News, Culture & Society

The day the Royals returned to London for Diana’s funeral

They were the seven days that shocked the world, from the death of Princess Diana in Paris to her funeral at Westminster Abbey. 

In this, the fifth part of our poignant series to mark the 20th anniversary, JONATHAN MAYO reconstructs those momentous events as they happened though the eyes of Royal Family members, politicians, the Princess’s family, and a grief-stricken public…

9am, Friday, September 5

At Althorp, the Spencer family seat, a temporary pontoon bridge to an island in the middle of a lake is being built by the Army. It is on this island that tomorrow Diana, Princess of Wales will be buried.

In Great Yarmouth, sticks of rock with the message ‘Diana RIP’ are being taken off the shelves after complaints that they are disrespectful.

Dickie Arbiter, the Queen’s Press secretary, is once more standing in front of Diana’s coffin in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. When he was here on Wednesday, he felt angry with the Princess for not wearing a seatbelt. Today he has only affection for her. 

Dickie reminisces out loud about the fun they’d had over the years and about the kindnesses Diana had shown his family. It’s time to leave. ‘Goodbye, Ma’am and thank you,’ he says and bows his head.

The Queen makes a special address to the nation following the death of Diana. It is only the second time in her reign that she has made such a speech


The final planning meeting for the funeral is taking place at Buckingham Palace. It is the most upbeat of the week. The Royal Family’s walkabout yesterday at Balmoral, when William and Harry and Prince Charles read cards left by the public, has helped to lift the mood.

This evening the Queen will broadcast live to the nation from Buckingham Palace and it’s decided that the Chinese Drawing Room where they are holding the meeting, with its magnificent view down the Mall, would make an ideal location. 

The BBC, who will be broadcasting the speech, are concerned about the noise from the crowd outside, but are eventually persuaded.

The meeting moves on to discuss the fact that there will be a million flowers on the streets of London to deal with after the funeral is over. By now some of the flowers at Kensington Palace are beginning to rot.

The smell has reached Princess Margaret’s apartment in the palace and she is not happy. She had cut short a holiday in Italy after hearing of Diana’s death and has been appalled by the public displays of grief. 

A lady-in-waiting said later: ‘She said the hysteria was rather like Diana herself. It was as if she got everyone to be as hysterical as she was when she died.’

At St James’s Palace there are now 43 books of condolence. Police Inspector Duncan Murray, who is in charge of controlling the queue, watches people sitting by the books take ages before they write, because they are so tired. 

Some people have reported seeing a vision of Diana in a portrait of King Charles I in the palace. ‘I saw Diana clear as day. This proves she is a saint,’ one woman tells reporters.

In Westminster Abbey, eight Welsh Guards are rehearsing carrying Diana’s coffin by walking up and down the aisle with a 700lb dummy coffin with a kerbstone inside. Their metal studded boots are slipping on the stone floor and their shoulders have been rubbed raw.


A fleet of cars pulls away from Balmoral as Prince Charles and William and Harry depart for London. The Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother will leave shortly.


The three Princes board the royal flight at Aberdeen Airport bound for London. Normally they are forbidden to travel on the same plane, but the Queen has granted them special permission.

Souvenir suppliers are reporting that they have been inundated with requests for more stock since the news of Diana’s death. ‘It’s causing us a moral dilemma,’ said a spokesman for Royal Mint Ltd. 

‘We simply don’t wish to profit from someone’s death. We are toying with the idea of making donations to the charity established in her name.’

K H Bailey and Sons of Stoke is thinking of producing a transfer of Diana’s image to be used on plates and mugs. 

‘If we do it we will give a portion of the profits to charity and we will encourage our customers to do likewise,’ says David Bailey, managing director. The mugs are expected to be in the shops in three weeks’ time.


The plane carrying Prince Charles and his sons touches down at RAF Northolt, five days after Diana’s coffin arrived at the airbase.


Charles Spencer is being driven from Althorp to Westminster Abbey to carry out what he’s been told is ‘a microphone check’ as part of the funeral rehearsals. Police motorcycle outriders ensure that the 75-mile journey is made at speed.

