London Still Overwhelmed With Grief
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 8, 1997; Page A01
LONDON, Sept. 7—The British people refused to let go of Princess Diana today, as thousands of cars clogged the streets and tens of thousands of mourners trooped to Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace in another astonishing show of emotion.
The city was virtually paralyzed by the latest outpouring of public sentiment. Automobiles crawled along Kensington Road near the palace where Diana lived, and people spilled into the roadway in front of Westminster Abbey, where Saturday's funeral service was held. The area around the Spencer family estate in Northamptonshire, where Diana was buried, was so packed with people today that police were forced to close roads, as the need to participate in what has become a collective national experience continued to draw unexpectedly large crowds.
The public display of emotion came as Prince Charles, Diana's former husband, appealed for "time and space" to give their sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, the opportunity to grieve their mother's loss in private and prepare for the future. Charles and the boys were at the Prince of Wales's Highgrove estate, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, where they went immediately after her burial.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the royal family in a television interview aired this morning. "The royal family has been through a very hard time this week," he told interviewer David Frost, "and I think criticism of them is very unfair. . . . I think that the way they responded this week showed that they know how important it is that they are close with the country -- and they are like that."
Blair also said he understood why they preferred to stay at Balmoral Castle in Scotland in the days after Diana's death rather than returning immediately to London. "The question was, what was best for the children," Blair said. "Heaven forbid this ever happens, but I know if anything ever happened to [Blair's wife] Cherie, I wouldn't actually want to have the kids in Downing Street. I would want them somewhere where they were removed from it. And so I hope that people do understand that."
In the interview, Blair also confirmed that, shortly before Diana's death, he had asked her to play a role as a special ambassador for the country. He also said a "better, more compassionate Britain" would be her best legacy.
The prime minister also announced that he has asked Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, to head a committee to consider other ways to commemorate the late princess, who was killed in an automobile accident a week ago that also took the lives of her companion Dodi Fayed and their driver.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, said prayers for Diana during morning services today at Crathie Church at Balmoral. They were criticized a week ago for attending a service the morning of Diana's death in which nothing was said about the accident.
After the service, the Rev. Robert Sloan said last Sunday had been a shock for everyone in the family, particularly Princes William and Harry. Now, he said, "We have tried to move the process of grief on a bit more today."
Blair flew to Scotland today, where he ate lunch with Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral. The agenda was expected to include a discussion of how the monarchy should respond to the unprecedented public reaction to Diana's death. Already the queen has been forced to break protocol to reassure the nation that she and other members of the royal family are in touch with the public mood.
Blair has played a crucial, behind-the-scenes role in offering advice to the family and indicated that he believes the family is more prepared to change now than it was a week ago.
It was unclear today how long it may take Britain to come to terms with the death of the woman who came to be known as the "people's princess." Judging from the scenes around London today, it may take longer than many people anticipated.
A day after more than a million people filled the streets to witness Diana's funeral cortege and service, the people were out in force again. Few were merely curious; most carried flowers and many held handkerchiefs. The route that the cortege followed through Hyde Park was thick with people heading back toward Kensington Palace today. A similar stream headed toward the palace from the Gloucester Road subway station, about 10 minutes south of the palace.
Surveying the crush of humanity on the lawn outside Kensington Palace, Simon Lester said, "We just came quietly to pay our respects. I'm astonished."
The gates at Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth lives, were jammed with people. Westminster Abbey was drowning anew in flowers. And the country has never seen anything like the solemn stampede at Kensington Palace that has reduced its once-green lawn to dust. Today's crowds outside Kensington were the largest of the week, according to officials.
Roommates Roberta Russell and Clare Holland made a 90-minute pilgrimage from Oxford to the palace. Both were dressed in black and held a lily in one hand and a handkerchief in the other.
"I watched the funeral on television," said Holland, a 28-year-old travel agent. "But there is a difference between seeing that and being here. We had to come to pay our respects."
Holland broke down as she spoke about a princess she had never met. "I just feel so sad about it," she said. "The funeral -- you couldn't have asked for anything more perfect. But I still don't feel as if this is over."
Holland recorded the funeral on videotape and already had watched it five times.
Outside Westminster Abbey, a lone trumpeter played "Amazing Grace." Louise Jones, 36, blinked back tears. "I've come every day," she said.
At Buckingham Palace, Alison Horton, 34, said she rode the train for 40 minutes to stand and hold her three-month-old daughter, Jessica, in front of the palace and its flagpole, where the Union Jack was flying at half-staff. The palace earlier had said the flag would come down at midnight Saturday.
"We just felt watching it on telly [television] wasn't enough," she said. "I want a picture of [Jessica] here today so someday I can tell her all about Princess Diana."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company