A na­tion be­set by grief when Diana died


The Chronicle - - Nostalgia -

FOR the 90s gen­er­a­tion, this was their ‘Kennedy mo­ment’.

If, 34 years ear­lier, the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent’s as­sas­si­na­tion would help de­fine the 1960s decade, ev­ery­one would re­mem­ber where they were when they heard Princess Diana had died.

The news broke in the early hours of Sun­day, Au­gust 31, 1997. The 36-year-old princess and cover-girl su­per­star of the Royal fam­ily had been killed in a car crash in Paris with her com­pan­ion Dodi Al Fayed.

In an age be­fore Face­book and Twit­ter, most peo­ple in the North East woke up to shell-shocked TV pre­sen­ters break­ing the news. Some later edi­tions of the Sun­day news­pa­pers also car­ried the story.

‘World In Mourn­ing’ was the Chron­i­cle head­line lead­ing our cov­er­age of the vi­o­lent and pre­ma­ture death of the world’s most fa­mous woman.

We re­ported: “The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales will take place on Satur­day at West­min­ster Abbey, Buck­ing­ham Palace an­nounced to­day.

“She will then be buried at the Spencer fam­ily home at Althorp in Northants.

“Her cof­fin was moved ear­lier to­day to the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where mourn­ers are be­ing in­vited to sign a book of con­do­lence.

“There will be no ly­ing in state. At the re­quest of both fam­i­lies the cof­fin will lie pri­vately in front of the al­tar of the Chapel Royal un­til the funeral which starts at 11am.

“The Princess’s cof­fin will be car­ried in pro­ces­sion from the Chapel Royal to West­min­ster Abbey on the morn­ing of the funeral.

“Fol­low­ing the ser­vice in the Abbey, at which the Princess’s fam­ily and the Royal Fam­ily will be seated in the front rows, the cof­fin will leave by road.

“It will travel to the Spencer fam­ily home at Althorp, Northamp­ton­shire, for pri­vate burial.”

In the week lead­ing to the funeral, the na­tion was plunged into a pe­riod of col­lec­tive and public grief un­prece­dented in the 20th cen­tury.

Here, in New­cas­tle, thou­sands queued to sign a book of con­do­lence and leave cards and ded­i­ca­tions in the Chron­i­cle’s re­cep­tion.

New Labour Prime min­is­ter Tony Blair was at his con­stituency home in Co Durham when he learned of the Princess’s death.

Vis­i­bly moved while speak­ing on tele­vi­sion, his phrase de­scrib­ing Diana – “the peo­ple’s princess” – struck a chord with the na­tion.

Mean­while, as more than a mil­lion bou­quets of flow­ers were left out­side Diana’s home, Kens­ing­ton Palace, the Royal Fam­ily be­gan to re­ceive crit­i­cism for not mourn­ing more pub­licly.

As huge crowds built in Lon­don in the lead-up to the funeral, peo­ple openly wept in the streets.

It was a far cry from the solemn public re­ac­tion to the deaths of past mon­archs such as Queen Vic­to­ria in 1901 and King Ge­orge VI in 1952.

In­deed the huge losses and hard­ships of two World Wars had largely been borne with a stiff up­per lip, but as the his­to­rian Do­minic Sand­brook points out: “In 1997, Bri­tain was just emerg­ing from a pe­riod in which cry­ing in public was re­garded as a sign of weak­ness.”

Seven years ear­lier, Ge­ordie boy Paul Gas­coigne had fa­mously burst into tears on the foot­ball pitch at the World Cup, Italia ‘90.

On the day of the funeral, the Chron­i­cle re­ported how: “Across the re­gion shops, restau­rants and char­ity stores will close in re­spect.”

Mean­while an­other story re­vealed: “Stocks of Princess Diana’s favourite flower, a white lily called Casablanca, have been wiped out as North East mourn­ers snap them up.”

And we told how: “Work­ers at Tyneside’s Long­ben­ton Fin­dus fac­tory, opened by Princess Diana 14 years ago, will ob­serve two min­utes’ si­lence to­mor­row morn­ing.”

Three hun­dred miles away in Lon­don, mov­ing images of Diana’s two young sons Wil­liam and Harry, her brother Charles, and her for­mer hus­band and fa­ther-in-law, Prince Charles and Prince Philip, slowly march­ing be­hind the cof­fin as it was trans­ported on a gun car­riage were beamed to a world­wide TV au­di­ence of 2.5 bil­lion.

Three mil­lion peo­ple – many from the North East where Diana had been a reg­u­lar and pop­u­lar vis­i­tor – de­scended on the streets of Lon­don. Tens of thou­sands, many openly sob­bing and wield­ing flow­ers, lined the route of the cortege to West­min­ster Abbey.

The world’s great and good were there, and pop star El­ton John fa­mously per­formed a re-worked ver­sion of his hit song Can­dle In The Wind. Re­leased as a sin­gle, it would even­tu­ally sell five mil­lion copies.

That’s the way we were 20 years ago.

None of us who ex­pe­ri­enced that week will ever for­get it.

Across the re­gion shops, restau­rants and char­ity stores will close as a mark of re­spect New­cas­tle Chron­i­cle

Prince Charles, right, with Prince Wil­liam and Prince Harry, and Vis­count Althorp, left, on the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, Septem­ber 6, 1997; left, Princess Diana; right, how the Chron­i­cle re­ported the day of the funeral

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