'A Unique Funeral for a Unique Person'
Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 2, 1997; Page A01
LONDON, Sept. 1—As thousands of mourners paid their last respects today to Diana, Princess of Wales, officials at Buckingham Palace prepared for a funeral on Saturday that will combine royal ritual with less formal touches designed to reflect the extraordinary role Diana played in the life of the nation.
Palace officials described the service, which will be held at Westminster Abbey, as "a unique funeral for a unique person." The arrangement appeared devised to accommodate Diana's complex social position as the divorced wife of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, as well as her popularity among Britons and around the world.
The services will include an elaborate, hour-long procession that will accompany Diana's coffin from St. James's Palace to Westminster Abbey, the 13th-century Gothic edifice in which the main service, involving 2,000 mourners, will be held. Later that day, she will be interred in her family's chapel at St. Mary the Virgin Church in the village of Brington, about 70 miles north of London.
A White House spokesman said no decision has yet been made on who would represent the United States at the funeral but that President Clinton will not attend. Clinton wrote to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to offer condolences on the death of the princess, saying in a letter released today that "all of us have lost a friend and a strong voice for those less fortunate."
Some mourners waited up to six hours to make their way to the palace room in which the books have been set up, and at one point tonight police closed several roads near both St. James's Palace and Buckingham Palace because of the size of the crowds. For the second straight night, a candlelight vigil began just before dark.
Mounds of flowers covered the sidewalk near the gates of Kensington Palace, Diana's residence. There were heaps of flowers as well at Buckingham Palace, at St. James's Palace, at Harrods department store, which is owned by Fayed's father, Egyptian-born business tycoon Mohamed Fayed. There were even flowers outside the gym where Diana regularly exercised. Tears flowed freely on the cheeks of many who came to pay respects.
Saturday's funeral, which will begin at 11 a.m. (6 a.m. EDT) promises to be the most elaborate in London since that of Winston Churchill in 1965. Palace officials, consulting closely with Diana's family and government officials, were working urgently today to complete the arrangements and thus far have released only a few details.
Prince Charles remained with his and Diana's two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth II also has been vacationing. They are expected to make a private visit to the royal chapel at St. James's Palace before the funeral, as are members of Diana's family, but palace officials provided no information about when the royal family will return to London.
The books of condolence at St. James's -- built by King Henry VIII 450 years ago -- were officially opened to the public at 10 a.m. today, and by early afternoon the wait for those wishing to sign had grown to three hours. Once inside, mourners could sign one of four books, expressing their sentiments on pages bordered in black. The books will remain open for signing around the clock until midnight Friday.
"Diana, Princess of Wales, has been very kind to a lot of people," said Reginald Haley as he waited to sign the book. "She has done a lot. This has brought tears to a lot of faces. I'm grieving inwardly."
Marc Binstead and his wife said they had closed their business for the day to pay their respects to the princess. They said they would leave flowers at three places and, after penning their condolences at St. James's, spend the afternoon with the throngs gathered at Kensington Palace. "We just had to do it," Binstead said.
Another person waiting to sign, Alison Hanlon, described Diana as "the first one who was about to change the mold [of the royal family], and then she was eased out."
There are three categories of royal funeral, according to protocol experts, but none was considered appropriate for Princess Diana. One is the state funeral, normally staged only for sovereigns, although the reigning king or queen, with the approval of Parliament, can order one for others. Churchill, Britain's prime minister during World War II, was accorded such an honor in 1965.
The second category is the "ceremonial royal funeral" and is reserved for members of the royal family of high military rank, the heir to the throne or the consort of the sovereign. The third category, the private royal funeral, is for all members of the royal family, their children or their spouses.
Officials said Diana's family and the royal family concluded that Diana should have "a funeral that reflected her life," a palace spokesman said, and thus, "a unique funeral is being devised."
For example, Diana's coffin will be borne to the abbey on the gun carriage traditionally used for royal funerals, but the procession may include people who represent the charities and other causes she championed. "It is very much appropriate to the princess's memory and in line with what the family thought appropriate," a government spokesman said.
The guest list will be set at 2,000 people, and officials said it will differ from a typical royal funeral in that it will not be limited to those described today as "the great and the good" of the British establishment, but will include others touched by Diana's life. "It will be rather different than one might imagine for a formal royal funeral," the spokesman said.
Still, the 2,000 mourners invited to the service are likely to include a glittering array of world leaders to whom invitations will be extended in coming days. The funeral was scheduled for Saturday, the spokesman said, because "the family believe [it] was the appropriate day to allow the public to line the route to Westminster Abbey and to be able to pay respects."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company