Diana - Seven days that moved the world: A week that rode on a roller-coaster of emotion

Glenda Cooper
Saturday 06 September 1997 00:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


This time a week ago Diana, Princess of Wales, was returning from a week's holiday with Dodi Fayed. Signs were that this was a serious affair, with friends of the Princess saying they had been involved since before Christmas.

Dodi presented Diana with a pounds 130,000 diamond ring at that meal. The exact significance of the ring we will never know. Within hours they were dead after their Mercedes crashed in a Paris tunnel, and so began the most extraordinary week in the country's modern history.

The death of a blond mother of two without an O-level to her name, and principally famous for marrying someone, provoked an unprecedented national reaction. No one could quite believe it on Sunday morning when they awoke bleary-eyed to the sombre announcement of the Princess's death in a car crash.

A week later hundreds of millions will watch her funeral, a million bouquets have been left at the royal palaces and people have been willing to queue for up to 12 hours to sign books of condolences. It was the Prime Minister, Tony Blair,who set the tone for the week when he spoke in emotional terms of Diana, loved as "the People's Princess". But for the rest of the week it was the crowds who gathered in quiet solemnity at Kensington Palace, the Princess's London home, Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace who drove a series of extraordinary developments.

At the beginning it appeared that the news coverage was defined by images - the Mercedes-Benz concertinaed, the grim view of the coffin borne back to Britain covered in the Royal Standard and accompanied by her two sisters and the Prince of Wales.

There was anger towards the press as the mangled wreckage of the Mercedes was shown, and it became clear that Diana and Dodi had been attempting to escape the paparazzi following them on powerful motorbikes. When journalists went out on to the streets to speak to people some were abuses and one was beaten up.

"Parasites," chorused the crowd after a man stood up to denounce the photographers. "The press got their blood money." There was disgust as it was revealed that crash pictures had been offered to a US tabloid for $1m within hours of the accident. Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, spoke from his South African home of "blood on the hands" of every tabloid editor who had bought paparazzi photographs.

The press, trying to defend themselves against charges of hounding Diana to death, fell with gratitude on the astonishing twists that revealed that the chauffeur, Henri Paul, had been doing 121mph and that the level of alcohol in his blood was three times the legal limit. It also emerged that he was not authorised to drive the limousine. A lawyer for one of the photographers suggested that M Paul had issued a dare to the paparazzi earlier in the evening, in which he said words to the effect of "you'll never catch me in any case".

Hopes that would get the press of the hook were unfounded. Lord Wakeham announced a review by the Press Complaints Commission and seven paparazzi were formally accused of manslaughter by a French judge despite protests from the (people felt) aptly named Romuald Rat who claimed that while taking pictures he had taken Diana's pulse and reassured her that help was on the way. Three more photographers gave themselves up.

In her controversial Panorama interview in 1995, Diana signalled her desire to stop the Royal Family "being so distant." In her death the House of Windsor was forced to confront this charge.

"You lived her life because you saw so much of her - when she was emotional, when she was happy," said Susan Simmonds, who travelled from Swansea to lay flowers at Kensington Palace. "You even ended up arguing over her but she was always there. I got married when she did, had my children about the same time. But I don't think I really realised what she meant to us before."

"She touched the untouchable. That's what we love her for," said Rosemary Duncombe from Buckinghamshire. "She stretched out her hand to everyone."

What set the crowds mourning Diana apart was that there wasn't one particular group that identified with her - everyone was eager to claim her as "one of us" whether it was the self-styled "London ethnic" who left a message saying "what a superstar" or the inmates of HMP Dartmoor who thanked her "for treating us like human beings not criminals". The statement on Sunday morning from the Queen and Prince Charles - all that was said for several days - that they were "deeply shocked and distressed by this terrible news" seemed insufficient in comparison, as businesses promised to come to a halt, the National Lottery was postponed and theatres, cinemas and sports postponed and cancelled events.

Within hours the public started laying flowers, cards, teddy bears and poems at Kensington Palace. By yesterday morning it was estimated more than a million bouquets had been laid at the royal palaces. Mandela, Clinton and Chirac all paid emotional tributes.

Four books of condolence were opened at St James's Palace on Monday. The gesture was woefully inadequate - by the end of the week 43 were at the palace alone and it was announced they would be kept open 24 hours a day after the funeral to cope with the number of people wanting to leave a message. More than 3,500 phonelines were set up to take donations for a memorial fund.

The depth of the emotion among the public seemed to take the Royal Family by surprise, leaving them looking out of touch and hurriedly having to conform to public demands. By the end of the week, the family who had initially immured themselves in the Scottish castle Balmoral were breaking with protocol and walking among the people after a series of rapid volte- faces that culminated in the Queen's broadcast live to the nation last night and the overturning of previous tradition that a flag never be flown at half mast at Buckingham Palace when the sovereign is in residence.

After protests, the funeral procession was doubled in length so that more people will be able to line the route. Demand for a silence to honour her lead to a palace announcement there would be one minute of silence after the funeral service ended.

But while the Royals have come in for criticism before, the Queen has always been seen to be above this. Perhaps the most unheard-of developments were the attacks on her, which focused on the fact no flag was flying at her London home. "Where is our Queen? Where is her flag?" asked the Sun. "Your people are suffering. Speak to us Ma'am," said the Mirror. "Show us you care," demanded the Express.

Stung, the Queen authorised her press secretary to issue a statement saying how "hurt" the Royal Family was to be thought "indifferent" to Diana's death. The concessions came thick and fast. In breach with royal precedent it was announced the Union flag would fly at half mast during the funeral and after. Princes Andrew and Edward mingled with mourners in the Mall. Flying back to London yesterday Princes William and Harry and Prince Charles met crowds at Kensington Palace while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh went walkabout at Buckingham Palace.

Perhaps the Prince of Wales, who has always borne a stiff upper lip in public, showed how much had changed in a week. On Thursday he let himself be pictured in an uncharacteristic way - with Prince Harry's small hand slipped in his as they looked at the tributes outside Balmoral.

"She won't go quietly," Diana had threatened in the Panorama interview. Her words have been fulfilled. The people won't let her go quietly.

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