Relive Princess Diana’s Funeral with These Touching Photos
The “people’s princess” was beloved in Britain and beyond. But few would have imagined the scale of the public mourning that came after Princess Diana’s death in a car accident. Mourners flocked to Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace to pay their respects and leave tributes to Diana. And much of London gathered on September 6, the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, when the royal family joined Prince William and Prince Harry in saying goodbye to their mother.
Below, relive Princess Diana’s funeral with heartbreaking photos.
1. Mourners began leaving flowers the day of Princess Diana’s death
Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997. Diana, along with her chauffeur and her lover, Dodi Fayed, died in a car crash in an underpass in Paris. They were being followed by French paparazzi. News of Princess Diana’s death spread quickly. And the news shocked people in the United Kingdom and beyond.
So later that day, crowds began placing flowers outside of Kensington Palace. Princess Diana lived at the palace even after her separation and divorce from Prince Charles. In fact, Diana lived there for 15 years. And as a noted lover of florals, Diana supposedly considered the gardens one of her favorite parts of the palace.
Next: Before Princess Diana’s funeral, her body had to fly back from Paris.
2. Her body was flown back to London from Paris
After Princess Diana’s death in Paris, her body had to fly back to Britain for her funeral. The funeral wouldn’t happen for seven days. But her body was immediately shown the respect due to a member of the royal family.
Just hours after her death, her former husband Prince Charles and her sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, arrived in Paris. Together, they would take her body back to England. Her casket flew to the U.K. on a Royal Squadron aircraft of the Royal Air Force. And military pallbearers carried the coffin from the plane to a hearse.
Next: Mourners paid their respects and left flowers at these palaces.
3. People also went to St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace to pay their respects
In addition to leaving flowers outside of Kensington Palace, many mourners also made pilgrimages to other palaces, paying their respects in the days after Princess Diana’s death and before her funeral. People made their way to and from St. James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace against the background of Admiral Arch.
Additionally, hundreds of people lined up in the Mall to sign the Book of Condolence at St. James’s Palace. At St. James’s Palace, Princess Diana’s body rested in the days leading up to her funeral.
Next: This became a memorable sight outside of Kensington Palace.
4. A bank of flowers built up outside Kensington Palace
After Princess Diana’s death, so many mourners paid tribute to her that bouquets upon bouquets of flowers stacked up outside of Kensington Palace. The bouquets numbered an estimated 60 million individual blooms. And they served as a poignant illustration of the outpouring of grief over the people’s princess.
When volunteers eventually had to clear the flowers away, however, the bouquets didn’t get thrown in the trash. Instead, the royal family had them turned into fertilizer. That fertilizer, in turn, went into the gardens adjacent to Kensington Palace. The mulch from those flowers eventually turned into something beautiful: the White Garden, which paid stunning tribute to Diana.
Next: Britons criticized Queen Elizabeth II for this response to Princess Diana’s death.
5. Mourners criticized Queen Elizabeth II’s silence
As London grieved, the city’s residents noticed something conspicuous coming from Queen Elizabeth II: silence. The royal family had been at Balmoral Castle. And many people criticized Queen Elizabeth II’s choice to take Prince William and Prince Harry to church just hours after they learned of their mother’s passing. The nation was also shocked that the queen didn’t rush back to London, or appear at any events honoring Diana near Buckingham Palace.
All told, the queen opted not to address the nation until five days later, when she gave a public speech. Newsweek explains that the “intense emotional outpouring in the days before the funeral had taken the royal family by surprise.” In fact, “Britons complained they were not showing sufficient grief. The Windsors appeared immobilized by royal precedent and their estrangement from Diana since her separation from Charles.”
Next: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip finally arrived.
6. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in London the day before the funeral
The day before Princess Diana’s funeral, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived in London for the service. In the photo above, you can see the couple arriving at Buckingham Palace, the queen’s official London residence. Both dressed in black, neither Queen Elizabeth II nor Prince Philip had publicly mourned Princess Diana until they appeared in London.
