'Unique funeral for a unique person' Diana will be buried Saturday, with service fit for the people

September 02, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Diana, Princess of Wales, will be accorded a "unique funeral for a unique person" Saturday -- an event that will be celebrated with a procession through London to historic Westminster Abbey, the collective tomb for many of Britain's greatest kings, poets and soldiers.

Afterward, Princess Diana will be buried in a private ceremony at St. Mary's Parish Church in Great Brington, near Althorp House, her family's 500-year-old estate about 60 miles north of London. She will be buried next to her father, the 8th Earl Spencer.

The announcement yesterday came as thousands upon thousands of Princess Diana's admirers lined up for hours into the night waiting to pay their respects at various places in London. Early this morning, candles left by mourners flickered at London's grand palaces.

A spokesman at Buckingham Palace, the London Home of Queen Elizabeth II said yesterday that Saturday's funeral would be "very much a unique funeral for a unique person."

Princess Diana died Sunday morning in Paris at 36. Her funeral will not be a full state funeral. These are usually reserved for sovereigns and exceptional statesmen, such as the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill 32 years ago.

"The funeral will contain the usual elements of a royal funeral, and in particular elements to reflect the affection with which the princess was held," a palace spokeswoman told the Associated Press yesterday.

"We are taking into account the wishes of the family and the need to allow people to express publicly their grief and their affection for the princess."

Unique or traditional, it is a singular honor for the princess -- a public event, sponsored by the state but with a limit to its pomp and flourish.

The corps of ambassadors accredited to Great Britain, for instance, is not expected to be present, nor are heads of state -- though a few, such as French President Jacques Chirac, are expected to attend.

A White House spokesman said yesterday that President Clinton will not attend the funeral.

In all, about 2,000 people will participate directly in the service for Diana, scheduled on a weekend day when the public that adored her will be freer to watch.

"There should be people there who represented the causes she touched and the people she touched," said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The funeral and the ceremonies encompassed by it, the government spokesman said, would be built on the theme of "the people's princess."

The conditions for the funeral were worked out by representatives of the royal family, the government and the Spencer family.

The decision was announced as authorities in Paris revealed that the driver of the car in which the princess was riding with her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, had three times the blood-alcohol level legal for driving in France. It also appeared that the Mercedes limousine carrying the pair was traveling at more than 120 miles per hour when it crashed in a tunnel near the Seine River while being chased by photographers. Fayed and the driver, Paul Henri, also were killed in the crash.

It was generally thought almost from the beginning that a quiet funeral would be more appropriate for the former wife of Prince Charles, heir to the throne, with whom she lived through a decade and a half of a slowly disintegrating marriage.

She gave him two sons, one of whom will likely succeed Charles on the throne, Prince William, 15.

As flags fluttered at half-staff all over the kingdom yesterday, the public expressions of grief grew more manifestly deep and widespread throughout the day.

Immediately after Diana's coffin was moved to St. James' Palace about midday yesterday, people began lining up there, passing into the building where five books were set on five tables for them to sign their names and write their thoughts and comments.

By late afternoon, the wait to reach the condolence books was about five hours long and seemed to be lengthening. Many streets in central London were closed to traffic. The room was to be kept open 24 hours a day until Friday.

St. James' Palace is the official home of Prince Charles. Diana's coffin is nearby in the palace's 16th-century Chapel Royal, before the altar where Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, and beneath a painted ceiling commemorating King Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves. Anne was Henry's fourth wife -- out of six -- and the union lasted only six months before being annulled.

The coffin will be taken from that palace at 11 a.m. (6 a.m. EDT) Saturday morning in a procession to Westminster, about a mile away. Family members -- Windsors and Spencers -- will join the entourage, and tens of thousands of people are expected to line the route.

The growing assemblage near the body of Diana yesterday at St. James's did nothing to diminish the attentions being brought by an ever-growing multitude to the high iron gates of Kensington Palace, a few miles up Kensington Road.

In fact, people seemed drawn to the two palaces.

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