As the Queen and Prince Philip walked among the flowers at Buckingham Palace, the crowd broke into applause - at first restrained, then jubilant

As the Queen and Prince Philip walked among the flowers at Buckingham Palace, the crowd broke into applause – at first restrained, then jubilant

2.30pm UK time/3.30pm Paris

Jill and Ernie Rees-Jones are having their daily late lunch of beer and Camembert sandwiches at the Café Tilbury in Paris. 

They have just come from the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital where their son Trevor, Diana’s bodyguard and sole survivor of the crash that killed her, lies unconscious. 

Yesterday he had an 11-hour operation and the doctors are pleased with what they’ve achieved. Later today, Trevor’s brothers will fly in to see him for the first time.

The week has been full of allegations about the man who was driving Diana’s car, Henri Paul. The results of an autopsy in Paris say he was drunk at the wheel. 

Paul’s boss, Mohamed Al Fayed, has called a Press conference to counter these allegations. In a room packed with about a hundred journalists, Al Fayed’s spokesman Michael Cole introduces a 26-minute video of edited CCTV footage from the Ritz from the evening of the crash.

Mohamed Al Fayed’s chief of security, Paul Handley-Greaves, gives a running commentary as the film is shown on a screen. 

‘We’re just trying to demonstrate the fact that this man did not have 1.75 millilitres of alcohol in his blood.’ The images show that Henri Paul was sober, he argues.


The Queen and Prince Philip have arrived at St James’s Palace to visit the Chapel Royal and pay their respects to Diana. Afterwards they will meet members of the public signing the condolence books.

Dressed in suits and ties, William and Harry and their father inspect the thousands of flowers in front of Kensington Palace. Charles is holding Harry’s hand. 

‘Be strong, your mum is in a good place,’ a man says to Prince William. Others shout ‘We love you!’ and ‘We loved your mother!’ 

As they shake hands with the crowd, the boys can feel that some people’s hands are wet from wiping away tears just before meeting them.

Harry looks at the thousands of flowers and at the grief-stricken crowd and thinks ‘How is it that so many people that never met my mother can be feeling more emotion than I am?’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ Prince William replies, as he walks towards the palace.

Waiting inside is Paul Burrell who is immediately hugged by Prince Harry. William shakes his hand and says ‘We’ve come for a few things,’ and then heads to the nursery with his brother. 

Prince Charles walks around Diana’s apartment lost in thought.

The script of the Queen’s address has been sent to Downing Street for Alastair Campbell to check. He inserts the phrase ‘Speaking as a grandmother’.

Photographer Jayne Fincher, who has taken pictures of Diana for 17 years, including portraits for family Christmas cards, arrives at Kensington Palace with her father. 

She has left her camera behind but has brought flowers from her garden. As soon as Jayne smells the mass of flowers in front of the palace, she starts to cry.


Charles Spencer has arrived at Westminster Abbey for the funeral rehearsal. He has two copies of his speech — one in his jacket pocket and one in his trouser pocket — just in case he loses one.

The Earl climbs into the pulpit and notices a group of people watching, who he doesn’t recognise, who clearly want to know what he’s going to say.

‘I’m such an idiot, I’ve left the speech behind, so I’ll just read from a hymn book,’ he says. After a few words the BBC sound engineers have heard enough to check the microphone.

The horses being used in the funeral procession tomorrow are being given last-minute training to help them cope with the crowds. Soldiers at their barracks in St John’s Wood scream and throw balls of newspaper to test their reactions.

After it becomes clear a million people will come to London for the funeral, the procession route is lengthened. Fifty thousand people watch as her coffin is taken to Kensington palace

After it becomes clear a million people will come to London for the funeral, the procession route is lengthened. Fifty thousand people watch as her coffin is taken to Kensington palace


The Queen and Prince Philip are arriving at Buckingham Palace after their visit to St James’s Palace. The Royal Standard is flying at half-mast. 

Their car stops and they start to look at the flowers and cards by the gates. Palace aides watch anxiously from Buckingham Palace windows.

The first member of the public the Queen speaks to is 44-year-old Fred Coltworth, who gives her a single red rose. 