Queen Elizabeth II made a public address to the people of England, broadcast from the Chinese Dining Room at Buckingham Palace. She referred to Diana as “an exceptional and gifted human being.” And she said, “May those who died rest in peace and may we, each and every one of us, thank God for someone who made many, many people happy.”
Next: The queen had Prince William and Prince Harry join her to do this.
7. The queen, Prince William, and Prince Harry viewed all the tributes
When Queen Elizabeth II arrived in London the day before Princess Diana’s funeral, she had several stops to make. Getty reports that the queen — as well as Princess Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry — all visited Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace to see the thousands of flowers that mourners had left in Diana’s honor. In the photo above, Queen Elizabeth II visited well-wishers at St. James’s Palace, too.
Though her appearances didn’t entirely make up for her silence, in some critics’ opinion, the queen also addressed her absence from London in her public address. She explained, “This week at Balmoral, we have all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss that they and the rest of us have suffered.”
Next: The princes also had to do this the night before Princess Diana’s funeral.
8. The family escorted the coffin from St. James’s Palace to Kensington Palace
The night before Princess Diana’s funeral, her coffin had to be moved from the Royal Chapel at St. James’s Palace to Kensington Palace in preparation for the service. On September 5, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince Harry followed the hearse in a limousine as spectators looked on.
The crowd visible in the photo looks like nothing compared to the numbers of people who would pour onto the streets of London the following day to catch a glimpse of Diana’s casket. Newsweek notes that Prime Minister Tony Blair helped choose the day for the funeral — a Saturday — so that working people could watch the procession pass in the streets, or view the proceedings on television.
Next: This is how Princess Diana’s coffin made its way to her funeral.
9. The next day, a procession took the coffin to Princess Diana’s funeral
On the day of Princess Diana’s funeral, a solemn procession transported Diana’s coffin, which was draped in the Royal Standard, laid on a gun carriage, and flanked by eight Welsh Guardsmen. The procession went from Kensington Palace along Hyde Park (where the funeral was broadcast on large screens) to St. James’s Palace. There, Prince Harry, Prince William, Prince Charles, Prince Philip, and Earl Spencer joined the cortège. Then, the group proceeded to Westminster Abbey, where the service would be held.
Newsweek notes that the route was extended several times in the days before the funeral, as estimates of the expected crowds grew larger. An estimated one million mourners lined the four-mile route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey.
Next: Prince William and Prince Harry had to follow this order from Prince Charles.
10. Princess Diana’s sons followed after a party of Foot Guards
In the photos above, you can see Prince William, Earl Charles Spencer (Diana’s brother), Prince Harry, and Prince Charles following after a party of Foot Guards in Diana’s funeral procession. Prince Philip also walked with them. And there’s a sad reason they look so stoic: Prince Charles reportedly told his sons not to cry as they walked in the procession through the streets of London.
According to Newsweek, the contingent of royal men was followed in the procession by “representatives of Diana’s charities: people with AIDS, the homeless, the Red Cross, victims of landmines in wheelchairs.” The BBC reports that those representatives numbered about 500.
Next: Prince Harry put this heartbreaking item on top of the casket.
11. A note from Prince Harry topped the casket
In addition to being draped in the Royal Standard, Princess Diana’s casket was festooned with flowers: three wreaths of white roses, lilies, and tulips from her children and the Spencer family.
But if you look closely at the photos, you’ll see another item: a card from Diana’s younger son, Prince Harry, addressed “Mummy.” Years later, Prince William talked about what it was like for the boys to lose their mother at such a young age. “Never being able to say the word ‘Mummy‘ again in your life sounds like a small thing. However, for many, including me, it’s now really just a word — hollow and evoking only memories.”
Next: The queen made headlines with this move at Buckingham Palace.
12. The Union Jack flew at half-mast over Buckingham Palace
As Prince William and Prince Harry walked behind their mother’s coffin, Queen Elizabeth II waited at the gates of Buckingham Palace for the funeral procession to pass. She bowed to the cortège as it arrived. A few minutes later, when the queen left the palace to make her way to Westminster Abbey, there was another notable sight at Buckingham Palace.
