The Uneasy Facts About the Royal Family's Reaction to Princess Diana's Accident
It’s been 21 years since the death of Princess Diana, also known as the “People’s Princess”, and her legacy lives on through her sons, Princes William and Harry. Many still remember her fondly, but she is a complicated subject for the royal family that some fans might not understand still. Let’s take an in-depth look into what happened to the British nobles after the tragic crash of 1997.
The Princess of Wales died in 1997 at the age of 36 years old, and the rest of the family was forced to move on as best as they could through such a tough time. However, the public was not alright with those that they did not display emotions. Diana was known for connecting with all kinds of people during a difficult period in the country.
She was a bridge between common folks and the royal family, who many struggled to relate to. Diana was adored by the people and understood because she struggled to adapt to being royal. After the accident, the Queen was not emotional enough for the public, and it was the first time in her reign that the people were not alright with the monarch.
There have always been critics of the monarchy, in general, but in 1997, her reaction brought public opinion to a new low. One major headline read, “SHOW US YOU CARE!” However, Elizabeth II had more important things to deal with than what others thought of her. After all, she received that call in the middle of the night while she was staying at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
She couldn’t believe the news, and according to royal biographer Ingrid Seward in ‘The Queen's Speech: An Intimate Portrait of the Queen in Her Own Words’, her first thought was,
"Someone must have greased the brakes.”
The Princess was declared dead at 3 a.m. BST on August 31, 1997. Prince Charles and his sons were also at Balmoral Castle.
He heard about it from the British Ambassador, and the author of ‘The Diana Chronicles’ Tina Brown said, “He was absolutely distraught. He fell apart. He knew, instantly, that this was going to be a terrible thing, that...he will be blamed, that they will be blamed, for the death of Diana." Of course, “they” meant everyone in the royal family.
Even the National Grid recorded a power surge because the entire population had turned on their televisions and tea kettles to calm themselves down. Every channel would play the national anthem at the hour mark. They were all waiting for the family to return to Buckingham Palace and make a public statement. However, the Queen stayed in Scotland with William and Harry.
Meanwhile, the capital city of England was in complete sorrow. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, talked to the press, stating, “Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana's family, in particular, her two sons, the two boys. Our hearts go out to them. We are today a nation, in Britain, in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us.”
"She was a wonderful, and a warm, human being. Though her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy, she touched the lives of so many others, in Britain, throughout the world, with joy and with comfort. How many times should we remember her, in how many different ways? With the sick, the dying, with the children, with the needy—when with just a look, or a gesture that spoke so much more than words, she would reveal to all of us the depth of her compassion and her humanity.”
"You know how difficult things were for her from time to time, I'm sure we could only guess at, but the people everywhere—not just here in Britain, everywhere—they kept faith with Princess Diana. They liked her, they loved her, and they regarded her as one of the people. She was the 'People's Princess.' And that's how she will stay, how she will remain, in our hearts and in our memories, forever."
THINGS TURNED WORRISOME FOR THE ROYALS
Blair’s words surprised the people, especially because the British are not known for how they express their feelings. He had been in office for just four months at the time, and many wondered how he would face his first hurdle. Back at Balmoral, Prince Charles and the Queen decided not to tell William and Harry until they woke up the next morning.
Prince Charles was 13 years older than Diana and only met her a couple of time before they got married on July 29, 1981. They were separated since 1992, which the Queen calls her “annus horribilis”, but their divorce became official in 1996. The heir to the throne suddenly had to mourn the loss of his ex-wife, the mother of his children.
At the time, Diana was still the Princess of Wales but not Her Royal Highness anymore. She still lived at Kensington Palace, used the royal airplane and could use St. James’ Palace. Meanwhile, Prince Charles lived at Highgrove in Gloucester. They divided the time with their kids equally. After hearing the news of Diana’s death, he wanted to take a plane to Paris to claim the body.
In ‘Diana: 7 Days That Shook the Windsors’, they revealed that Elizabeth II had said no to his request, but her son changed her mind. Prince Harry wanted to accompany her father, but Charles did not allow it as he was too young. In the BBC documentary ‘Diana, 7 Days’, Harry talked about his father and how he acted during the hardest time in their family.
