Queen Laments England's Loss
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, Sept. 6, 1997; Page A01
LONDON, Sept. 5—Queen Elizabeth II paid personal tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, tonight as an "exceptional and gifted human being" whose death had been a "devastating loss" to millions of people. She also urged the country to use Saturday's funeral services for Diana to show off a Britain "united in grief and respect."
In a rare live television address, the British monarch said she spoke "from the heart" as both "your queen and a grandmother." She sought to reassure the country that she and other members of the royal family were not insensitive to the enormous outpouring of emotion that has marked the aftermath of Diana's death.
She gave the three-minute speech on the same day the royal family returned from Scotland after a week of private mourning. Immediately upon their return, they appeared in public, mingling with mourners at three palaces around the city and thanking them for their expressions of grief and sympathy. Later they paid respects privately at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace, where Diana's coffin has rested in private since early Monday.
About 8:15 p.m., as light rain fell, Diana's coffin, draped in a blue, gold and burgundy royal standard and topped with a large bouquet of white lilies, was moved from St. James's Palace three miles west to Kensington Palace, where Diana lived. Prince Charles, the heir to the throne and Diana's ex-husband, rode in the car immediately behind the hearse with their two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Huge crowds waited quietly to watch the hearse slowly carry the coffin on the 22-minute route to the palace where Saturday's solemn, two-hour funeral procession will begin at 9:08 a.m. [4:08 a.m. EDT]. Thousands of small cameras flashed in the night, and some mourners threw flowers into the streets as the hearse passed. Many wept.
The procession and funeral service at historic Westminster Abbey, which begin at 11 a.m. [6 a.m. EDT], and the 77-mile journey that will take Diana's remains to their resting place at the Spencer family estate, Althorp, may be witnessed in person by several million people, according to estimates, with a worldwide television audience numbering into the hundreds of millions.
Officials announced today that Diana's body will be buried on an island in a lake on the Spencer family estate, rather than in the family chapel as originally planned. Family members said they hope to prevent the church where her ancestors now rest from being overrun by tourists. They said they hope to open the new burial site to the public for parts of each year.
The city began to fill with people throughout the day, as mourners reserved choice places outside the abbey and along the processional route. They brought sleeping bags, foam pads and enough rations to get them through the night. Work crews continued to prepare for the throngs, stringing miles of television cable, erecting metal barriers and completing construction of camera stands covered in royal blue cloth.
The queen's televised address came after days of criticism of the royal family, and with both her remarks and the setting, she attempted to show herself as a monarch at one with the people in mourning Diana's death. The camera framed the queen sitting in the Chinese Dining Room in Buckingham Palace against windows open to show a backdrop of the masses of people outside the palace, rather than closeted away in a regal setting.
Wearing a black dress, three strands of pearls, a large brooch and glasses, the queen spoke movingly of the "dreadful news" of the "devastating loss" of her former daughter-in-law. She referred to Diana only by her first name, never using the title "princess."
"In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness," she said. "I admired and respected her, for her energy and commitment to others, and especially her devotion to her two boys."
The queen said the royal family had spent much of this week at Balmoral castle "trying to help William and Harry come to terms" with the loss of their mother. "No one who knew Diana will ever forget her," she said, adding, "I share in your determination to cherish her memory."
She also thanked people for their personal expressions of grief and said those "acts of kindness have been a huge source of help and comfort" for the royal family. She noted that the families of the others killed in the automobile crash were grieving too. The crash claimed the lives of Diana's companion, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul.
The queen's concluding remarks were aimed at pulling together a country that has been quarreling in public this week over the meaning of Diana's death and whether the royal family's response has been all that it should be.
"I hope that tomorrow we can all, wherever we are, join in expressing our grief at Diana's loss and gratitude for her all-too-short life," she said. "It is a chance to show to the whole world the British nation united in grief and respect. May those who died rest in peace and may we, each and every one of us, thank God for someone who made many, many people happy."
The queen's decision to address the country on live television represented the latest change in plans by a royal family that appeared unprepared and overwhelmed by the reaction to Diana's death. Originally she had planned to tape the short address and release it to the television networks. It was her first live appearance since her annual Christmas address of 1959 -- the last year before she began to tape the addresses in advance -- and her first non-Christmas address since the Persian Gulf War. (Her addresses opening Parliament each year are live, but the queen is reading the program of her government rather than delivering a personal message to the people.)
Hours before she spoke, the queen and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, appeared outside Buckingham Palace, pausing to talk to mourners even before their motorcade had taken them inside the palace gates.
They accepted flowers from the crowd massed on the broad sidewalk and traffic circle in front of the palace, and deposited the bouquets with others that have been brought by the hundreds of thousands of mourners this week. Roughly 1 million bouquets have been laid in Diana's memory, according to police estimates.
Joelle Fowler told the queen she had been there all night. "I think she was overcome by the response to Diana's death," Fowler told the Press Association news service. "She was very upset. Her eyes were red."
After a brief stop at their residence in the palace, the queen and her husband drove down the Mall to St. James's Palace, about a quarter-mile east, where they looked at the official books of condolence that mourners have been signing throughout the week. After privately paying respects in the chapel, the queen reemerged to greet the crowds. They were received with scattered applause as they drove to St. James's Palace and even more applause on their way back to Buckingham Palace.
Earlier at Kensington Palace, Charles and his two sons talked to mourners and accepted flowers -- white lilies, red roses and other bouquets -- and placed them on the piles that have grown daily this week. They were greeted with applause when they appeared suddenly, and the two young princes smiled and shook hands with the large crowd. Rosalind Wederell told news services that Charles had told her, "We appreciate you coming; we appreciate all the flowers. We are very touched."
Many of those in the crowd said they still did not believe the royal family's response to Diana's death had been appropriate, but others defended the queen, Prince Charles and the others. "They never expected anything like this," said Violet Canty. "They were overwhelmed by what happened. I think everybody was."
When the queen returned to Buckingham Palace, a flag was hoisted for the first time since Diana's death. The bare flag pole had become a symbol of the queen's perceived insensitivity to many people here, even though protocol requires that a flag fly over the palace only when the monarch is in residence -- and never at half-staff.
On Thursday, palace officials announced that the queen had ordered a break with protocol to accommodate the wishes of the people. She asked that when she leaves the palace on Saturday, her royal standard be replaced by the Union Jack flying at half staff. Today palace officials said the time the flag would remain at half staff had been extended from midnight Saturday to Monday.
This afternoon there appeared to be another dramatic break with protocol. For about 10 minutes, the royal standard flew at half staff. Palace officials said later, however, that this was accidental and not a deliberate move on the part of the queen.
Although the crowds were solemn again today, there was an exuberance when members of the royal family appeared that had been missing throughout the week. Crowds appeared drawn to central London both to participate in the national expression of mourning and to witness a moment in history. "It's like VE Day," said Phyllis Mallin as she waited for the queen to appear outside Buckingham Palace.
Cathy Moore already had staked out her spot along the processional route by early this afternoon and planned to spend the night with several of her grandchildren. "I've got . . . plastic bags, a sleeping bag, corn flakes and milk and a spoon," she said.
In death, Diana has taken on a spiritual dimension to many mourners. "If there is a secular saint, it is Diana," said Alfredo Rinaldi, a student, who was laying flowers outside Kensington Palace. "No one can believe in a Virgin Mary anymore. Diana is a saint you can believe in, a spiritual figure for the millennium."
Staff writer Laura Blumenfeld contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company