The royal colors or Royal Standard, also displayed on Diana’s coffin, were lowered from the flagpole at the palace. In its place, a Union Jack flew at half-mast. In the days before the queen returned to London, flags across the U.K. flew at half-mast, but the palace flagpole remained bare, a sign that the queen was not in residence. Newsweek notes that many considered it a “symbol of the supposed deep division between the mood of the people and the royal family.” (The Royal Standard never flies at half-mast, even when the sovereign dies, as it symbolizes the continuity of the monarch.)
Next: People wept openly in the street, which few would have predicted.
13. Londoners wept as the procession made its way to Westminster Abbey
As Princess Diana’s funeral procession made its way to Westminster Abbey, more than a million Londoners gathered to watch the procession. They wanted to pay their respects and to mourn the loss of one of the most beloved members of the royal family. Photographers caught numerous shots of spectators weeping as the coffin made its way along the route from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey. Those images seem iconic now.
But The Irish Times notes that the “national collapse of British stiff upper lip” after Princess Diana’s death wasn’t a predictable phenomenon. The mourners “grieved for a flawed woman who had done some good,” the publication notes. ” But, more than that, they had given themselves that rare permission to drop their guard and grieve openly for themselves and buried sorrows.”
Next: Prince William felt this emotion at the time.
14. Prince William followed the coffin but felt angry at the time
As the procession made its way to Westminster Abbey, the princes continued to follow their mother’s coffin. Years later, Prince William said that he felt angry after Princess Diana’s death. And he referred to walking in the procession as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” according to People. Diana’s brother argued against having the boys walk in the procession. But Prince Philip asked the princes, then aged 15 and 12, “If I do it, will you?”
William later recalled, “we were overwhelmed by how many people turned out, it was just incredible. There was that balance between duty and family, and that’s what we had to do.” He also characterized the procession as a “long and lonely walk.” On that walk, he struggled with “the balance of me being Prince William and having to do my bit versus the private William who just wanted to go into a room and cry because he’d lost his mother.”
Next: Prince Harry also struggled with the procession.
15. Prince Harry felt scarred by the experience of walking in the procession
Prince Harry didn’t have an easy taking part in the procession, either. He told Newsweek nearly 20 years later, “My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television.” He added, “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
Harry is probably right. As USA Today explains, British royal funerals have traditionally featured princes walking behind the casket of the dead monarch. However, those princes were typically adults. Princess Diana was not Britain’s monarch. And her sons were still children at the time of her death.
Next: The crowds continued all the way to Westminster Abbey.
16. Mourners gathered outside of Westminster Abbey
As people gathered in the streets of London to watch the funeral procession, mourners also came together outside of Westminster Abbey, the historic church where the funeral service would be held. Photographers, too, were on hand to document the scene.
Prince Harry later said that he remembers hearing people screaming in the crowds, as People reports. “The broadcast news today still talks about the silence, and of course there was a huge amount of silence, but what I remember is every 50 yards or whatever certain people in the crowd just unable to contain their emotion. That was a big thing.”
Next: These high-profile people attended Princess Diana’s funeral.
17. Many celebrities attended Princess Diana’s funeral
Numerous celebrities flew to London to attend Princess Diana’s funeral. In this photo, you can see Sting, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Steven Spielberg arrive at Westminster Abbey for the funeral service. Vogue reports that some of the most famous faces in Hollywood turned up for the funeral. Some of them were close friends of Diana. Others were just acquaintances, and some had never met her.
Elton John, a close friend of Princess Diana, attended the service. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who had met Diana, attended and spoke up against the paparazzi, whom many at the time blamed for Princess Diana’s death. And even though they didn’t go to the funeral, George Clooney Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Spice Girls all mourned Diana’s death with public remarks and tributes.
Next: The procession finally reached its destination.
18. The procession finally reached Westminster Abbey
At the end of the crowd-lined route from Kensington Palace, the procession finally reached Westminster Abbey. There, more mourners awaited the cortège. PopSugar reports that Princess Diana’s funeral was originally intended to be a private affair attended only by her closest family and friends.
