On September 6, 1997, the world watched one of the biggest funerals of all time. Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest, with over one million mourners lining the city streets and another 2.5 billion watching around the world on television.
The service began at 9:08 am London time, when the tenor bell sounded to signal the departure of the cortege from Kensington Palace. The coffin was carried from the palace on a gun carriage, along Hyde Park to St. James’ Palace, where Diana’s body had remained for five days before being taken to Kensington Palace. The Union Flag on top of the palace was lowered to half mast. The official ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey in London and finished at Diana’s final resting place in Althorp.
Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey while the British television audience peaked at 32.78 million, the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever. It was perhaps the most watched event in world history.
The event was not a state funeral, but a royal ceremonial funeral including royal pageantry and Anglican liturgy. A large display of flowers was installed at the gates of Kensington Palace. Eight members of the Welsh Guards accompanied Diana’s coffin, draped in the royal standard with an ermine border, on the one hour, 47-minute ride through London streets. On top of the coffin were three wreaths of white flowers from her brother, the Earl Spencer, her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. At St. James’ Palace, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, her sons, and her brother joined to walk from behind. Five hundred representatives of various charities the Princess had been involved with joined behind them in the funeral cortege.
The coffin passed Buckingham Palace where members of the Royal Family were waiting outside. Queen Elizabeth II bowed her head as it went by, as flowers rained down onto the cortege from bystanders.
A grand funeral it was. And why not? For Princess Diana, this was the sad culmination of a life taken too soon. It serves as a reminder – 20 years later – that even for royalty, it is appointed to man once to die. And like Diana, we may not see that day coming. So what do we do? It’s called preparation. May we remember Diana’s death by preparing for our own.