Royal family ends public silence In unusual speech, queen calls Diana 'exceptional,' 'gifted'

Charles and two sons greet, thank mourners

Diana, Princess Of Wales: 1961-1997

September 06, 1997|By BILL GLAUBER | BILL GLAUBER,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- With a brief speech and tearful walks among throngs of their grieving subjects, Britain's royal family rallied itself and its country on the eve of this morning's funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales.

Queen Elizabeth II praised her former daughter-in-law yesterday as "an exceptional and gifted human being," adding that "no one who knew Diana will ever forget her."

Meanwhile, Diana's sons, Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12, accompanied by her former husband, Prince Charles, made an emotional pilgrimage to her former London palace as Britons by the score bowed and wept.

But it was Queen Elizabeth, normally above the fray, who galvanized Britain with an uncharacteristically touching salute to Diana.

"In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness," Elizabeth said during an unusual live address from Buckingham Palace. It was the first time a member of the royal family had spoken directly since Diana's death Sunday after a car accident in Paris.

The long royal silence had triggered simmering public fury with the monarchy.

True or not, there was a sense among many that the royal family continued to harbor resentment against Diana.

For days, while the rest of Britain was convulsed in grief, the royal family remained silent, behind closed doors at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where they were vacationing when word of the princess' death reached them.

L But yesterday the royals reappeared in full force in London.

It was Elizabeth, the 71-year-old monarch, who led the royal family's emotional display, giving her countrymen a glimpse of her family's personal grief.

Dressed in black, her eyes red-rimmed, Elizabeth said she was speaking as a queen and a grandmother -- and from the heart.

"We have all been trying in our different ways to cope," Elizabeth said. "It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings: %J disbelief, incomprehension, anger -- and concern for those who remain." She added that there are "lessons to be drawn" from Diana's life and "from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death."

"I share in your determination to cherish her memory," she said. "This is also an opportunity for me, on behalf of my family, and especially Prince Charles and William and Harry, to thank all of you who have brought flowers, sent messages and paid your respects in so many remarkable ways to a remarkable person."

She said she hoped that today's funeral would provide "a chance to show to the whole world the British nation united in grief and respect."

Earlier, there were also scenes of great emotion outside Buckingham Palace, as Elizabeth, bearing a red rose, and her husband, Prince Philip, broke with another tradition and approached crowds of well-wishers, talking to them and taking bouquets of flowers.

"I think she was overcome by the response to Diana's death," said Joelle Fowler of nearby Croydon. "She was very upset."

At Kensington Palace, Prince Charles, along with William and Harry, greeted crowds and walked among the vast display of flowers that lay on the sweeping lawns.

The boys, dressed in dark suits and black ties, appeared composed as they collected flowers and cards from the crowd and accepted pats and handshakes from well-wishers. Charles appeared moved as he accepted a bouquet from a woman and placed it at the palace gates.

"I spoke to all three of them," said Kathy Watkins, 46, of northwest London. "Prince Charles said, 'Have you come a long way?' I just said, 'No, sir.'

"William said, 'Thank you very much for coming,' but Harry was very quiet," she added. "He seemed to be in a daze. But all of them appeared to be very much in control.

"I think they were really touched to see all these people, young and old, in jeans or suits," Watkins said.

The boys finally viewed their mother's coffin for the first time when they went to the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace, where she has lain since Prince Charles brought her back from France on Sunday.

Later, the coffin was taken 3 1/2 miles by hearse to Kensington Palace as tens of thousands of Britons stood on the sidewalks on a dank, September evening. As the hearse rolled past the crowd, thousands of camera flashes flickered in the night.

Yet all of yesterday's emotion was merely a prelude. This morning, Britain was shut down as the country focused on

Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey. Later, Diana was to be buried at her family's ancestral home at Althorp House, in Northamptonshire.

Diana's brother, Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer, said plans to place the princess' body in the family vault of the local village church were abandoned "so her grave can be properly looked after by her family, and visited in privacy by her sons."

Instead, Diana's coffin will be carried to a tiny island in a lake within the estate grounds. After a brief private service, she will be buried alone among the trees.

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