Death of Diana: the week that rocked Britain
Twenty years ago, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, stunned the world. From the shocking announcement of the news to her funeral procession lined by a million-strong crowd, this tumultuous week rocked Britain – and the monarchy.30 August 1997
Newly divorced, freshly independent, Diana is enjoying a summer of fun. Divested of her royal title, her famous gowns auctioned for charity, she is Vanity Fair’s cover and planning a trip to Sarajevo to promote her campaign against landmines. In July she arrives in St Tropez with William and Harry as guests of the Harrods owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, on his yacht, The Jonikal. Fayed’s son, Dodi, 42, is summoned by his father to meet her as she and her sons enjoy jet-skiing, swimming, sunshine and lavish hospitality.
The following month she is back on The Jonikal, alone with Dodi. Paparazzi photographs of “the Kiss” betray their intimacy. The two fly from Sardinia for a final night in Paris. Diana is due to fly home the following day for a reunion with her boys. But paparazzi find them at the Ritz, owned by Fayed. Photographers chase their car as they head out to dinner. Angry and frustrated, Dodi cancels their dinner plans. They will return to the Ritz, eat there instead, then drive to his Paris apartment. It’s chaos outside and CCTV footage shows a clearly unhappy Diana striding through the hotel lobby.
Dodi has a plan. Two cars will act as decoys leaving from the Ritz front entrance. He and Diana will leave from the rear in a Mercedes S280. Henri Paul, 41, the Ritz’s acting head of security, is given the task of driving the couple. He is not a regular limousine chauffeur. He has been called in while off duty and is seen drinking two measures of Ricard pastis in the bar while he waits.31 August
Diana and Dodi leave the Ritz at 00.18, captured on CCTV waiting for their car. A last picture shows them in the Mercedes: Paul at the wheel, Dodi’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, the sole survivor, in the front, and Diana in the back looking out of the rear windscreen. As the car, chased by photographers, approaches Pont de l’Alma at speed, Paul clips a white Fiat Uno and loses control. It hits the 13th pillar. He has no time to brake.
Dodi and Paul die instantly. Rees-Jones is badly injured. Diana is slumped in the back. She is driven to Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital but suffers a cardiac arrest. Her pulmonary vein is torn. Despite the best efforts of staff, she dies at 4am.
At 4.41am, the Press Association issues a news flash: “Diana, Princess of Wales, has died, according to British sources.” Buckingham Palace confirmation swiftly follows. BBC newscaster Martyn Lewis announces it to viewers shortly after 5am. All other programmes are suspended. The first bouquet of flowers appears outside Diana’s Kensington Palace home at 5.30am and by lunchtime there are more than 1,000.
In County Durham, the prime minister, Tony Blair, addresses the nation, famously coining “the People’s Princess”. He warns his press spokesman, Alastair Campbell: “This is going to produce grief like none of us have ever seen.” In Cape Town, Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, bitterly condemns the press. Any editor who has used paparazzi pictures of her has “blood on his hands today”, he says.
Shocked and grieving, just hours after learning of their mother’s death, William and Harry attend Sunday morning service at Crathie Kirk near Balmoral. Within a few hours, Charles has flown to Paris with Diana’s sisters, Sarah McCorquodale and Jane Fellowes, to bring his ex-wife home. Her coffin, draped in the royal standard, is brought to RAF Northolt, west London. As the hearse is driven to St James’s Palace, central London, where she will rest in the Chapel Royal, crowds line the route throwing flowers from bridges and cars pull over to watch. It is prescient of what is to come. “I don’t think we’re going to have a small family funeral, do you?” McCorquodale tells Fellowes. Charles heads back to Balmoral to be with his sons.
At Brookwood cemetery, near Woking, just before midnight, Dodi Fayed is interred after a funeral service at Regent’s Park mosque, his body having been brought home by his grieving father.Monday 1 September
Fayed’s spokesman tells reporters Paul was a sober, model employee, but French police reveal he was nearly three times over the French legal drink-drive limit. “Drunk as a pig,” the Evening Standard headline screams. Paul’s family demand a second autopsy.
A minute’s silence is held in London, and the first of several planning meetings for Diana’s funeral are held with Buckingham Palace in London on speakerphone to the royal family in Scotland. It will be a royal ceremonial funeral, hastily arranged, and loosely based on plans for the Queen Mother’s.
The queue for the book of condolence at St James’s Palace stretches all the way down the Mall. Flowers are still piling up outside Kensington Palace, but photographers, taking pictures of the tributes, are jostled by some of the crowd. “You killed her,” is the accusation. Shock is giving way to anger.Tuesday 2 September
Most official buildings in London have the union flag at half-mast, except Buckingham Palace. With the Queen away, the flagpole is bare. The first mutterings of anger over this are reported on American TV, but will be swiftly picked up by the British media and wielded as a symbol of uncaring royals.
In Knightsbridge, Harrods unveils a memorial to Diana and Dodi, with black-and-white framed photographs of each of them. In Paris, French prosecutors open a criminal inquiry into the photographers and dispatch riders arrested at the scene.
