Palace Officials Struggle to Deal With Outpouring of Emotion
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 3, 1997; Page A23
LONDON, Sept. 2óWith lines of mourners lengthening and the mounds of flowers growing larger by the hour, officials at Buckingham Palace grappled today with how to handle the massive crowds expected to assemble for Saturday's funeral services for Diana, Princess of Wales.
The extraordinary outpouring of emotion, which seemed to catch palace officials and even the public by surprise, appeared to intensify.
Police estimated that 100,000 people a day are passing by Kensington Palace, where Diana resided. The wait to sign a book of condolence at St. James's Palace was estimated at up to eight hours, despite the overnight increase to 15 in the number of books available to sign.
Palace officials braced for an even larger gathering of people for Saturday's funeral services, with estimates of 1 million or more attempting to pack themselves into the relatively small area of royal London where the events will take place.
Some mourners complained that the processional route from St. James's Palace, where Diana's coffin lies in private, to the funeral site at Westminster Abbey will not accommodate all the people hoping to pay their last respects to a woman whose death has triggered a worldwide reaction that has been compared to the outpouring after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend the funeral, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said, but will be representing herself and the Clinton family, not the U.S. government. President Clinton's attendance was ruled out, White House officials said, because it is not a state funeral.
An administration official, in a move to counter critics of the president's decision not to attend, said British Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear in a 30-minute phone call with Clinton on Labor Day that it was the preference of Diana's family and the ruling Windsor family that the first lady would be the appropriate person to attend.
Diana was killed in an automobile crash in Paris early Sunday that also took the life of her companion, Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the car in which they were riding. A bodyguard was badly injured and remains hospitalized and unable to speak.
Palace officials said today that, rather than extending the route of the procession, they will attempt to narrow the street corridors the cortege will follow to create more room for the spectators. They also said mourners could pay respects by lining the route Diana's hearse will travel after the funeral on its way to the chapel on the family estate, Althorp, north of London, where her remains will be interred.
At the same time, officials said a memorial fund will be established in Diana's name to continue the charitable work she was involved in. The fund was established after charities linked to her were flooded with inquiries about donations. Called "The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund," the foundation will be administered by Kensington Palace. Officials said contributions could be sent in the name of the fund to Kensington Palace.
Palace officials also announced that the nation will observe a moment of silence at the end of the funeral services on Saturday, but no other details were announced. The funeral is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. [6 a.m. EDT] and will last about 50 minutes, according to officials. Many businesses here will close for at least part of the day.
The services are being coordinated through Buckingham Palace, in close consultation with Diana's family. Invitations to the 2,000 people who will be allowed into Westminster Abbey are being made by telephone, officials said. The 500 charity representatives -- five from each of roughly 100 charities -- will view the services on a large screen outside the abbey.
Already, however, there are complaints that the public may be shortchanged by those planning the services. There also was criticism over the decision not to allow Diana's coffin to lie in state. Palace officials have said that decision was made jointly by the royal family and Diana's family.
Others questioned why members of the royal family have remained silent since Diana's death, with neither Queen Elizabeth nor Diana's ex-husband Prince Charles issuing any statement. "I think the reaction [of the public] has shocked the royal family," said Vanessa Belton, who was waiting outside St. James's Palace with her mother, Rose.
The royal family remained at Balmoral in Scotland today, with reports that Charles and his younger son Prince Harry went for a walk this afternoon. It was not clear when they would return to London.
Even more disturbing to many of the thousands of mourners who came out today was the bare flag pole over Buckingham Palace. Other flags around the city are at half-staff, but at the palace there is no flag at all. The absence of a flag is protocol when Queen Elizabeth is not in residence at Buckingham Palace, but the barren pole was nonetheless seen by many people as a symbol of insensitivity by the royal family.
Throughout central London there was a sense today that officials were scrambling simply to keep up with the masses of people coming to pay their respects to Diana.
Around St. James's Palace, the lines continued to grow, and workers had to erect new barriers along the sidewalks to allow the snaking line to remain orderly. As other crews set up stands and platforms along the procession route for the funeral, mourners continued to deposit flowers anywhere they deemed appropriate.
At Kensington Palace, the flowers covered an area estimated at 50 by 30 feet. There were more flowers as well today at Harrods department store, which is owned by Dodi Fayed's father, billionaire Egyptian businessman Mohamed Fayed.
The mourners represented a remarkable cross section of the country's population. Some follow the royals' every move, and several of them said today they had attended the marriage of Charles and Diana in 1981. But others have had little interest in the royal family, other than through Diana.
The reports from Paris that the driver of the car in which Diana was riding at the time of the crash had a blood alcohol level at least three times the legal limit in France raised new questions about security arrangements for the princess.
Officials here noted that Diana had voluntarily given up her security guard several years ago after she separated from Charles. "It was no secret," one official said.
Her sons continue to have protection through the palace, and whenever Diana was with them, she was protected as well and would have had the services of an official driver. But on her own, the officials said, she chose a scaled-down security entourage that in Paris meant the use of a driver from the Ritz Hotel, which is also owned by Mohamed Fayed.
Staff writer John F. Harris in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company