A Look Back At Princess Diana's Heartbreaking Funeral

Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997, and was buried on September 6, 1997. Her funeral was watched on television by an estimated 2.5 billion people around the world, and millions of mourners showed up in the streets of London to watch the funeral procession as it made its way toward Westminster Abbey. 

Diana's youngest son Prince Harry has spoken about his experience on the day of his mother's funeral. In 2017, he recalled in the documentary "Diana, 7 Days" how he felt being a part of the procession that led toward the Abbey. As he put it, "Genuinely, I don't have an opinion on whether that was right or wrong. I am glad I was part of it. Looking back on it now, I am very glad I was part of it" (via People). In other instances, Harry has indicated that he doesn't think it was appropriate that he was marching behind his mother's coffin at the age of 12.

Like Prince Harry, a lot of people have had a lot of conflicting opinions about Princess Diana and even her funeral. The royal family famously waited five days before issuing an official statement following her death, and Princess Margaret did not join in the family's demonstration of respect at Diana's funeral (via Daily Express). Still, the former royal known forever as the People's Princess was mourned by many people around the world. Here's a look at Princess Diana's 1997 funeral.

Buckingham Palace flew the Union Jack at half-staff after Princess Diana's death

The royal family was criticized for seeming slow to publicly acknowledge the death of Princess Diana. Queen Elizabeth reportedly insisted that the family stay at Balmoral Castle, where they were already spending part of the summer holiday. The public felt that the queen and the rest of the family were too cold in their lack of a response, prompting newspaper headlines decrying the family and accusing them of not caring (via Reader's Digest).

Queen Elizabeth also waited five days before flying the Union Jack flag at half-staff at Buckingham Palace. This was a big deal once the flag was flown, because the Union Jack typically does not fly at Buckingham Palace if the monarch is not home, but it seemed too long for a lot of people. Ultimately, Queen Elizabeth and the family came back to London, and on September 5, the queen gave a live broadcast address for the first time in 50 years.

In her statement, the queen noted in part her admiration for Diana as a mother. As she said, "She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her — for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys" (via The Washington Post).

Princess Diana's coffin was escorted by Queen Elizabeth's Life Guard

The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment at Horse Guards manages the soldiers who make up the Queen's Life Guard or the King's Life Guard. These soldiers have worked in this capacity since 1660, and every single weekday the soldiers ride horseback from Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge to Buckingham Palace to change places at 11 a.m. (per The Household Division).

The guards have a number of duties, including managing who can and cannot enter through the Arch of Horse Guards and taking part in a number of parades (per Changing Guard). Members of the Life Guard were also selected to escort Princess Diana's coffin through London ahead of her funeral. As reported by Los Angeles Times at the time, Diana's funeral was a blend of modernity and tradition. Expert David Williamson explained to the outlet, "It will be a ceremonial funeral with an escort of Horse Guards, and the coffin will ride on a gun carriage."

Even Buckingham Palace acknowledged the unusual nature of Diana's funeral. A spokesperson for the royal family told the newspaper that the funeral wasn't exactly royal, but was exactly Diana. As they said, "The status is irrelevant. This is a unique funeral for a unique person."

Prince William and Prince Harry walked behind their mother's coffin

In a move that was seen as appropriate at the time but in retrospect some consider potentially harmful, Prince William and Prince Harry, who were both underage at the time of their mother's death, walked behind their mother's coffin alongside their father, King Charles, and their uncle, Charles Spencer. Harry in particular has spoken out in recent years about the impact that walking behind his mother's coffin had on him, especially as he was only 12 years old and still struggling to process the loss of his mother in the first place. 

In June 2017, Harry opened up to Newsweek about the experience. As he put it, "My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television. I don't think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don't think it would happen today."

Harry has also admitted that the day of his mother's funeral and her untimely passing, in general, had a serious impact on the rest of his life. As he told the outlet, he began to try to understand himself in his mid-20s after getting "very close" to a total breakdown. He explained, "My mother died when I was very young. I didn't want to be in the position I was in, but I eventually ... decided to use my role for good."

