decided, I am sure rightly, that it is best that they spend as much time in the peace and comparative solitude of Balmoral, and to go back there as soon as possible is clearly what they think is the best thing," he said.

"It is my belief that they do share that grief and that sorrow, that they are dealing with it in their own way, which may not be our way."

A constitutional expert, David Starkey, a supporter of Prince Charles, said there was a growing gap between the public and the family. "For the first time it is probably the end [of the Royal Family] - for good or bad." Prince Charles was in an impossible situation but the family was showing "emotional constipation," Mr Starkey said.

Penny Junor, a royal biographer and another supporter, said it was not their way to show public emotion but added: "It is a bit surprising that the Queen has not made expression of sorrow.

"There is no callousness in it. It's just an inability to know what the hell they should do."

A Palace spokesman said grieving was a "private process" and people should be allowed to do it their in own way.