British leader seeks healing Prime Minister Blair meets with queen day after Diana's funeral

He defends monarchy

Some papers pledge restraint in use of photos of young princes

September 08, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair lunched with Queen Elizabeth II and defended his country's beleaguered monarchy yesterday, while some press barons heeded a call from Prince Charles and began retreating from intrusive coverage of the royal family.

On the day after the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales, Blair sought to heal the emotional and political wounds in a still grief-stricken nation.

He revealed that shortly before her death, Diana had agreed to serve as a special ambassador for Britain, and he praised Britain's monarchy, which was widely accused of being aloof during the national trauma.

Blair said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., "The royal family has had a very hard time this week. The way they've coped with it is to their credit."

Blair added that the royal family had accepted the need to modernize and was stronger than it was one week before.

With prodding from Blair and his advisers, the royal family worked feverishly to repair its image in the last two days leading to Diana's funeral.

Queen Elizabeth walked among mourners, saluted Diana in a national address and ordered the Union Jack lowered to half staff at Buckingham Palace.

And in an extraordinary moment, Elizabeth bowed as Diana's coffin passed by Buckingham Palace during Saturday's funeral procession.

After his interview, Blair went to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to have lunch with the queen and to discuss the future of the British monarchy. Details of the meeting were not disclosed.

The royal family also received public support from Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party.

But Ashdown said the relationship between the government and the governed had been altered.

"I think they have told us the kind of society they want," Ashdown said in a BBC interview. "What we heard so strongly is that they want a compassionate society, a fairer society, a more decent society, a more just society.

Meanwhile, Charles issued a plea to give his sons Princes William, 15, and Harry, 12, "time and space" after their mother's death.

"The last thing they need is to face a blast of flashguns when they go back to school," said a spokeswoman for the Prince of Wales.

The princes spent yesterday with their father at his home at Highgrove in western England, where they went Saturday after Diana was buried in a private ceremony at her family's estate about 70 miles north of London.

Britain's tabloid press has been facing fierce criticism in the past week. Diana was killed with her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul, while fleeing photographers Aug. 31 in Paris.

Diana's brother, Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer, characterized her as "the most hunted person of the modern age."

The Independent of London pledged in an editorial to be published today to shun private photos of the boy princes, who were the focus of world attention as they followed their mother's coffin to funeral services at Westminster Abbey. The editorial said, "we have no more wish to be publicity agents for the monarchy than to be incessant voyeurs of it. A story is over. Let the sequel be written in another way."

The Sun of London, the nation's top tabloid, said in an editorial to be published today that the paper "has no intention of carrying photographs which invade the privacy of Princes William and Harry."

And the Daily Mail was due to announce that "no 'paparazzi' pictures were to be purchased without the knowledge of its chairman."

The Mirror, another tabloid, announced the paper would "work swiftly" to protect the princes "from intrusive paparazzi photography."

The paper also vowed to give Charles every support in the coming years.

Britons continued to have difficulty dealing with Diana's death.

Tens of thousands of people made a pilgrimage yesterday to Diana's former home at Kensington Palace, bearing flowers and waiting in line to sign condolence books.

Roads were closed heading toward Althorp House in Northamptonshire, as mourners flocked to the gates of the Spencer family estate where Diana was privately buried Saturday.

The million or more flowers that blanket royal palaces will soon be sent to hospitals, senior citizen homes or the compost heap.

Sympathy cards will be collected. Condolence books will remain open to the public for a few more days.

Blair urged the British people to make Diana's legacy "a better and more compassionate Britain," and vowed to create a permanent memorial to the princess.

In the BBC interview, he said, "I think, as we look at it now, what we say is, 'Let there be some good that comes out of this. Let it not just be an event that has happened, that we have grieved over that passes and that does not have lasting significance."

Blair also confirmed that just weeks before her death, he had concluded that Diana could serve as a special "ambassador" for Britain.

Diana had sought such a role for at least the last year, but had been rebuffed by the previous Conservative government and insiders at Britain's Foreign Office, who feared she could become a political liability.

"I thought that she was someone that was known the world over -- more than respected simply, loved by people," Blair said.

He said on such issues as banning land mines, Diana could "just clarify for people what was the right thing to do."

"That in itself was an extraordinary tribute and I felt there were all sorts of ways that could have been harness and used for the good of people," he said.

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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