Princess Diana's brother gave a controversial eulogy

Charles Spencer gave a lengthy and pointed eulogy at his sister's funeral. As noted by Town & Country Magazine, he reportedly made Queen Elizabeth angry with some of what he put to paper and then spoke aloud, including a passage that indicated he intended to raise Prince William and Prince Harry in a way that would run somewhat defiantly against the royal family. As Spencer said, "I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned."

Diana and her brother were close in their childhood, and he continued to advocate for his sister long after her passing in 1997. In 2020, Charles Spencer insisted that his sister had been set up by BBC interviewer Martin Bashir. He reacted negatively to the network's attempt at an apology for deceiving both him and his sister ahead of her infamous 1995 interview. As Spencer put it, "They haven't apologized for the fake bank statements and other deceit that led to me introducing Martin Bashir to my sister" (via The Guardian).

King Charles wore a suit that Princess Diana bought for him

While the fashion choices of the royal family weren't front and center at Princess Diana's funeral, there was a fair bit of attention paid to the suit that King Charles wore, most notably because it was blue and not the standard black more commonly associated with funerals. The attention was compounded by the fact that Prince William, Prince Harry, and Diana's brother all wore black suits, and Showbiz Cheatsheet has noted that some people believed Charles' choice of suit color was disrespectful.

The truth of the matter is a lot more sincere than some might have thought. Richard Eden, an editor for the Daily Mail, explained to Palace Confidential that Charles wore the suit because it's what Diana would have preferred. As Eden said, "If you look at Prince Charles at her funeral, he didn't wear black, he wore a navy suit, and that's because Diana liked him best in navy." Eden went on to note that both Prince William and Prince Harry wore navy suits in 2021 when they unveiled a statue of their mother in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace.

The Daily Express reported that Diana even helped pick out the suit that Charles ultimately wore to her funeral, and that the future king wore the suit as a nod to the years that the two were married to one another.

Princess Diana's mother attended the funeral

Princess Diana and her mother Frances Shand Kydd didn't have the easiest relationship. Diana's parents separated in 1967 after Kydd fell in love with someone else; when they divorced in 1969, her father was awarded sole custody of Diana and her siblings. Numerous sources have given credence to the idea that Diana and her mother were not particularly close, something that didn't change after Diana married King Charles.

In fact, Diana later recalled to Andrew Morton that her mother was unable to support her in the weeks leading up to her wedding. As Diana said, "My mother let me down terribly with the wedding. She kept crying ... saying that she couldn't cope with the pressure" (via People). The lack of relationship continued well into Diana's time in the royal family, with Diana's personal chef telling People, "She would ring up and be verbally abusive to the princess."

Despite the fact that they were not on speaking terms when Diana died, Kydd attended her funeral alongside Diana's sisters Lady Sarah and Lady Jane. As reported by Reader's Digest, it's believed that Kydd said racist things to Diana after finding out her daughter was in a relationship with Dr. Hasnat Khan.

Celebrities attended Princess Diana's funeral

Princess Diana was known and loved by people all over the world, and some of those people included celebrities who quietly attended her funeral to pay their respects. These guests included her close friends Elton John, who performed his song "Candle in the Wind" during the service, as well as George Michael. As reported by Showbiz Cheatsheet, there were a number of other singers at the funeral as well, such as Luciano Pavarotti, Mariah Carey, Sting, and Bryan Adams. 

Diana's funeral was also attended by a number of actors and Hollywood elite, including Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, and Kidman's then-husband Tom Cruise. Diana had been introduced to Cruise and Kidman when she attended the London premiere of "Far and Away" in 1992. Judy Wade wrote in "Diana: The Intimate Portrait" that Kidman was perhaps threatened by Diana: "That explains why Nicole Kidman turned down roles with Diana every time and wasn't happy that her best friend Naomi Watts accepted. Nicole continues to hold a grudge, even though she divorced Tom, and the woman who posed a threat died" (via Showbiz Cheatsheet).

