On this day in history, 1997, Princess Diana’s funeral took place. Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, on July 29, 1981 at the tender age of 20. She immediately captivated not only those living in the UK, but also soon evolved into a global sensation, becoming the most famous and most photographed woman in the world. Beautiful, captivating and media-savvy, Diana was everyone’s idea of what a princess should be, and after she produced the two little princes, William and Harry (the heir and the spare), her happily-ever-after seemed all but assured.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the fairy tale to turn into a melodrama. Years of Charles refusing to give up his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles led Diana to affairs of her own. There were also accusations of cruelty on Diana’s part and mental instability on Charles’s, but in the end it was basic incompatibility that led to their divorce in August 1996.
After the divorce, Diana was determined to continue the humanitarian work that had made her so beloved as a princess, as well as raising her boys Will and Harry. All her plans ended in the wee hours of the morning of August 31, 1997 in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Also killed in the crash was Diana’s companion Dodi Al-Fayed, and the driver Henri Paul, who was later found to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
On that sunny September day in London, an estimated one million people stood watch on the roadside, and many millions more watched around the globe on television, as Diana’s coffin draped in the royal standard and accompanied by eight members of the Welsh Guards slowly made its way to Westminster Abbey.
The procession finally reached Westminster Abbey, and Diana’s coffin was brought into the ancient church filled with royalty and celebrities who had gathered to pay their respects to one of the most famous women in the world.
The service was just over an hour long. British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke, as did Diana’s two elder sisters. Her younger brother, Earl Spencer, delivered a eulogy that praised his sister for all her good works while simultaneously accusing the Royal Family of being cold-hearted and unfeeling, which probably didn’t sit too well with his godmother, the Queen.
Elton John, a close friend of the Princess, asked his lyricist Bernie Taupin to rewrite the lyrics of “Candle in the Wind” to rework the song as a tribute to Diana. Elton sang “Goodbye England’s Rose” at the service with obvious emotion. Partially because this, the song “Candle in the Wind” saw a huge surge in sales, selling over 8 million copies in 1997 alone, making it the most copies of any single sold in one calendar year. The song is also second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” as the best selling single of all time.
After the service, Princess Diana was brought to Althrop, her family’s ancestral home in Northamptonshire, to be laid to rest. Her burial, unlike so many things in her life, was private, with only her mother, siblings, sons, ex-husband, a friend and a clergyman in attendance.
The Princess is buried on a small and picturesque island on the Althrop estate. The path leading to it is protected by the shade of 36 oak trees, one for each year of Diana’s relatively short life.
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