Diana’s Funeral by Margaret Kitchen
Journalists go out on assignments with the intention of observing, questioning and reporting. We don’t go with the idea of expressing our personal opinions.
So when, the day before Princess Diana’s funeral, I was boarding the London bound train, I was ambushed by a local TV company asking for my views, I was taken aback. In the maelstrom of the hysterical days since August 31st I had been busy reporting on the situation and had not had much time to consider what I thought.
I can’t remember what I said before they released me to gain my seat. However, the ride from Liverpool to the capital gave me time to think. I am not a royalist and I was aware that Diana had clearly been duped into a loveless marriage at the tender age of 19. Her experience and the tragic outcome was clearly a lesson for other bedazzled young women who need their own family to open their eyes.
Dusk was falling as the train pulled into Euston and I took a taxi to Kensington Palace, Diana’s home, where crowds had gathered. I walked among dazed, sad people and watched grown men cry and couples comfort each other. Candles flickered and the smell of the mountain of dying bouquets filled the atmosphere like heady incense. This was a very un-English scene. It reminded me of Mexico in the cemeteries on the day of the dead, when ancestors were remembered.
Yet, later that evening I dined with friends in a restaurant about a mile away where there was not a hint of mourning. Chat and laughter filled the packed room as people relaxed after a busy week of work. It was no different from any other Friday evening. Yet it was so different from the anguished scene nearby.
I had planned to rise early in the morning to take my place on Whitehall among the crowds to cover the procession to Westminster Abbey. As it turned out, however, all the hotel guests were awoken at 5am by the fire alarms ringing loudly. We dashed out into the street, wearing our coats over our nightwear, thinking this might be a dramatic omen for the day ahead. Instead we found the alarms had gone off by accident.
It was 7.30am by the time I walked into Whitehall to find a spot to stand to watch the procession and try to interview some of the mourners. It would be another three hours before the cortege appeared; it was going to take some stamina to stand there on that chilly September morning with no bathroom facilities available.
As I walked on I could see the crowds on both sides of the road. People had got up much earlier than me to get a good vantage spot. As I got nearer I was struck by the stillness of the crowd. Then I realised that it was largely silent. It was quite unlike most gatherings. People were already paying tribute to the deceased Princess who had died in a Paris tunnel. It was humbling.
I stood among some families, mostly Londoners, who told me, grimly, that Diana should not have come to this. There were flashes of anger in their eyes along with sadness. The Royal family was not top of their favourite people list.
Eventually the gun carriage carrying Diana’s coffin came into view behind us and some people began to cry and others let out sounds of grief. The white floral tribute at the back of the coffin spelled out the word ‘mummy’ and shoulders shook at the sight of it.
Then came the unforgettable scene of the two young princes walking between Prince Charles, Prince Philip and Earl Spencer, their father, grandfather and uncle. It was not the grown-ups we were all focussed on, but the sight of the boys. Prince William, aged 15, with his head bowed and his body looking frail; Prince Harry, aged 12, doing his best to maintain a mannish ramrod stance while his face told a bereft tale.
Parents glanced at each other as the youngsters passed, silently asking each other why these boys had been coaxed to undertake such an ordeal before the watching world. ‘Cruel’ was the unspoken word between them.
I rushed back to my hotel room to file copy and found the Filipina maid sitting on the bed watching Earl Spencer in the Cathedral condemning the Royal family. “Who is he?” she asked me, her eyes full of tears. “Diana’s brother,” I replied. She nodded sagely while I wondered where he had been throughout his sister’s suffering.
On the train back to Liverpool, a conductor soon turned up and asked me if I had been to the funeral. Absent mindedly I said yes, I was covering it for my paper. His face glowered and he threw my ticket on the table.
“It’s you lot that killed her,” he shouted and walked out of the carriage.