Britain weeps for Diana Westminster Abbey service reflects upon joys of her life

Celebrated in poetry, song

As notables gather to mourn, focus is on her two young sons

Farewell To A Princess

September 07, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- White lilies for "Mummy."

Boy princes weeping.

A brother in grief speaking with rage.

These were the scenes yesterday at Westminster Abbey, as the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, was celebrated in a funeral service that blended hymns, history and heartbreak in a national farewell.

Britain's grandest church, a place for kings, queens and poets, became, for one hour, Diana's last public stage.

This was the closest she would come to a state funeral, a service that covered the broad sweep of her life from her royal wedding to her personal problems to her newfound confidence in the final year of her life.

Diana wasn't just a princess. She was a 36-year-old mother, a sister, and a daughter, mourned by a nation -- and a family. Six days after her death after a car crash in Paris that also killed her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, and driver, Henri Paul, Britain was still trying to recover.

And the sorrow was apparent during every moment of the funeral at the Abbey, as sunlight streamed through stained-glass windows, the rays casting a glow on the coffin, draped with a Royal Standard and bouquets from her brother, Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer, and her two sons, Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12.

One card was addressed simply to "Mummy."

The list of 2,000 mourners read like a who's who of Diana's life. There were princes and pop stars, designers and actors, charity workers and care-givers. Queen Elizabeth II, dressed in black, led the royal family. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, actor Tom Cruise and opera singer Luciano Pavarotti were also among the mourners.

But the focus was on the boys, William and Harry, dressed in dark suits and black ties, their faces downcast.

With their father, Prince Charles; their grandfather, Prince Philip; and their uncle, Earl Spencer, they had accompanied Diana's coffin in a funeral procession through London's streets and into the Abbey, where every English sovereign but two has been crowned since William the Conqueror in 1066.

The coffin was borne by eight scarlet-jacketed Welsh Guardsmen, their faces frozen in concentration and grief, their arms locked at the shoulders, the steel taps of their shoes echoing on the black and white marble in a slow, ominous march. Gently, the guardsmen placed the coffin on a blue-draped catafalque in front of the High Altar, beneath a soaring roof.

At each corner of the coffin was a gold candlestick, the flame of each candle flickering, smoke rising into the air.

There was a smell of incense.

Through much of the service, Diana's boys sat somber-faced, their eyes cast on the coffin.

But when pop star Elton John played and sang "Candle In The Wind" -- originally an ode to Marilyn Monroe -- they broke down.

With new lyrics written for the day, John haltingly sang "Goodbye England's Rose." He didn't cry, but he could barely play the piano, even missing a chord at one point. As he reached the line, "Your candle burned out long before your legend ever will," Harry buried his face and sobbed.

William was tearful as John sang: "All our words cannot express the joy you brought us through the years."

When the song ended, a great clatter drifted into the Abbey as thousands of mourners outside began to applaud and cheer.

Most of the readings, poems and songs sought to reflect the joy of Diana's life. The first hymn, "I Vow To Thee My Country," was one of her favorites -- played at her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981.

Diana's sisters read simple poems.

"For my sake -- turn again to life and smile," recited Lady Sarah McCorquodale, reading verse composed by an American poet, Mary Lee Hall.

Lady Jane Fellowes, her face obscured by a broad-brimmed black hat, but her voice sounding eerily like Diana's, said in an untitled verse, "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair read from Corinthians. Dressed in black, his face drawn and voice trembling, he read "For now we see through a glass, darkly." It was Blair who had pushed hard for this public funeral, who had confirmed Diana's own hope to be known as a "people's princess."

Every detail had been perfectly scripted.

And then Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, climbed the steps of a golden pulpit, looked down at the royal family, and gave a bittersweet tribute to his sister.

He attacked the news media, blaming them for nearly hounding his sister out of Britain.

"I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down," he said.

"It is baffling. My own, and only, explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum."

In the hours after her death, Spencer, who lives in South Africa, said the media had blood on its hands after press photographers motorcycles chased the princess on her last car ride in Paris.

He pledged to protect her sons "from a similar fate."

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