Judging more than 1 million people will descend on London for the funeral, it is decided two huge screens will be erected to relay the Westminster Abbey service in Hyde Park. The funeral committee at Buckingham Palace discuss what roles William and Harry are to play, but an angry Duke of Edinburgh shouts down the line: “They’ve just lost their mother. You’re talking about them as if they are commodities.”Wednesday 3 September
Tens of thousands of bouquets stretch more than 30ft (nine metres) from the gates of Kensington Palace. The queues to sign the books of condolence at St James’s Palace continue to grow daily. The funeral route is extended by two miles to allow for the crowds. People are already starting to bed down in the streets to see it.
But will the princes walk behind her coffin? There are concerns Charles might get booed. The royal family, holed up at Balmoral, are becoming a focus for palpable anger. It is decided Princes Andrew and Edward should meet the grieving public to test the mood. Blair and the palace agree, the Queen must broadcast to the nation and the royal family must come to London. A Daily Mail headline demands: “Let the flag fly at half-mast.”
Earl Spencer, looking at the extraordinary scenes, is preparing his eulogy. He fears any grave will be turned into a shrine. The safest place for his sister to be buried, he determines, is on an island in the grounds of Althorp, the Spencer family’s ancestral home in Northants.Thursday 4 September “Has the House of Windsor Got a Heart?”
“Your people are suffering, Speak to us Ma’am”
“Show us you care”
“Where is our Queen? Where is our flag?”
The headlines make disturbing reading for the royal family and the government. Alastair Campbell, walking to the daily funeral meeting, is shocked by the mood on the streets. Blair, the opposition leader William Hague and church leaders, all appeal to the public not to convert grief into criticism of the royals.
The fightback begins. A palace spokeswoman issues a statement. All the royal family, especially Charles, William and Harry, are “taking strength from” and “deeply touched” by and “enormously grateful” for the overwhelming public support. The union flag will fly at half-mast during and after the funeral.
Andrew and Edward meet the grieving public outside Kensington Palace. Up in Scotland, returning from Crathie Kirk, Charles stops the car at the gates at Balmoral. He, William and Harry look at the flowers and messages that have been left. The boys are bewildered, disorientated and in profound grief. “None of it sank in,” William said recently. For Harry: “Looking back, the last thing I wanted to do was read what other people were saying about our mother.”
Regulations are relaxed to allow the public to camp in the royal parks before the funeral. The queue to sign the books of condolences at St James’s Palace is still six-and-a-half hours long.
The second autopsy on Paul not only confirms his blood alcohol level, but also discovers traces of drugs in his system to treat depression and alcoholism.Friday 5 September
The royal family arrives in London. The Queen pays her respects to Diana at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, and meets crowds queuing to sign the books of condolence, which now number 43. There is applause from the crowd at her appearance. Observers sense the tension immediately dissipate.
Charles, William and Harry make an unannounced visit to see the avalanche of flowers outside Diana’s home. They remember people wailing and strangers grabbing them with tear-soaked hands, they recently recalled, and wondering why so many people who never knew her could be so upset.
The Queen’s broadcast this evening is to be live. Blair believes the people “needed to see her vulnerable as a person, and not simply vulnerable as a monarch”. She pays heartfelt tribute to Diana. “What I say to you now, as your Queen and as a grandmother, I say from the heart,” she tells the nation. The grandmother reference is a touch added by Campbell to her original draft. About 50,000 people line the route as Diana’s coffin is taken from St James’s to Kensington Palace, where it will stay overnight.Saturday 6 September
A million and more line the three-and-a-half mile route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. Others are crammed before giant screens. Two billion watch it across the globe. The streets fall silent as Diana’s coffin, with a small white envelope bearing the single word “Mummy” on top amid the flowers, leaves Kensington Palace at 9.08am. The sky is empty as planes are rerouted.
There are gasps and tears from the crowd as Diana’s sons, aged 15 and 12, fall into step behind the coffin, alongside Charles, Spencer, and Prince Philip. The decision they will walk has been a collective family one. “If you don’t walk, you may regret it later,” Philip is said to have told them. “If I walk, will you walk with me?”
As the cortege passes Buckingham Palace, the Queen, standing by the West Gate with other members of the royal family, dips her head in respect. As the Queen leaves for the abbey, the royal standard is removed from the flagpole and replaced with the union flag, which will fly at half-mast until midnight in a victory for the people.
Inside the abbey, a raft of celebrities, politicians and representatives from Diana’s charities join her family and friends to hear Elton John perform Goodbye England’s Rose, adapted from his hit Candle in the Wind. Earl Spencer makes his extraordinary and emotional speech, pledging his sister’s “blood family” would ensure her sons can “sing as openly as you planned”. Applause begins outside the abbey but rolls, like a tsunami according to Sarah McCorquodale, up the aisles to reach the royals themselves.
The last time Diana will be seen in public is as her coffin is taken from the abbey back to Althorp. The M1 is cleared by a rolling roadblock behind the funeral cortege. But the bridges, verges and slip roads are lined with people throwing flowers on to the hearse. Unprecedented, historic, profound is how the media describe it.
She is interred on an island in the middle of an ornamental lake at Althorp, which the public cannot reach – reclaimed by her family in death. As her coffin is borne into Althorp, the royal standard, which has been draped over it, is replaced by the Spencer family flag of white, red and gold.https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/201 ... ed-britain