‘I gave her the flower I had bought for Diana. But I wanted to give it to the Queen so she didn’t think we were all against her,’ he said later.

At first the applause is restrained but then becomes more enthusiastic.

Eleven-year-old Katie Jones is holding some flowers and the Queen asks her if she wanted to put them down with the other bouquets for Diana. ‘No, they’re for you, Ma’am,’ Katie says. 

The Queen’s hand shakes as she holds Katie’s. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes, I think you deserve them. I think you’ve done the right thing staying with your grandsons. I think if my mum had just died I’d want my grandmother with me.’

As the Queen walks away from the crowds she asks Dickie Arbiter how he felt it went. ‘That was fine, Your Majesty, just fine.’


In her small, sparsely-furnished room in the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, Mother Teresa dies. Her fellow nuns take her body to the chapel. In Diana’s coffin is a rosary given by Mother Teresa to the Princess.


When it became clear a million people would be coming to London for the funeral it was decided the funeral route should be lengthened. So in a few hours Princess Diana’s coffin will be driven from St James’s Palace, west to Kensington Palace where it will rest overnight in a quiet vestibule close to the entrance hall.

Paul Burrell is busy decorating the vestibule with hundreds of the flowers left at the palace gates and bouquets sent by the Princess’s friends. 

He has brought all the candlesticks he could find and is placing them among the flowers. A Catholic priest anoints the room with holy water, says a prayer and leaves.

It has been an exhausting week for all of Diana’s staff. Her personal chef Darren McGrady has found some comfort in going through the ritual of eating at McDonald’s every night.

He said later: ‘I was in shock — hungry, but didn’t want to cook. I lost the passion for cooking right then. I grabbed fast food. The boys (Prince William and Prince Harry) used to go there all the time.’

Charles Spencer has arrived at Westminster Abbey for the funeral rehearsal, but decides not to read from his speech after catching sight of a group he does not know

Charles Spencer has arrived at Westminster Abbey for the funeral rehearsal, but decides not to read from his speech after catching sight of a group he does not know


In the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, William Tallon, the Queen Mother’s senior page, is placing a wreath on top of Diana’s coffin. The Queen Mother had asked him to take the flowers on her behalf before Diana’s body was moved to Kensington Palace. 

Tallon had been to the Chapel earlier that day to lay his own flowers and can see that something is different — the coffin is on a lower trestle than this morning. He asks the chaplain why that is. 

‘Oh, that’s for the boys. They’re waiting next door in the vestry until you’re gone. They are going to view her then.’ William Tallon breaks down in tears.


Mark and Ruth Sowerby from Dulwich in South-East London walk by St James’s Park towards Buckingham Palace with their three young daughters. 

The girls wanted to leave flowers by Westminster Abbey so they could see them on television the next day. They have left a message for William and Harry with their bouquet. 

The family see a black taxi pull over to the side of the road. The driver opens his doors and turns his radio up, as the Queen is about to address the nation. A dozen people quickly gather.


‘Since last Sunday’s dreadful news we have seen, throughout Britain and around the world, an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana’s death. We have all been trying in our different ways to cope . . .’ 

The Queen, dressed in black, is addressing the nation live from Buckingham Palace. Behind her are the milling crowds on the Mall. The screens that have been erected in Hyde Park and St James’s Park to relay pictures of the funeral tomorrow are already working, so a crowd is watching the speech in the open air. 

It’s only the second time in the Queen’s reign that she has made a special address to the nation.

As the Queen finishes, the crowd listening to the broadcast on the black cab’s radio a short distance away burst into spontaneous applause. For Mark and Ruth Sowerby listening with their daughters, it feels like a turning point; the hostility of the past week is over.

In Buckingham Palace, the Queen has a stiff sherry.


Frances Shand Kydd is attending a Requiem Mass for her daughter at Westminster Cathedral. Sitting on the front row with her are the Duchess of Kent and the Duchess of Norfolk. 

Cardinal Basil Hume says: ‘Diana you are now on your way to a vision of God, to a happiness this world cannot give, where true peace is to be found.’

Over the past few days, Frances has received more than 15,000 cards of condolence.


