Not calm, not car­ry­ing on

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Maria Puente

El­ton John war­bling a hastily rewrit­ten Can­dle in the Wind in West­min­ster Abbey? No way it could hap­pen in the hal­lowed space where a mighty choir is meant to sing Han­del’s Coro­na­tion An­thems.

The ninth Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother Charles, in his eu­logy hurl­ing im­pre­ca­tions at the me­dia and some seething smacks at the royal fam­ily — even as his god- mother the queen lis­tened from a few feet away? Un­think­able.

Then the roar erupted the in­stant he was through. Mul­ti­tudes, weep­ing, ap­plaud­ing, cheer­ing. The roar thun­dered on the public speak­ers, whipped down The Mall and around Horse Guards Pa­rade, along White­hall and into the abbey. Then, in­cred­i­bly, I could hear the rum­ble of ap­plause in the abbey from what sounded like most of the 1,900 guests.

Diana’s death un­did the Brit-

ish. At least tem­po­rar­ily, they let loose all their sor­row and shock, their guilt and rage and re­gret. They mourned, loudly and unashamedly. Their beau­ti­ful princess, just 36, was gone. The most fa­mous woman in the world — a su­per­star whose tribu­la­tions dom­i­nated daily head­lines for 16 years — was snuffed out in a com­mon­place tragedy: a car crash.

The whole world mourned: An es­ti­mated 2.5 bil­lion peo­ple watched her semi-royal funeral — a “unique funeral for a unique per­son,” the palace called it, prov­ing that the roy­als, at least, re­mained the undis­puted masters of the tran­scen­dent cer­e­mo­nial flour­ish.

When the Bri­tish woke up on Sun­day, Aug. 31, to the hor­ri­fy­ing news that Diana had died in a hospi­tal about 4 a.m. Paris time, the na­tional ner­vous break­down be­gan. By Sun­day evening, her body was flown back to Bri­tain, ac­com­pa­nied by her stunned ex­hus­band, Prince Charles, and her two sis­ters, who trav­eled to Paris on the royal jet to col­lect her.

There was ris­ing hys­te­ria in the streets and in the press. Never-be­fore-seen public fury at the royal fam­ily and the queen about what was ini­tially in­ter­preted as royal in­dif­fer­ence. De­mands that the stan­dard over Buck­ing­ham Palace be low­ered in re­spect, de­spite the rules of pro­to­col. De­mands that there be a public and royal funeral, even though since her 1996 di­vorce, Diana was no longer royal and both the Spencers and the royal fam­ily sought pri­vacy. De­mands that the fam­ily, es­pe­cially her sons, Wil­liam, 15, and Harry, 12, grieve with their peo­ple.

“Show us you care!” screamed one tabloid head­line. “Where is our queen? Where is her flag?” shouted an­other.

Car­pets of flow­ers grew out­side Diana’s home at Kens­ing­ton Palace — so many that Bri­tain had to im­port more from the Con­ti­nent. Peo­ple queued for up to eight hours to sign the con­do­lence books at St. James’s Palace where her body lay.

It was a daily whirl­wind of de­vel­op­ments, most no­tably the queen ca­pit­u­lat­ing to ad­vice from Prince Charles and oth­ers to re­turn to Lon­don, de­liv­er­ing an un­prece­dented live trib­ute speech to the na­tion, and bow­ing her head when the cof­fin passed her. Lon­don shut down on the day of the funeral, Sept. 6. All flights over the city were rerouted.

An es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion peo­ple lined the 3.5-mile funeral route in an eerie si­lence bro­ken oc­ca­sion­ally by keen­ing sobs and the clip­clop of the horses draw­ing the gun car­riage with her cof­fin draped with a royal flag. The en­ve­lope on top marked “Mummy” was heart­break­ing, as was the march of her sons, her ex-hus­band, her for­mer fa­ther-in-law, Prince Philip, and her brother be­hind the gun car­riage.

Prince Harry and Prince Wil­liam now say the march was trau­matic for them, that no child should be forced or en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate in such a rit­ual. But at the time, many saw it as a royal tra­di­tion and a dig­ni­fied ges­ture, pro­vid­ing vis­ual re­as­sur­ance for a wor­ried na­tion that Diana’s sons were cop­ing with the tragedy.

For her fi­nal jour­ney home to her fam­ily’s 500-year-old Althorp House for burial, crowds of mourn­ers lined the route and threw flow­ers on her hearse — so many that the driver had to stop to re­move them. She was buried in pri­vate (only eight close fam­ily were there) on a small is­land in the mid­dle of an or­na­men­tal lake. She re­mains there to this day, the Lady of the Lake, safe at last from pry­ing eyes and cam­eras.

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