September 6, 1997– Princess Diana’s Funeral is watched by a billion people. I watched at my home in Seattle. I had recovered from the shock of her death in that car crash, but I was feeling a bit cynical about broadcasting a funeral on television until that jaw-dropping eulogy, and then with the Elton John moment, I lost it.
Princess Diana’s coffin was brought to London from Villacoublay Air Base, outside of Paris, by her ex-husband Prince Charles of Wales and her two sisters on August 31, 1997. After being taken to a private mortuary the coffin was placed in the chapel at St. James’s Palace.
A week later, on September 6, a billion people were focused on London, where Diana’s funeral was taking place. Over one million people lined the streets of the city for the somber occasion, which included a minute of silence to honor the People’s Princess.
It wasn’t an official state funeral. Instead, it was a Royal funeral with royal pageantry and an Anglican liturgy. Huge arrangements of flowers were placed at the gates of Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. Eight of The Queen’s Welsh Guards accompanied Diana’s coffin, draped in the Royal flag, on the 90-minute trip through London streets. On top of the coffin were three wreaths of white flowers, one from her brother, Charles Spencer, and one each from her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.
At St. James’s Palace, the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, joined his son the Prince of Wales, Diana’s sons and her brother, as they all walked behind the coffin. 500 representatives of charities that Princess Diana worked with joined behind them, including actor Andrew Lincoln, who represented The Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art (RADA) of which she was a patron. The procession moved past Buckingham Palace where Queen Elizabeth II bowed her head as it went by. Millions of flowers were tossed by the mourners on the streets.
The ceremony at Westminster Abbey was 80 minutes long. Members of the Royal Family placed more wreaths alongside Diana’s coffin. British Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan and Edward Heath, plus Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Bernadette Chirac, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Elton John, George Michael, Mariah Carey, Richard Branson, and Luciano Pavarotti were in attendance. Among other invitees were Jordan’s Queen Noor, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Princess Margriet of The Netherlands, Constantine II of Greece, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan, and Nelson Mandela.
The organist played pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonín Dvořák, Camille Saint-Saëns, Johann Pachelbel and Gustav Holst. Elton John sang Candle In The Wind which Bernie Taupin rewrote in tribute to Diana. Taupin:
“I thought it was very important to project it from a nation’s standpoint. I wanted to make it sound like a country singing it. From the first couple of lines I wrote which began “Goodbye England’s Rose”, the rest sort of fell into place.”
Only a month before Diana’s death, she had been photographed comforting John at the funeral of their murdered friend Gianni Versace.
Diana’s brother Charles gave the eulogy, bitingly taking on The Royal Family and the media for their treatment of his sister. Spencer:
“She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hand of the newspapers.”
He also vowed to protect William and Harry. The Queen reportedly refused to clap following the eulogy.
William and Harry, just 15-years-old and 12-years-old, followed the casket out of Westminster Abbey and through the streets of London. Television cameras featured closeups of her casket, and among the white lilies, tulips and roses viewers could see a card that read “Mummy”.
Because of the demand from the public, an additional service for Diana was performed at Westminster Abbey the next day.
“My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television. I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
Following the procession, a motorcade transported Princess Diana to her ancestral home in Althorp Park, 75 miles north of London. She is buried there.