THE DEATH OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
(August 31, 1997 — Paris, France)
(Draped in the Royal Standard)
The Official Story
FUNERAL OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
(September 6th, 1997)
The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, started on Saturday 6 September 1997 at 9:08 am in London, when the tenor bell of Westminster Abbey started tolling to signal the departure of the cortège from Kensington Palace. The coffin was carried from the palace on a gun carriage by riders of the King’s Troop and escorted by mounted police along Hyde Park to St James’s Palace, where Diana’s body had remained for five days before being taken to Kensington Palace. The Union Flag on top of the palace was lowered to half mast. The official ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey in London and finished at the resting place in Althorp.
Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey while the British television audience peaked at 32.10 million, one of the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever. An estimated 2 to 2.5 billion people watched the event worldwide, making it one of the biggest televised events in history.
Diana’s coffin, draped with the royal standard with an ermine border (i.e. the Other Members’ standard), was brought to London from the Salpêtrière Hospital, via Vélizy – Villacoublay Air Base, Paris, to RAF Northolt by Diana’s former husband Charles, Prince of Wales, and her two sisters on 31 August 1997. After being taken to a private mortuary it was placed at the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, and later taken to Kensington Palace the night before the funeral.
The funeral plan for the Queen Mother, codenamed Operation Tay Bridge, had been rehearsed for 22 years and was used as the basis for Diana’s funeral. However, the event was not a state funeral; instead, it was a royal ceremonial funeral that included royal pageantry and Anglican funeral liturgy. A large display of flowers was installed at the gates of Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. Eight members of the Welsh Guards accompanied Diana’s coffin, draped in the royal standard with an ermine border, on the one-hour-forty-seven-minute ride through London streets. On top of the coffin were three wreaths of white flowers from her brother, the Earl Spencer, and her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. There was also a letter from Prince Harry on her coffin addressed to “Mummy”. At St James’s Palace, Prince Philip, the Prince of Wales, her sons, and her brother joined to walk behind. Five hundred representatives of various charities the Princess had been involved with joined behind them in the funeral cortège. Alastair Campbell later revealed in his diaries that the government and the royal household feared for the security of Prince Charles, believing that he would possibly get attacked by the crowd, thus they ensured that he would be accompanied by his sons. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, initially opposed the idea of William and Harry taking part in the funeral procession, but ultimately decided to walk besides them, telling his grandsons “I’ll walk if you walk.” William later described the experience as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done”, and Harry mentioned no child “should be asked to do” what they did. Nevertheless, William saw the act as a necessity to maintain “balance between duty and family” and Harry said that he was “very glad” that he took part in the procession.
The coffin then passed Buckingham Palace where members of the Royal Family were waiting outside. Queen Elizabeth II bowed her head as it went by. More than one million people lined the streets of London, and flowers rained down onto the cortège from bystanders. Two screens were erected to relay the Westminster Abbey service in Hyde Park.