Reportedly, Queen Elizabeth II was a proponent of the idea of a private funeral, but Prince Charles resisted. The outpouring of grief not only in London but also around the world may have helped persuade the royal family that a public funeral should take place.
Next: Prince William didn’t understand this aspect of people’s response to Princess Diana’s death.
19. The men in Princess Diana’s family arrived together in the ‘alien environment’ of the crowds
When the cortège finally arrived at Westminster Abbey, a photographer snapped this famous shot of the men in Princess Diana’s family. Prince Philip, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry, and Prince Charles arrived outside of the Abbey before Princess Diana’s funeral.
According to People, Prince William later characterized the crowds as an “alien environment.” He said, “I couldn’t understand why everyone wanted to cry as loud as they did and show such emotion as they did, when they didn’t really know our mother. I did feel a bit protective at times — I thought you didn’t even know her, why and how are you so upset?” It wasn’t until later that he understood “what it was that she gave the world, what she gave a lot of people.”
Next: Princess Diana’s family arrived for the funeral.
20. The Spencer family took their seats for Princess Diana’s funeral
Meanwhile, the 2,000 people who would attend Princess Diana’s funeral were gathering inside Westminster Abbey. Most people think of the British royal family as Princess Diana’s family. But the Spencer family also needed to mourn the untimely loss of the Princess of Wales. In this photo, Diana’s sister Jane, her mother, Frances Shand Kidd, and her sister Sarah, along with other members of the Spencer family, arrive at Westminster Abbey ahead of the service.
In the months after Princess Diana’s death, her mother and her sister Elizabeth became co-executors and co-trustees of Diana’s will and estate. That gave them the power to interpret Diana’s will as they chose. Surprisingly, they decided to ignore some of her wishes. They even changed the conditions attached to the inheritances received by Prince William, Prince Harry, and Princess Diana’s godchildren.
Next: The cortège had to wait to enter the Abbey.
21. Prince William and Prince Harry waited outside the Abbey for the funeral to begin
About 2,000 guests arrived and gathered inside Westminster Abbey for Princess Diana’s funeral. According to The Associated Press, “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.”
Meanwhile, Earl Spencer, Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince Harry waited outside the Abbey to process in with Princess Diana’s coffin. The journey from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey had taken almost two hours, according to The Sun.
Next: People left these outside Westminster Abbey.
22. Flowers surrounded Westminster Abbey
As happened at the royal family’s palaces in London, mourners surrounded Westminster Abbey with bouquets, cards, and signs. Whatever they brought, mourners expressed their grief at Princess Diana’s death. As the Westminster Abbey website explains, “Floral tributes and toys were left at the west gates of the Abbey, and the wreaths from overseas heads of state were laid on the green outside the Abbey.”
Inside the church, attendees prepared for the service to begin. According to the funeral order of service published by the Abbey, the Spencer family and then the royal family were seated. Then, the queen, the queen mother, and Prince Philip went to their seats. Only then could the funeral cortège enter the abbey for the service to begin.
Next: The guardsmen could finally do this.
23. Guardsmen carried the coffin inside for the funeral
With Queen Elizabeth II seated, the service could commence. When it was time for Princess Diana’s funeral to begin — at 11 a.m. — the Welsh Guardsmen began to carry her coffin into Westminster Abbey. The guardsmen got the job thanks to their height and fitness, according to Express.
By the time they reached Westminster Abbey, the guardsmen had been marching for two hours. And placing the coffin on their shoulders, they felt its full weight for the first time. They had practiced for the day that they would need to carry the lead-lined coffin with a piece of plasterboard. But the weight of the coffin wasn’t their only concern. One of the guardsmen noted that the “Abbey’s marble floor was like an ice skating rink.”
Next: Prince William and Prince Harry could finally enter the church.
24. The men in Princess Diana’s family followed the coffin inside
Behind the guardsmen carefully bearing the princess’s casket followed the men in Diana’s family: Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Earl Spencer, Prince William, and Prince Philip. They passed by many bouquets of flowers left by Londoners mourning Princess Diana’s death.
