AP Was There: Mourners gather for Princess Diana’s funeral – Washington Post
Nearly two decades after its original publication, The Associated Press is making available correspondent Maureen Johnson’s Sept. 6, 1997, report on the event.
With timeless splendor, a sea of tears and a brother’s rage, Britain bade farewell today to its “Queen of Hearts,” a million mourners or more seeing Diana, Princess of Wales, to her final rest after a life of golden days, heartache and too few years.
“All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity,” said her brother, Charles.
But the ninth Earl Spencer was bitter, too, in his eulogy from the pulpit of Westminster Abbey, taking aim at a gossip-hungry press that may have contributed to Diana’s death, and vowing to keep the royal family from smothering her sons in “duty and tradition.”
Hushed throngs strained to see the stately procession bearing Diana’s coffin to the abbey funeral, as it passed at “dead march” step through corridors of humanity massed in central London to bid godspeed to the much-loved but star-crossed princess.
At the funeral’s end, just after noon, the nation fell silent in a one-minute tribute, as echoes absorbed the final strains of the abbey choir’s “Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you.”
A motorcade then carried the princess’s remains north on a 75-mile route to her ancestral home, Althorp Park, where a grave awaited on a quiet, wooded island in the estate grounds.
The hearse was quickly blanketed with flowers tossed from the grieving crowds. As it entered Althorp, police shut the estate’s gates, and Diana’s family took her into the privacy she had often craved – a burial service attended by a few Spencers, her former husband, Prince Charles, and her beloved sons. The Spencer family said no details of the burial would be made public.
Charles and his sons left Althorp at about 6 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT), police said. They were believed to be going to Charles’ home, Highgrove, in Gloucestershire in western England.
Within Westminster Abbey’s hallowed and soaring walls, black-clad ranks of royals, glittering rows of celebrities, and hundreds of ordinary people whose lives felt her human touch had gathered to hear words of praise and prayer for Diana, killed at age 36 last Sunday in a Paris automobile crash many blame on pursuing photographers.
“Although a princess, she was someone for whom, from afar, we dared to feel affection,” said Westminster’s dean, The Very Rev. Dr. Wesley Carr.
But along with his own paean of love and prayer, Diana’s brother delivered an indictment of the media, in a eulogy that drew long applause in the abbey and across London, where hundreds of thousands watched the funeral on giant TV screens.
“She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hand of the newspapers,” said Earl Spencer, 33, holding his tone of rage under steely control.
Spencer also alluded to his sister’s troubled years within the royal family, which took away Diana’s “Her Royal Highness” title when she was divorced last year from Prince Charles.
She was “someone with natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year she needed no royal title to generate her particular brand of magic,” he said.
The earl vowed he would protect Diana’s sons, Prince William, 15 and second in line to the British throne, and Prince Harry, 12, from the press and from being swallowed by the “duty and tradition” of royalty.
Amid the sorrowful tones of Bach, Verdi and Purcell in the abbey, the 2,000 mourners also heard a gentle pop hymn from Diana’s friend Elton John, a song that left her boys in tears.
“Goodbye England’s rose,” he sang, “… your candle’s burned out long before your legend ever will.”
The ceremonies today, a day when this nation shut down as for the death of a true monarch, will help make the legend of Diana.
Six gleaming black horses had pulled a gun carriage bearing the coffin down the city’s boulevards and avenues in the cool sunshine. Slowly striding behind on the last mile of the 3 -mile journey were her adored sons, heads bowed; their father, Prince Charles; their grandfather Prince Philip; and the earl.
Hundreds of representatives of the charities Diana championed trailed behind, some in wheelchairs, some in nurses’ whites.