Reaching Out to the People, Queen Says She Also Grieves
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, Sept. 6, 1997; Page A16
LONDON, Sept. 5 It was what hundreds of thousands of people had waited all week to see: a public display of heart by the Queen of England.
The gray-haired monarch emerged from St. James's Palace this afternoon, where the body of Princess Diana lay in a lead-lined casket, to brave crowds of commoners who had wept openly for days. For the first time this week, she showed that she shared their pain.
Queen Elizabeth II walked over to Joelle Fowler and, in a soft voice, asked if she had been standing there long. All night, Fowler said. The queen, surprised, turned to another girl from Southampton. The 15-year-old, the same age as Diana's eldest son, piped up to ask her to please take care of the nation's princely boys, William and Harry.
"She said she would," said Laura Trant. "She said it was very hard for them because they were so young. . . . It seemed as if she had been crying, as if she was trying to hold everything back. She was lovely."
All week, mourners here have been publicly grousing about the reticence of the royals following Diana's death. Today, the day when the royals finally came south from Balmoral, the crowds, waiting in lines to add to the forest of flowers placed outside the gates of Kensington, Buckingham and St. James's palaces, were wondering aloud at how the monarchy could miss the point of their grief. Those waiting to see the queen, who flew from Balmoral today, were not generous in their remarks.
"Diana did so much for others," said Lesley Wells, a teacher and mother of a 15-year-old son. "Charles was right to stay with the boys at Balmoral. But the queen should have come back to London.
"I hope they've learned something from this week. If not, they've lost the monarchy. . . . I think they're starting to realize that they need people to make the monarchy work."
But the arrival of the queen, swathed in black, brought the crowd to a standstill. She and her husband, Prince Philip, privately paid their respects to the princess at St. James's. When they came into sight of the public, they were welcomed by applause. The queen responded with sad smiles. Philip, whose visage defines the notion of the British stiff upper lip, nodded and spoke individually to people, thanking them for their support.
Civil servant Grant Morris, 29, gasped as Elizabeth reached out to clasp a flower from one woman. "It's unlike anything I've seen before," he said. "The public certainly has been hurt and disillusioned by the monarchy this week. But now, I don't know. I just don't know."
James Cottsworthy, 44, was the first man in the crowd that the queen approached. She surprised him. She apologized for how long it had taken her to come from Balmoral.
"But I didn't agree with all that criticism, so I told her it wasn't a problem," said the man from east London, who had been waiting in line for nine hours to sign his condolences. "I would have waited a week, or a month, or a year to see her."
The royal couple also spoke to people outside Buckingham Palace today; Prince Charles and his sons did likewise at Kensington. Shortly before the queen made an historic, live address to the nation about the death of Diana, she was seen traveling past the Buckingham gates. She and the other members of the royal family stared ahead with somber expressions.
If the rush of emotion caught Britain off guard this week, so did today's display of unity. Spectators seemed a bit shy, perhaps awed by the queen's meeting -- even several who said they had seen the queen passing by before. No one said they believed that they, by sheer force of emotion, could change the Britain's oldest institution. But some said the interaction between royalty and the people was historic in itself.
"The fact that they've broken with tradition today -- it's exciting for people to think that they can help break, and make, traditions here," said one woman named Vajramrala, a teacher of Buddhism. "I'm sure they've been hurt by the people, but I'm sure they've also been staggered by the response to Diana.
"We've all learned something today."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company