It was a bright, late summer day in London. The city’s ancient landmarks reflected the sun’s rays against a backdrop of deep blue sky that showed no sign of the infamous English rain. Though the weather was picture perfect, the city was eerily quiet.
Instead of busily going about their business, Londoners were solemnly lined up along the streets, heads bowed, many weeping. They had all come to say goodbye to their beloved Princess Diana, the People’s Princess, who had died in a car accident during a Paris idyll a week earlier at the age of 36.
Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, on July 29, 1981, at the tender age of 20. She immediately captivated those living in the UK. She also evolved into a global sensation almost overnight, becoming the most famous and most photographed woman in the world.
Beautiful, captivating, and media-savvy, Diana was everyone’s idea of what a fairytale princess should be. After she produced the two little princes, William and Harry (the heir and the spare), her happily-ever-after seemed all but assured.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the fairy tale to turn into a melodrama. Years of Charles refusing to give up his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles led Diana to affairs of her own. There were also accusations of cruelty on Diana’s part and mental instability on Charles’s. But in the end, it was their basic incompatibility that led to their divorce in August 1996.
After the divorce, Diana was determined to continue the humanitarian work that had made her so beloved as a princess, including AIDS awareness and campaigning against landmines. She also looked forward to raising her boys Wills and Harry in the warm and loving way she always had, as she was a doting mother by all accounts.
All her plans ended in the wee hours of August 31, 1997, in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Also killed in the crash was Diana’s companion Dodi Al-Fayed, and the driver Henri Paul, who was later found to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
On that sunny September day in London, an estimated one million people stood watch on the roadside (and 2.5 billion more watched around the globe on television) as Diana’s coffin draped in the royal standard and accompanied by eight members of the Welsh Guards slowly made its way to Westminster Abbey.
Diana’s coffin was draped with three white floral arrangements, one from her brother Charles, Earl Spencer, and the other two from her young sons. One of the most heart-wrenching and poignant visuals of that day is the sight of a small bunch of flowers perched on the coffin with a card bearing just one word: “Mummy.”
When the funeral cortege passed St. James Palace, Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Earl Spencer joined the procession, along with representatives of various charities that the Princess had sponsored. As the coffin passed Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth bowed her head as a mark of respect, an unprecedented gesture for the monarch.
The procession finally reached Westminster Abbey. Diana’s coffin was brought into the ancient church filled with royalty and celebrities gathered to pay their respects to the most celebrated woman in the world.
The service was just over an hour long. British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke, as did Diana’s two elder sisters. Her younger brother Earl Spencer delivered a eulogy that praised his sister for all her good works while simultaneously accusing the Royal Family of being cold-hearted and unfeeling, which probably didn’t sit too well with his godmother, the Queen.
Elton John, a close friend of the Princess, asked his lyricist Bernie Taupin to rewrite the lyrics of “Candle in the Wind” to rework the song as a tribute to Diana. Elton sang “Goodbye England’s Rose” at the service with obvious emotion, both for him and all present. The song soon outsold Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” as the best selling single of all time.
After the service, Princess Diana was brought to Althorp, her family’s ancestral home in Northamptonshire, to be laid to rest. Her burial, unlike so many things in her life, was private, with only her mother, siblings, sons, ex-husband, a friend, and a clergyman in attendance.
The Princess is buried on a small and picturesque island on the Althorp estate. The path leading to it is protected by the shade of 36 oak trees, one for each year of Diana’s life. Four black swans glide among the water lilies, in the shadow of an ancient yet stately arboretum. Diana, Princess of Wales, the most sought after woman on the planet, is finally at rest.