In England, a sea of ink to match the river of tears cried for Princess Diana


September 04, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Dear Diana ...

With those words, Britain began its week of mourning over the death of its luminous daughter, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Letters were sent to heaven, letters from earth, to the "Queen of Hearts," to the "Angel of Peace," to the "Princess of Love." They were festooned on fences, taped to walls, hung from trees.

The English, being a literary people, expressed their sentiments through correspondence, freely, exercising "the license of ink." They inundated the newspapers and sent tidal waves of it breaking against the iron gates of London's three great palaces: Buckingham, St. James's and Kensington.

The letters and notes were even left amid the drifts of flowers at the walls of Althorp, Diana's ancestral home in Northhamptonshire, the place where she first met her future husband, Charles, the Prince of Wales, and began to live the great fairy tale that ultimately went sour.

The letters were the vehicle by which the people here expressed their grief, a mourning so deep, so rampant, so surprising in its ferocity that now and then it was almost frightening.

"It's like a religion," breathed a young photographer shooting at St. Mary the Virgin church in Great Brington, where Diana will be interred on Saturday.

The letters tell a story of devotion of an intensity not everyone suspected existed. People in official positions have clearly been surprised at the outpouring, and have scrambled not so much to contain it, but manage it.

The original plans for a subdued, nearly private funeral service, contrived by the royal family with the cooperation of Diana's own family and the government, was met with a low growl of incipient outrage.

Suddenly the private funeral is to be "public," and in Westminster Abbey, to boot, the locus sanctus of the English nation.

Plans call for no great state funeral, with horse guards, other military panoply, and heads of state. But there was to be a procession, from St. James's to the Abbey, about a mile's length.

Not good enough. Too many people would be coming, as many as witnessed her marriage, maybe 2 million. The crush would be too dangerous. The route was changed, to broader streets, then lengthened to allow room for more mourners.

Many people wanted their princess to lie in state. That, all the protocol mavens agreed, would be too much.

The letters reveal an unsettling resentment moving toward hostility for those who had alienated Diana from what was seen by many ordinary people as her rightful place, as the mother of a future king. Many conversations with people weeping about the fences have a similar tone.

This was posted on the fence at Kensington Gardens, by the palace where she lived:

"Diana: You will always be in our hearts. You suffered so much by being rejected by your husband. Camilla [Parker Bowles, mistress to Charles ] should be put in the Tower of London and Charles should never be king ..."

Signed, "A Foreigner."

And beneath:

"I agree, Tanya Hooker"


"YESSSS !!!!"

Down the line a little was this:

"Diana, I never noticed or even liked the royal family, but since you joined, the warmth that you radiated and gave to us, all will be missed ... Much love. Avril Nanton, an adoptive mother.

"P.S. God bless you."

And this, pinned up outside St. James's Palace, where Diana's body had lain through the week, closed inside the Chapel Royal while tens of thousands waited up to 11 hours in a line that stretched half a mile to sign books of condolences, to write down what they felt about her:

"In memory of Diana, a star!

"She was the U.K. greatest ambassador! Far superior to the 'royal family.' My love goes out to William and Harry. The world mourns."

Such correspondence caused one pundit for the royalist newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, to wonder if the whole reaction to the princess's death had not been orchestrated by left wing republicans who would like to see an end to the monarchy. Either that or by radical feminists, with grievances against abusive men. Or, worse, by the governing Labor Party, which has seized upon the image of the "rebel princess" to solidify its hold on power.

Being stiffly Tory, the columnist, Boris Johnson, lamented the apparent fact that the English were behaving like -- horrors! -- Argentines.

"Like Evita, whom she is coming in death to resemble, she appeals to Britain's equivalent of the descamisados, the shirtless ones. Like Evita, she was partly vulgar, with democratic tastes in rollerskating and baseball caps...."

Most of the people hovering around Buckingham Palace, or St. James's through the autumnal nights, or carrying flowers along the bright paths at Kensington gardens, would have had no sympathy for that analysis. Else they wouldn't have been there.

Their feelings about the dead princess were quite directly expressed. Simple sentiment plainly stated was the order of the day. Sometimes it was banal and childish, or even from a child:

"To a very special person. XXXXXXXXXX

Signed, "Lucy McGowan. Age 6"

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