Hillary Rodham Clinton also attended Diana's funeral and did so under the direction that she must avoid taking questions from the press while in the U.K. Bob Bradtke, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy, considered Clinton "the most prominent guest at the funeral" (per The Guardian).

Elton John performed Candle in the Wind '97 at the funeral

Elton John was a close friend of Princess Diana, and it wasn't too much of a surprise that he was asked to perform a song in her honor at her funeral. John ended up performing "Candle in the Wind '97" at the funeral, a song that was based on his hit "Candle in the Wind" which was originally written about Marilyn Monroe. John asked his songwriter, Bernie Taupin, to rework the original to fit the moment, as the original was a favorite of Princess Diana (via Mental Floss). 

Interestingly, it seems that John almost didn't perform this song at all. In December 2021, records from Westminster Abbey revealed that John initially planned to sing "Your Song" at the funeral instead. But that draft of the program was changed by Dr. Wesley Carr, the dean of Westminster Abbey, who requested that the song be swapped out (via The Guardian).

The song went on to become enormously popular, ultimately being crowned the second-highest-sold single of all time. 

Millions of people lined the streets of London for Princess Diana's funeral

While approximately 2,000 people attended Princess Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey, many thousands more showed up and lined the streets of London on the day of the observance. As noted by Reader's Digest, at one point the line to sign the condolence book at St. James Palace took nearly seven hours for mourners to work their way through.

The Evening Chronicle has estimated that 3 million people may have shown up in the streets of London to honor Princess Diana. Of those, tens of thousands were believed to have lined the path toward Westminster Abbey, where the funeral service was held. The outlet also noted that there were other ways that tribute was paid to Diana, writing at the time, "Across the region shops, restaurants, and charity stores will close in respect." Additionally, mourners showed a strong desire to take Diana's favorite flower to stand outside the Abbey. The outlet claimed, "Stocks of Princess Diana's favorite flower, a white lily called Casablanca, have been wiped out as North East mourners snap them up."

In addition to those who were able to be there in person, the funeral was watched on TV by another 2.5 billion people (per History).

Queen Elizabeth bowed to Princess Diana's coffin

Queen Elizabeth was accused of not showing enough emotion following Princess Diana's death, especially after it took several days for Buckingham Palace to issue a comment on her passing. As The Washington Post noted, a lot of people were initially confused about why there was no official statement immediately after, and for some, that confusion gave way to anger. 

The queen surprised some when she chose to bow to Princess Diana's coffin as it was driven in front of her. The move was unusual because all members of the royal family are required to bow or curtsy to the sitting monarch, but this doesn't typically work the other way around. As the Post reported, since the queen was not required to bow or otherwise physically indicate anything at all, this was a breach of protocol and a way to honor her former daughter-in-law.

However, not everyone in the family demonstrated the same kind of respect. Princess Margaret, the queen's sister, did not bow when Diana's coffin passed. Just as her sister's decision to honor Diana was noticed, Margaret's decision to not do so was noticed. Andrew Morton wrote that "Margaret gave the most cursory of nods, looking for all the world like she wanted to be elsewhere."

King Charles and Charles Spencer disagreed about Princess Diana's funeral

Some outlets have reported that when it came down to planning Princess Diana's funeral, and more specifically deciding what role Prince William and Prince Harry would have in the funeral itself, King Charles and Diana's brother Charles Spencer had a major disagreement. In his book "Battle of Brothers: The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult," author Robert Lacey claimed that Spencer believed Diana never would have wanted her sons to walk behind her coffin. Lacey wrote that a phone call between the two men "had ended with the earl slamming down the phone on his brother-in-law after Charles had made a particularly offensive comment about Diana" (via People).

The author went on to add that Spencer reportedly felt that Charles and the royal family were taking the funeral and using it for their own purposes. In the end, King Charles clearly got his way, and Harry and William joined the procession.