The hearse carrying Diana’s body drives out the gates of St James’s Palace, followed by a car containing Prince Charles and William and Harry. 

The boys stare straight ahead. 

The coffin is draped in the Royal Standard and covered in a large display of lilies. There are thousands of people along the Mall in the rain to watch it pass. 

Flash bulbs light up the gloom.


Fifty thousand people line the route. As the hearse approaches Kensington Palace, police with megaphones shout to the crowd to keep off the road.


Paul Burrell watches as Diana’s coffin is brought into the palace — her home since 1981. The room where it will stay tonight is full of the scent of flowers.

9pm UK time/ 10pm Paris

At the plush Al Fayed apartment in the Rue Arsène Houssaye, Trevor Rees-Jones’ brothers Gareth and John have arrived. They are all sitting around the dining table being briefed by Jill and Ernie about Trevor’s condition. 

‘You are very important to Trevor and to us. We need you,’ Jill says. ‘We are forging ahead as one family, together.’


In the North London garage of the royal undertakers Leverton & Sons, an employee is keeping a close watch on the hearse that will be used to transport Diana’s coffin. Every two hours a policeman arrives to make sure all is well. 

The hearse was used to collect the coffin from RAF Northolt the previous Sunday. Since then the car has had a complete re-spray and has been checked over by Buckingham Palace’s chief mechanic.

William and Harry and their father inspect the thousands of flowers in front of Kensington Palace, before shaking hands with the crowd. Many hands are wet from wiping away tears 

William and Harry and their father inspect the thousands of flowers in front of Kensington Palace, before shaking hands with the crowd. Many hands are wet from wiping away tears 


Diana’s mother is staying with her daughter Jane in Kensington Palace. She has slipped out of the building and is mingling with the crowds. Some people recognise her and give her a hug. 

One woman says: ‘Thank you for giving us Diana, and thank you for being here with us tonight.’

Also walking through the gardens is dancer Daniel Jones, who met Diana as part of his work for the English National Ballet. He and the rest of the company knew the Princess well — she even chose to spend the day of her divorce with them. 

Daniel believes she loved dancers because they were living the dream that she could never have.

Daniel and some friends have brought a notebook with them and are asking people to write in it what they feel about Diana’s death. Actor Liam Neeson adds his thoughts to Daniel’s book.

Across the road a group of scaffolders working for the BBC immediately start work building an 18ft-high rostrum so cameras can capture the moment in the morning when the coffin leaves the palace. The rostrum has three tiers — the top level for the BBC, the middle level for ITN and the lowest level for other broadcasters.


Near the Spencers’ family seat at Althorp, a group of thickset men are checking into a hotel. They claim to be members of a touring rugby side, but this is a ruse. 

In reality, they are soldiers from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, and tomorrow it will be their task to carry Diana’s coffin from the hearse to its final resting place on an island in the middle of the estate. 

They’ve told no one except close family. They don’t think they will get much sleep — although they have rehearsed for two days, they are terrified they will stumble or fall.


Since Dodi’s burial at the cemetery in Woking, Surrey, late on Sunday night, his grave has been turned into a small garden with a 3ft headstone with the word ‘Dodi’ inscribed. Mohamed Al Fayed is by the grave, keeping a vigil.

On Platform 1 at Paddington Station, a train is being used as overnight accommodation for nearly 500 mourners.


Along the Mall, bottles of scotch are being passed round to ward off the cold. 

Margaret Kittle, 62, has flown in from Winona, Canada, and has set up camp in Parliament Square. Her family are used to her last- minute trips to London; she did the same for Charles and Diana’s wedding.

Margaret is daunted by the prospect of sleeping on the pavement but she thinks there’s no point in coming all this way and not being right at the front.

There are hundreds of people in sleeping bags in Trafalgar Square. As Big Ben strikes midnight, a girl stands up and says: ‘I’m not religious but I think we all need to pray.’ And they begin to say the Lord’s Prayer.

Additional reporting: Nigel Bunyan

Jonathan Mayo is the author of Titanic: Minute By Minute and D-Day: Minute By Minute (Short Books, both £8.99). To order copies for £7.19 (valid until August 26, 2017), visit mailbookshop. or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.