Newsweek notes that with the coffin finally inside the church, the procession paused as the congregation sang, “God Save the Queen.” Then, the coffin could go down the long nave. Prince William and Prince Harry followed it. Then, the princes joined their grandmother and great-grandmother in the sanctuary. (In fact, they weren’t far from the spot where Elizabeth was crowned in 1953.)
Next: Prince Charles and Prince Philip did this before the prayers began.
25. Prince Charles and Prince Philip paid tribute to Diana
Prince Charles, Prince Philip, and Earl Charles Spencer also processed into the church. And as Newsweek reports, Prince Charles and Prince Philip paid special tribute to Diana before the prayers began. “Each bent down and placed bouquets of white lilies at the foot of Diana’s bier,” the publication explains.
“Charles made the sign of the cross as he straightened; his face looked flushed. William and Harry stood next to their father for a moment. Then they all returned to their seats and disappeared from public view. On this occasion, at least, photographers were not allowed to show their faces,” Newsweek reports.
Next: Princess Diana’s brother made headlines with this move at the funeral.
26. Princess Diana’s brother delivered a controversial eulogy
The Welsh Guardsmen carried Princess Diana’s coffin through the Abbey. Then Prince Charles and Prince Philip paid tribute to Diana. Next, the prayers, readings, and hymns could commence. During the service, Earl Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother, would deliver a eulogy that opened a rift in the royal family, according to Town and Country. He angered Queen Elizabeth II by characterizing Diana as someone “who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.”
Earl Spencer also ruffled feathers with a promise addressed to Diana about her sons. He promised to “continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned.”
Next: Prince William and Prince Harry again had to wait for the coffin.
27. Prince William and Prince Harry preceded the coffin out of the Abbey
The Associated Press reports that at the funeral’s end, just before 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.'” Then, the coffin could make its way back up the aisle through Westminster Abbey. Then, it went out into the London street again.
And again, with Diana’s sons looking on, the Welsh Guardsmen shouldered the casket of the Princess of Wales. In the photo above, Prince William and Prince Harry bowed their heads as guards carried their mother’s coffin out of Westminster Abbey.
Next: The guards put the coffin in a hearse for this long journey.
28. The guards carried the coffin out to a hearse
After the bearer party of Welsh Guardsmen carried Diana’s casket out of the Abbey, they placed the coffin in a hearse. Then, it would need to make the 75-mile journey to her ancestral home, Althorp. A hearse and a small procession of cars waited outside the Abbey for the two-hour journey.
Newsweek reports that the family had originally planned to bury Princess Diana in the local church near the Spencers’ ancestral home in Northamptonshire. However, the family canceled those plans. The Spencers feared that Diana’s grave “would become a kind of celebrity shrine, like Graceland, overrun by tourists.” They didn’t want to see that happen.
Next: This famous musician performed during the service.
29. Elton John attended the funeral and sang ‘Candle in the Wind’
Both George Michael and Elton John numbered among the celebrities in attendance at Princess Diana’s funeral. George Michael later said that he “bawled his eyes out” during the service. And as a special tribute to the princess, Elton John sang a rewritten version of “Candle in the Wind” during the service. That version featured the lines “Your footsteps will always fall here/ among England’s greenest hills; / your candle’s burned out long before/ your legend ever will.”
It was reportedly Prince William who suggested that Elton John perform. And the prince also requested Diana’s favorite hymn, “I Vow to Thee My Country.” All of those involved in planning the service seemed to agree that it should offer something for everybody.
Next: The family buried Princess Diana at this location.
30. Princess Diana was buried at the Spencer family estate
Princess Diana’s coffin traveled to Althorp, her family’s estate. According to The Associated Press, “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.” The publication adds that Diana had “a burial service attended by a few Spencers, her former husband, Prince Charles, and her beloved sons.”
Princess Diana was laid to rest on a small island in the middle of a lake. Charles Spencer reportedly chose the gravesite because it could be more easily cared for — and would offer better privacy for Prince William and Prince Harry to visit — than the family vault in the local church. To access the island, you would have to walk a path under 36 trees, one for each year of her life.
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