After seeing the Princess Diana film a couple of weeks ago, I found myself ruminating on her death, back in 1997.
It seems quite a long time ago, now, but I still remember as clearly as anything the moment that I found out she had died. We’d been to Ashley’s business partner’s wedding on the Saturday (he’s since divorced, remarried and nearly divorced again!) and it had been rather a boozy do, and I’d ended up sleeping in the spare bedroom to get away from Ashley’s drunken snoring.
Ashley burst in, waking me up, sometime earlyish in the morning (probably 9 o’clock – this was pre-children) and exclaimed ‘Diana and Al-Dodi are dead!!’.
He’s never been good with names. But weird that I remember exactly how he worded it, don’t you think?
I spent the day in front of the television, and most of the subsequent week as well, culminating in her funeral on the Saturday morning.
I realized at some point during that Sunday that my parents, who were on holiday in Spain, wouldn’t have any idea that it had happened, and I phoned them to tell them (pre-mobile days – they had a landline in the villa back then). Mum went and spent the rest of the day watching the news coverage in the local English bar, as I recall.
It really was the most extraordinary time, the public outpouring of grief and the way the whole country seemed to come together and unite. It’s hard to explain the level of public feeling now.
I was working in Exeter at the time, quite close to the cathedral, and as that week went on, the carpet of flowers outside the doors swelled and swelled until it seemed to take over the almost the whole of Cathedral Green. Queues to sign the book of condolence inside the Cathedral (and in many churches throughout Britain) were long and constant.
If I had to pick one snapshot of the whole thing that will be imprinted on my memory forever, it would be those two young boys walking so bravely and stoically behind their mother’s coffin, all the way from St James’s Palace to Westminster Abbey. My heart broke for them. She would have been so proud.