This is my first blog to have no photos directly of a special event – intentionally – as I never took any! Before the days of mobile phones with built-in cameras, I always took a camera with me, everywhere, especially for Royal events. I have hundreds of photos from over the decades, including a few of when HRH The Princess of Wales waved right at me in Canterbury (see Trilogy of a Beautiful Princess for more on that story), and the memories from meeting her on 2 HIV wards at famous London hospitals. But I took none at all over the days of her death and funeral; it just seemed disrespectful.
On the August bank holiday weekend, 1997, five months after my own dear Mother died, my brother, Steve, and my-then sister-in-law, Debbie, were staying over with us for a Wet Wet Wet concert on the Saturday night. At about 6am on the Sunday, the house phone rang. John and I woke up and he ran downstairs to answer it. It was my dear friend Pat, who was working a night shift as a Staff Nurse in pædiatrics. “Have you heard the news? Diana is dead!” When John told me, I ran in to Debbie and Steve, sobbing, saying “She’s dead! She’s dead!” Steve thought I meant one of his own daughters, until I could get the name out: “DIANA! The Princess of Wales is dead!”
Debbie was going back to Cardiff on that Sunday, so we all went to Columbia Road flower market, where the mood was somber, to say the least, and we bought big bunches of flowers. We went to Buckingham Palace and laid them at the gates. The floral displays were just starting to grow, but the atmosphere and the sounds of people sobbing were eerie.
My poor ol’ mother, Lil, really loved Diana, and I am just so thankful Lil died before the Princess, otherwise her last few weeks or months would have been so sad at this young woman’s tragic death. As with many people, Lil thought of Diana as someone she knew personally, and loved dearly.
I remember a constant flow of funereal music playing on the car radio, interspersed with the National Anthem, repeated every quarter of an hour. I was not alone in tying a black ribbon to the car aerial. Back home, we watched TV for everything we could about Diana: her life, her death, and looking for some answers. As the plane carrying the Princesses’ body flew in for its final decent into RAF Northolt, a most poignant part of the Requiem Mass was playing on whichever TV station we had on: “Requiem aeternam”. The plane came to a halt and the Princess’ body was carried off.
Lots of things happened over those next few days. One of my first actions was to erect a black curtain pole, adorned with a fleur-de-lis which I fixed outside our front bedroom window, in Fearon Street, Greenwich. Black silk ribbons dangled from the mast, and a large Welsh Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) flew at half. In our bay window downstairs, I draped a Union flag over the back of a chair and put a stunning photo of Diana on display. A candle burned in front of it. A funny thing happened over those days, when a few of our neighbours came knocking at the door to ask if we had a Book of Condolence to sign! Again, I took no photos.
Then one evening, I got the train in to Charing Cross station, to go visit the Mall and to Buckingham Palace. The second I got off the train and onto the platform, I was conscious of the smell of flowers all the way from the near-by Mall. The smell got stronger and stronger the more I walked over Trafalgar Square and up the Mall. There were thousands upon thousands of flowers, cards, messages, candles, balloons and photos of the Princess, lining the right-hand side of the Mall all the way up to Buckingham Palace. Never had I seen anything like it before, or since.
On the Saturday after Diana’s death, my friend Anita and I planned to meet up for the funeral. We went to Hyde Park. As anyone who has seen the film footage of the event will know well, the whole day was just one roller-coaster of sadness and emotion. We stood for the National Anthem as the funeral cortege brought the Princess’ body into Westminster Abbey; we applauded Earl Spencer’s eulogy, and we clapped, again, as Diana’s coffin was carried out of the Abbey.
As The Princess’ body drove past us, people just crowded to the road side of Hyde Park and up Park Lane. Anita jumped on my back to get a better view, and I’m sure there wasn’t a single dry eye anywhere to be found that day. We bade her farewell and wished her rest in peace.
Twenty years later and I’m sure there are millions of us, the world over, who knew exactly where we were, the day Diana died.
Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine