Queen Orders Flag at Half-Staff at Palace
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, Sept. 5, 1997; Page A01
LONDON, Sept. 4—Queen Elizabeth II today ordered the Union Jack to be flown at half-staff over Buckingham Palace on Saturday for the first time and scheduled a televised statement to the nation on Friday. These steps represented an unprecedented response to criticism that the royal family has been indifferent to the outpouring of grief over the death of Princess Diana.
Early this evening, members of the family, including the queen, Prince Charles, Diana's former husband, and their two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, appeared in public for the first time since Sunday. They attended church services at Balmoral in Scotland and then paused, while cameras rolled, to look at a line of flowers left outside the church by some of the princess's mourners.
The moves came after another day in which the press and public pummeled the royal family, which had remained in seclusion at Balmoral Castle, while hundreds of thousands of people have paid tribute to Diana here, lining up to write personal messages in the official books of condolence, leaving flowers at several royal palaces and openly weeping at the loss of the princess.
"Show Us You Care," shouted a headline in the Express this morning. "Where Is Our Queen? Where Is Her Flag?" cried the Sun. The Mirror ran large pictures of two grief-stricken mourners weeping, with an inset photo of the queen at the bottom of the page. "Your People Are Suffering," said the headline. "Speak To Us, Ma'am."
"The princess was a much-loved national figure, but she was also a mother whose sons miss her deeply," said palace spokesman Geoffrey Crawford. "Prince William and Prince Harry themselves want to be with their father and grandparents at this time in the quiet haven of Balmoral. As their grandmother, the queen is helping the princes to come to terms with their loss as they prepare themselves for the public ordeal of mourning their mother with the nation on Saturday."
Meanwhile, palace officials announced additional details of Saturday's funeral service and associated events. They said Diana's two sisters and brother will participate in the service at Westminster Abbey, but no member of the royal family will speak. Officials also said no final decision has been made about whether Princes Charles and William will join the funeral procession on the route to the abbey.
Saturday's procession and funeral services are expected to draw millions of people to central London for the day. The procession that will carry Diana's coffin from Kensington Palace, where she lived, to Westminster Abbey, the coronation and burial site of British monarchs, will begin at 9:08 a.m. [4:08 a.m. EDT] and reach its Great West Door at 10:55 a.m. (5:55 a.m. EDT).
Editor's Note: Diana's brother announced today that Diana will be buried on an island on the grounds of the family's stately home, Althorp Park, instead of in the nearby church. The services there are considered private, and the area will be closed off.
Officials said the solemn procession was designed to reflect Diana's standing as the "people's princess." Her coffin will be carried on a gun carriage and accompanied by a military guard, but there will be few of the other military touches normally associated with state events here. About halfway along the route, at St. James's Palace where her coffin has rested in private this week, the procession will be joined by more than 500 representatives of charities associated with Diana's work, including children and the disabled. If Charles and William join the procession, they would likely do so there.
The route was more than doubled in length on Wednesday after criticism that the original route was too short to accommodate the enormous crowds expected to attend.
The service at the abbey, with 1,900 people in attendance, will feature a mixture of traditional and unusual elements designed to reflect Diana's unusual status as a member of the royal family -- though not technically a royal since her divorce a year ago -- and as a glamorous celebrity who had involved herself in charitable causes.
Elton John, a close friend, has been asked to sing, and his lyricist has rewritten the words to one of his songs, "Candle in the Wind," for the funeral. But there will be, as one official put it, "no trumpeters, drums [or] fanfare."
Today's flurry of activity by the royal family came as criticism intensified over the absence of any statement expressing grief over the death of Diana. The biggest symbol of what many people regarded as the family's indifference was the bare flagpole over Buckingham Palace, the queen's residence. By protocol, the only flag allowed to fly over the palace is the queen's royal standard, and it flies only when she is in residence. In addition, the flag is never flown at half-staff because the moment one monarch dies, he or she is immediately replaced by the heir.
None of this protocol mattered much to the public, and this afternoon palace officials said the queen took the unprecedented step of ordering that the Union Jack fly at half-staff over Buckingham Palace on Saturday, for the first time in history, after she has left the palace. The queen's royal standard will fly while she is in residence on Saturday, then be replaced by the Union Jack for the rest of the day.
"This is a mark of respect for the princess on the day of her funeral," said Penny Russell-Smith, a spokeswoman for the queen.
The palace also announced that the queen will return to London on Friday, rather than on Saturday morning as originally planned. It was, said one analyst, "as if the queen had been ordered back to London by her subjects." Palace officials said the queen will return Friday afternoon and tape her statement, which will be released in time for the early-evening newscasts here.
Charles and his sons also are scheduled to return to London on Friday and will pay their respects privately at St. James's Palace. Later in the evening, Diana's coffin will be moved to Kensington Palace, although officials provided no details of the timing in what they said would be a private event.
The royal family appeared in public today just after 6 p.m. [1 p.m. EDT]. They walked along the row of flowers, and at times Charles held the hand of his younger son, Harry. Both boys were dressed in suits, while Charles and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, wore kilts. The queen wore a black coat.
In a further accommodation to the long lines of mourners, a palace spokesman announced that the official books of condolence will be reopened for signatures after Diana's funeral. The doors at St. James's Palace have been open around the clock this week to handle the throngs but will close at 6 p.m. on Friday in preparation for moving Diana's body and for Saturday's services. But the books will be reopened at Kensington Palace at 2 p.m. on Saturday and remain open until Sept. 15, the official said.
In the face of the criticism of the royal family, Prime Minister Tony Blair urged people to be more understanding of what it is going through this week. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Constitutional Monarchy Association condemned the "callous and unjustified media criticism" of the family and charged that critics are attempting to use Diana's death "to destroy the monarchy."
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