The Queen bows to her subjects

Michael Streeter
Thursday 04 September 1997 23:02 BST

The Queen will today broadcast to the nation her grief over the loss of Diana, Princess of Wales, as the Royal Family bowed to public criticism over their behaviour since Sunday's tragic deaths.

Although Palace officials insisted that the decision for the Queen to appear on television was one of many options "under discussion" all week, it came just hours after a round of criticism from the public and politicians via the media about their absence from the scenes of deep mourning at London palaces.

On an extraordinary day, the Palace responded to the criticisms made of it one by one, an apparent admission of the its slowness to react to the outpouring of national grief. At the same time, the House of Windsor showed how stung it was in a statement issued by the Queen's press secretary Geoffrey Crawford. He said on television: "The Royal Family have been hurt by suggestions that they are indifferent to the country's sorrow at the tragic death of the Princess of Wales."

The concessions came thick and fast. In breach with Royal precedent, it was announced that tomorrow the Union flag will fly from Buckingham Palace at half mast after the Queen has left for the funeral service at Westminster Abbey. This meets the growing chorus of demands from many ordinary people who have complained that there has been no flag at all. Traditionally, only the Royal Standard is flown - and then only when the Queen is resident.

Later, Prince Charles appeared outside Balmoral with William and Harry, as they inspected floral tributes left by public; an apparent reaction to allegations of aloofness aimed at the family. As the young princes read the messages, the Queen stood apart from the rest of the royal party.

Meanwhile, Princes Andrew and Edward flew to London yesterday and staged a walkabout among mourners, countering complaints that the Royals have remained bunkered inside their Balmoral retreat while outside the nation grieves.

The Queen has also abandoned plans to take the Royal Train overnight from Balmoral and will fly to London today to prepare her broadcast - in time for the evening news bulletins - and then stay at Buckingham Palace. It is possible she could then pay her respects at Diana's coffin in the Royal Chapel and walk among the many mourners queuing at St James's Palace to sign books of condolence.

The establishment moved quickly yesterday to back the Palace, an acknowledgement that the raw emotion of the past days has threatened to cause lasting damage to the monarchy. But even the choice of Mr Blair's phrase of Diana as the "people's princess" raised the question in some people's mind of what this said about the status of the other Royals in the public's affections.

A sign of the massive grief is the prediction last night by Scotland Yard that up to six million people will crowd into central London for the funeral.

There was also surprise in some quarters that no member of the Royal Family will take an active part in Diana's funeral service at Westminster Abbey, details of which were released yesterday.

The tribute will be read by her brother, Earl Spencer, and Diana's sisters will each read poems, while the Prime Minister will give a reading from the bible. The choice of participants - which came after "discussions" between the two families - clearly reflects a bias towards Diana as a Spencer and ambassador for Britain rather than a royal.

A concerted attempt to rally behind the Windsors came yesterday as politicians and church leaders urged the end of public criticism.

Conservative leader William Hague said: "Please, let us all come together now and stop converting our grief into criticism of the Royal Family. Saturday's funeral should be a dignified, united expression of national sorrow." Tony Blair has already made public his support for Prince Charles and others in the family.

In a joint statement, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said: "We believe this is a time for us all to come together - in our grief, in thanks for Diana's life and in sympathy with those most closely affected by this tragedy."

A Lambeth Palace spokeswoman said one of the reasons for the statement was that " the archbishops are urging that this is a time for unity, as they have thought that the tendency to criticise the Royal Family is not helpful for the Princes William and Harry at this sad time."

Reaction to the Royal news was mixed among mourners outside St James's Palace. Legal secretary Mavis Daldy, from London, said: "I feel she's been pushed into making a statement. John Bradley, from Devon, said: "It's about time. In my opinion, it's a disgrace they've kept quiet for so long."

Andrea Lean, from Liverpool, said: "I'm glad. I just wonder why its taken them so long. They must know how people feel."

A Palace spokesman denied any suggested of a "knee-jerk" reaction by the Royal Family.

The clamour and the response

2 September "It isn't practical to lengthen the route without drastically extending the day". The Palace, responding to RAC calls for the route to be extended

3 September

"If the public is no longer impressed by stiff upper lips, by pushing grief-stricken boys into suits and sending them off to a church service where their mother is not even mentioned; if the future king cannot even put his arm around his young sons, then what and whom is it all for?" Suzanne Moore, The Independent:

"A sea of flowers the band plays... but no flag flies" the Sun

4 September

"Your People are Suffering. Speak to Us Ma'am" The Mirror:

"Show Us You Care - Mourners call for the Queen to lead our grief" the Express:

"Where is our Queen? Where is our flag?" the Sun:

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

3 September

Palace doubles length of route of procession

4 September

12.38pm Geoffrey Crawford, the Queen's press secretary, announces that the Royal Family has been hurt by suggestions that they are indifferent to the country's sorrow at the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

12.50pm It is announced that the Queen will return to London earlier than planned and will broadcast to the nation.

3.32pm It is announced that the Union flag will fly, for the first time, at half-mast from Buckingham Palace during the Princess's funeral.

5pm Princes Andrew and Edward walk among mourners in The Mall after visiting the coffin in St James Palace

6.15pm Returning from a church service in Balmoral, Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry stop to view the floral tributes to Diana laid outside the gates All through the viewing Prince Charles is holding his younger son's hand.

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