Blair presses Palace for people's funeral

Anthony Bevins
Monday 01 September 1997 23:02

The Prime Minister's office was yesterday in talks with Buckingham Palace in an attempt to create funeral arrangements that would satisfy the public need to mourn the loss of "the People's Princess".

It became clear during the day that while Number 10 accepted the right of the two families to lay down a framework for Saturday's funeral, Tony Blair had views of his own on giving the public an outlet for its collective grief.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said that there was agreement on all sides that there was no question of limiting official Westminster Abbey funeral service invitations to the "great and good" - dignitaries from home and abroad.

It was said that arrangements would be made to ensure that the 2,000- strong congregation would include ordinary people who represented some of the good causes, like the fight against Aids, and the campaign against landmines, that the Princess had been associated with in recent years.

That could well mean that some people - and some countries - will feel snubbed if their ambassadors are excluded. But Number 10 was further pressing for a funeral that recognised the Princess's enormous domestic popularity.

The spokesman said that the great grief felt by the nation was a measure of the unique depth of affection in which the Princess was held, and Saturday's arrangements had to reflect those sentiments.

But the Prime Minister's office clearly felt as much as possible had to be done to mark the nation's respect.

While there is to be no lying in state, there was a question mark yesterday as to the degree of ceremonial that would be attached to the funeral procession to the Abbey.

Downing Street said there was still a question mark over whether the Princess's coffin might not be taken to the Abbey by gun carriage, which is a feature of state funeral arrangements.

It is also possible that the need of more people to witness part of the funeral could be satisfied by publicising the route to be taken when the Princess is returned to her home village, for private burial, in Great Brington, Northamptonshire.

For the broader public, it was recognised that there might have to be books of condolence at town halls across the country, in addition to those opened at St James's Palace, and nationwide church services can be expected.

Unofficial candlelit vigils, flower-laying, and periods of silence are all certain to be staged by groups and individuals as people seek ways of reflecting their sense of loss.

The Prime Minister's spokesman also pointed out that charities with which the princess had been associated might also benefit, with special donations being made to commemorate their lost sponsor.

It was said that it was, as yet, too early to think of a more enduring memorial; a monument of some kind that could be funded by public subscription

Diana's brother, Earl Spencer also indicated his support yesterday for a high-profile "people's" funeral , claiming it was "right and proper" for the people of Britain to have a chance to pay their respects to her.

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