Funeral Plans Altered as Crowds Swell
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 4, 1997; Page A01
LONDON, Sept. 3—The unprecedented outpouring of emotion over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, that has engulfed Britain this week grew ever larger today, prompting officials to reroute Saturday's funeral procession to accommodate what are now expected to be among the largest crowds this city has ever seen.
Diana's death in an auto accident in Paris early Sunday has rapidly become a defining moment for a nation long known for its reserved and unemotional character, as tens of thousands of people stream daily toward the royal palaces here to pay their respects and mourn her loss.
Officials charged with staging Saturday's funeral services at Westminster Abbey, where British sovereigns have been crowned for centuries and where many are buried, have continued to readjust their plans in the face of estimates that as many as 2 million people may descend on central London. In the face of mounting criticism that the original processional route was too short to handle the expected crowds, officials at Buckingham Palace announced today a significant expansion that will more than double the distance the cortege will cover as Diana's coffin, carried on a gun carriage, is borne to Westminster for the services.
At the same time, the palace announced that Prince Charles, Diana's former husband and the heir to the British throne, will return to London on Friday, with his and Diana's two sons, Prince William, 15, and Prince Harry, 12, for a private viewing of the coffin. The royal family, criticized by many mourners in the streets of London this week, also issued their first statement since Diana's death, saying they are "deeply touched" by the enormous crowds paying their last respects to the princess.
Palace officials originally planned a procession that was to begin at St. James's Palace, where Diana's coffin has rested in private in the Chapel Royal, and wind its way along the Mall, through the government buildings of Whitehall and past Parliament Square to the abbey.
But with estimates of Saturday's crowd growing daily, the officials announced this afternoon that Diana's body would be moved late Friday from St. James's Palace to Kensington Palace, which is in Kensington Gardens at the western end of Hyde Park. Kensington Palace was Diana's official residence, and in the past few days it has become a public shrine of flowers, farewell notes and other mementos.
The expanded route means Diana's coffin now will be borne along the southern tier of Hyde Park, skirting the elegant neighborhood of Knightsbridge, and then into the heart of royal London itself. Once past Hyde Park, the huge green space where kings once hunted, the cortege will pass under the imposing Wellington Arch to Constitution Hill. The procession will pass Buckingham Palace, the principal residence of Queen Elizabeth II, then proceed down the Mall toward St. James's Palace and then along the original route to Westminster Abbey.
The announcement of the new route came about the same time the royal family's statement was issued by the palace. After more than three days of silence, the statement appeared to be an effort to stem complaints that the family seemed out of touch with public sentiment. Many in the crowds of mourners here have complained that Diana was badly treated by Prince Charles -- they were divorced a year ago -- and other members of the family.
"All the royal family, especially the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry, are taking strength from the overwhelming support of the public, who are sharing their tremendous sense of loss and grief. They are deeply touched and enormously grateful," the statement said.
The royal family has been at Balmoral Castle in Scotland all week, adding to the feeling that they were too aloof to appreciate the extraordinary outpouring of grief in London. With Charles and his sons now due to return on Friday, the palace announced that the queen and other members of the family will arrive in London on Saturday by overnight train.
Officials at Buckingham Palace, charged with organizing Saturday's funeral in consultation with Diana's family and the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the changes were made because of growing estimates of crowd size, not simply as a bow to public pressure.
"We've always tried to consider a way of lengthening the route in such a way that more people would be able to see the procession in safety," one official said.
The prime minister emerged briefly today to greet some of the mourners. In brief remarks to reporters, he praised the changes in the processional route and defended the royal family from criticism that it has been insensitive to the public's wishes in preparing the funeral.
"All our energies are directed now toward trying to make this as tremendous a commemoration of Princess Diana as possible, to make sure we involve as many people as possible so we can express our own sense not just of national loss but personal loss," Blair said.
He added: "I know those are very strongly the feelings of the royal family as well, who are trying to cope in a tremendously difficult situation. . . . They share our grief very much, and we should respect that."
The services at Westminster, which will be attended by 2,000 people, are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. (6 a.m. EDT) and will be followed by a national moment of silence, estimated to occur at about 11:50 a.m. Palace officials said they have not determined the exact starting time of the procession, but news services reported it would begin about 10 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT).
Those wishing to pay their respects also will have an opportunity to view a post-funeral procession from central London 77 miles north to Great Brington, where Diana's remains will be interred in her family's mausoleum in St. Mary the Virgin Church. The latter route, along which Diana's body will be carried in a hearse, includes some of central and north London's main arteries.
In a further effort to accommodate the crowds, officials said large video screens will be set up in Hyde Park to provide television coverage of the funeral.
Meanwhile, thousands of mourners continued to gather at St. James's Palace, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and other sites around London in an effort to give vent to their loss. Flower vendors were swamped by requests for bouquets that ultimately were piled on top of steadily growing floral piles outside the palaces, and traffic was snarled as a result of the closing of major streets in the area of Buckingham Palace and St. James's Palace.
Mourners waited for up to 11 hours overnight for the opportunity to record messages of sympathy in dozens of books of condolence set up at St. James's, and emergency officials distributed blankets and hot tea to ease the effects of cold weather that had settled over the city.
Late this afternoon, Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, came to St. James's to pay his respects in private in the Chapel Royal. Also today, Diana's mother, Frances Shand Kydd, who has been in seclusion, issued a statement thanking the public for its support. "I thank God for the gift of Diana and for all her loving and giving," she said. Saying she was "so proud" of Diana's sons, William and Harry, she wrote, "I pray for her and the two men who died with her and for their families."
The auto accident also claimed the lives of Diana's companion, Dodi Fayed, the son of Mohamed Fayed, who owns Harrods department store here and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, and Henri Paul, the driver of the auto in which they were riding.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company