Remembering Princess Diana's Funeral 20 Years Later
Princess Diana's untimely death sent the U.K.—and a surprisingly wide swath of the rest of the world—into a state of collective grief. What began as a few spontaneous acts of public mourning on
Twenty years later, her funeral remains one of the most-watched television events in history.
In the UK, on the BBC alone, 19.29 million viewers watched Prince William and Prince Harry, who were just 15 and 12 at the time, say goodbye to their mother. In the United States, 33.2 million watched—that's more than those who watched the William and Kate's wedding in 2011, according to Reuters. It was estimated that worldwide, 2.5 billion people tuned
In addition to those watching on television screens, around one million mourners lined the streets of central London to pay their respects. Given her popularity, the service was also packed with celebrities, royals, and charity partners.
On the twentieth anniversary of her death, we're taking a look back at Diana's funeral, from the heartbreaking procession to the seemingly endless floral tributes, and a controversial eulogy from Diana's brother.
BEFORE THE FUNERAL
After she passed away in at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, Diana’s body was flown back to a Royal Air Force base.
Initially, the Queen thought it was "inappropriate" for any member of the Royal Family to retrieve the body. "The Spencers are her family, Charles," she reportedly told Charles, according to biographer Christopher Andersen. "They should be the ones to bring Diana back."
But the Queen eventually relented, and Prince Charles, along with Diana's sisters Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, accompanied her back from France on September 1, 1997.
The coffin, draped in a Royal Standard flag, was then given a short procession by pallbearers from the Royal Air Force. It was later placed into a hearse before being driven to an undisclosed mortuary. Diana's sons William and Harry were staying at the royal residence of Balmoral in Scotland at the time.
The evening before the funeral, her body was taken to Kensington Palace from St James's Palace as Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince Harry followed behind in cars and thousands of mourners came out to pay their respects.
Princess Diana's memorial service was a royal ceremonial funeral—not a state funeral—including a procession to Westminster Abbey from Kensington Palace.
Mourners cry at the funeral
The hearse left the Palace just after 9 a.m. on a gun carriage led by horses and flanked by royal guards wearing bearskin hats. Her coffin was
The Queen Mother and the Queen at Princess Diana’s funeral
The Queen, her sister Margaret, Princess Anne, and other members of the royal family stood outside Buckingham Palace—where the Union Jack was lowered to half-mast—and bowed their heads as the coffin went past.
As the procession approached the Mall, William and Harry, Prince Charles, Prince Philip and her brother Earl Spencer joined in a line to walk behind the cortège, as did representatives of the numerous charities Diana worked with.
The image of 12-year-old Harry following his mother is one of the most indelible of a week that many Britons remember vividly—and which has followed the young prince ever since. Just recently, the 32-year-old Harry recalled the horror of the experience, saying no child should have to go through what he did.
“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,” Harry told Newsweek. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and Prince Charles walk behind Diana’s coffin
Earl Spencer also recently reflected on the day of the funeral. He told the BBC he was led to believe the
The procession brought attention once again to the enormous mountain of flowers that had been brought by ordinary people outside St James's Palace. It was estimated that there were around 60 million blooms left there to commemorate the Princess’s life, according to CNN.
In addition to members of the royal family and the Spencers, politicians, celebrities, friends, and colleagues from the many charities she served as patron of came to pay their respects. Relatives of her companion Dodi Al-Fayed—who also passed away after the car crash—were there as well.
Politicians included the British Prime Minister Blair, along with all other living former Prime Ministers: John Major (who was later appointed a legal guardian to both William and Harry after Diana’s death) Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, and Edward Heath. Then-first lady Hillary Clinton represented the U.S. along with
First lady Hillary Clinton
The list of celebrities in attendance was also dizzying. Elton John, his husband David Furnish, and George Michael came to pay tribute, as did Tom Cruise and his former wife Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Sting and Trudi Styler, Diana Ross, businessman Richard Branson, and the opera singer Pavarotti, who had initially said he was too sad to attend, The Independent reported at the time.
Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks
Fittingly, Diana a style icon status even in death, and a number of designers and notables from the fashion industry, including Donatella Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, and Anna Wintour, were in the congregation.
Donatella Versace, Anna Wintour, and Karl Lagerfeld
The coffin was carried by eight royal guard pallbearers and was placed at the front of the Abbey surrounded by four large candles. Two wreaths were laid at the foot of the coffin: One by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and one by the Prince of Wales, Prince Harry, and Prince William.
The Dean of Westminster led the service, which included readings from Prime Minister Tony Blair and Diana's sisters. The first hymn was chosen by Prince William who selected it because it was a
Her friend Elton John then performed a re-worked version of his 1973 hit Candle in the Wind, a song written initially about Marilyn Monroe but which has been associated with the Princess ever since.
Perhaps the most striking moment of the funeral was Charles Spencer’s eulogy, which remains a source of both fascination and controversy. The speech was widely interpreted to be a dig at the royal family, particularly when he praised his sister for not “needing a royal title” to continue her charity work. He also personally addressed Princes William and Harry by pledging to protect them.
“I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which [Diana] was steering these young men, that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned. We fully respect the heritage in which they have both been born… but we, like you, recognize the need for them to experience as many different aspects of life as possible,” he said.
Earl Spencer guides Prince Harry into the service
The Earl also accused the British media of “sneering” at Diana. He more recently said the press and paparazzi “had the [attack in the eulogy] coming.”
Spencer spoke with frank honesty about his sister, saying that while she was a global symbol of “selfless humanity,” glamour, and status, she “remained a very insecure person at heart, almost childlike in her desire to do good for others so she could release herself from deep feelings of unworthiness of which her eating disorders were merely a symptom.”
The Earl’s voice broke with emotion at the end of his speech before roaring applause from the crowds outside and inside filled the Abbey—which he now says he can’t remember due to the emotional exhaustion. Read his words in full, here.
The Earl wrote the eulogy in an hour and a half with the mindset he was speaking for somebody “who no longer had a voice.”
“I don’t feel I said many pointed things,” he told the BBC last month. “I believe every word I said it was true… I wasn’t looking to make any jabs at anyone actually, I was trying to celebrate Diana.”
As the Queen’s godson, the Earl said they have never spoken about the speech. However, he heard through a mutual party that the monarch said, “he had every right to say what he felt, it was his sister’s funeral.”
The bells of Westminster Abbey rang out as Diana's body was carried back to the hearse. It was then driven through central London to applause from the crowds on the roads who had gathered to pay their respects. The hearse had to use its windscreen wipers to remove the copious amounts of flowers thrown onto the vehicle. At one point, it had to stop to have them removed.
Diana’s burial site on the Althorp Estate
The hearse made its way up through north London, onto the motorway—which was flanked by police escorts to ensure other vehicles could not come too close—all the way to
The burial was a private affair with only the Spencer family, Prince Charles, William, and Harry in attendance. Diana was laid to rest on an island in a lake of the grounds where she used to play as a child. She was dressed in a long-sleeved black dress by Catherine Walker, one of her
Her final resting place features a small temple, along with another commemorative statue at the entrance of the estate grounds.
Earlier this summer, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and Prince Harry attended a private memorial service at Althorp with the Spencer family to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Diana's death and what would have been her 56th birthday.
In August, a statue in
"It has been twenty years since our mother's death and the time is right to recognize her positive impact in the UK and around the world with a permanent statue," Prince William and Prince Harry said in a joint statement earlier this year.
"Our mother touched so many lives. We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and her legacy."
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.