I awoke at 9am last Sunday to learn of Princess Diana’s death. The rest of the day was tinged with sadness and disbelief as the broadcasters filled the airwaves with reflections and tributes to her life. Some of the presenters were at times unable to speak for the welling up of emotion. Some deep seam had been struck. Not even news of the death of one of my own family relatives the same morning was able to pull us from the swell of national feeling.
Today she is remembered in a funeral service at Westminster Abbey as the country is given over to reverence and respect in a manner never known before in most people’s lifetimes, if ever at all. Shops are closed. Streets, other than those filled with mourners, are quiet and deserted.
The service itself was powerful and poignant. Two poems read by Diana’s sisters perfectly caught the sentiment of what she stood for. Blair, who has handled himself well throughout the week of mourning and with a now measured and accomplished delivery, read from Corinthians reminding us how we are nothing without love. A varied mixture of musical pieces sat happily together: Pachelbel, Purcel, Verdi, an inspired choral work by Taverner and then the trusty Elton John with his re-written version of Candle in the Wind which was enough to wet my cheeks a wee bit, not for the first time in past days. “Not a dry eye on The Mall,” said someone. Nor anywhere else I would have thought.
But it was Charles Spencer’s speech which struck the strongest note. He talked of how his sister was plagued by insecurity and had deep feelings of unworthiness but she had told him once that it was this innermost suffering that allowed her to connect with the constituency of the rejected. For all that and the bizarre life she lead after childhood, she had remained intact and true to herself. He side-swiped at the Royals and particularly had a go at the press for sneering at her genuinely good intentions, in his view due to the fact that such traits in a person were threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. Unable to hide the emotion in his voice he concluded by saying she had been taken at her most radiant and most beautiful but would remain forever in our minds. As he stepped down, a spontaneous applause erupted outside the Abbey and then inside, breaking with the protocol of such occasions. Given the uniqueness of the moment this was no surprise to anyone.
It has indeed been an unusual week, almost something comforting and even purposeful in being part of this collective empathy. Living such disconnected lives as we do in a world where selfish interest appears to be the overriding ethic, and cynicism the general outlook, then the death of a much celebrated public figure pulls us back together again. In this way Diana’s seems to me almost a sacrificial death in order that we should be reminded of where enlightened value lies. As with Mother Teressa, who also departed the world today, if that is the legacy it is no small achievement.
A life cut short at 36, Diana Spencer is now the great heroine of our times. She was a sensitive, emotional woman who was buffeted by the often cruel forces of life but responded with courage showing compassion and caring in her dealings with others. These things above others put her at the head of contemporary icons. God bless the Princess. She can be at peace now.
written 1997 on the day of Diana Spencer's funeral