"One of the hardest things for a parent to have to do is tell your children that your other parent has died. How you deal with that, I don't know. But he was there for us. He was the one out of two left. And he tried to do his best and to make sure that we were protected and looked after. But he was going through the same grieving process as well."
The young princes went to church with the Queen that Sunday and nothing was mentioned about their mother. Prince Charles went to Paris with Diana’s sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Baroness Jane Fellowes. On their way to the airport, it was reported that Charles told the British ambassador,
“It all seems unreal."
While Prince Charles acted properly, the public quickly took issue with the fact that the Queen was in no rush to return to London. She and her husband, Prince Philip, were distracting Harry and William with the help of several nannies and the company of Peter and Zara Phillips, Princess Anne’s children. In the BBC special, Prince William talked about his grandmother during that period.
"At the time, you know, my grandmother wanted to protect her two grandsons, and my father as well. Our grandmother deliberately removed the newspapers, and things like that, so there was nothing in the house at all. So we didn't know what was going on."
Prince William apparently struggled with the fact that his parents were dating other people. He had a problem with his mother just a few days before her accident. He did not like the pictures of her on Dodi Fayed’s yacht. Although he had vacationed at the Al Fayed’s St. Tropez estate, he was not happy about the tabloids. He also had no interest in meeting Camilla Parker Bowles.
William was grateful that he and his brother were given the time to mourn in private and away from the mess back in England. However, they returned to London on the same plane, breaking major protocol. Prince William also talked about the Queen,
“She felt very torn between being the grandmother to William and Harry, and her queen role.”
“And I think she— everyone—was surprised and taken aback by the scale of what happened and the nature of how quickly it all happened."
Things were turning ugly quickly. Earl Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother, had a broadcasted statement, saying, “This is not the time for recriminations, but for sadness. However, I would say I always believed the press would kill her in the end." He said that every editor and media that earned money from her pictures "has blood on his hands today."
It seems that Diana purposefully deceived the media, at least that is what press secretary Jane Atkinson told Vanity Fair in 2013.
"She had a very tetchy relationship with the media. There was a lot of mistrust about the information they received from her, and a lot of rivalry for stories."
The Princess was trying to hide her relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. They began dating in 1995, and she apparently still loved him while seeing Dodi Fayed. Rumors stated that she was about to get engaged to the billionaire’s son, although they had dated for only six weeks. Before their infamous stay at the Ritz in Paris on August 30, Dodi had taken Diana to another estate, the Bois de Boulogne, which was previously owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. However, Diana did not want to stay there.
In ‘Diana, 7 Days’, Prince Harry said, "I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the fact that the people that chased her, into the tunnel, were the same people that were taking photographs of her while she was still dying in the backseat of the car.” He was just 12 years old when his mother passed, and the prince has talked about suffering from anger issues due to the trauma.
THE MEDIA TURNS ON THE ROYALS
He got into fights with paparazzi in his 20s, and it wasn’t until later, when Prince William encouraged him, that he sought professional help. Right before her death, the media had turned on Diana after discovering that she was not the only one who had an affair. However, after the accident, all those things disappeared, replaced by negative reports about the royal family’s reaction to her passing.
The people cried on the streets in front of Kensington Palace, while the entrance was covered with bouquets and tributes. But, none of that was for the royal family. Even at Balmoral Castle, news about the animosity for the Queen was heard. On September 4, her press officer defended her, stating that they were “hurt” that the people would think her “indifferent” during this awful time for the nation.
They also said that they were caring for Princes William and Harry. The Queen also allowed the flag to fly at Buckingham Palace for the first time without her there. Charles’ brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, had to walk among the crowds of waiting people. That same night, William and Harry were allowed outside Balmoral to see the flowers and messages left at the gates.
They went back to London on Friday, September 5, just before the funeral, and Queen Elizabeth II finally addressed the country in her first live broadcast in 50 years. She was dressed in black while recording from Buckingham Palace.
"Since last Sunday's dreadful news, we have seen throughout Britain and around the world an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana's death. We have all been trying in our different ways to cope. It is not easy to express a sense of loss since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings—disbelief, incomprehension, anger, and concern for those who remain. We have all felt those emotions in these last few days. So what I say to you now, as your queen and as a grandmother, I say from my heart."
"First, I want to pay tribute to Diana myself. 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. This week at Balmoral, we have all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss that they and the rest of us have suffered. No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her."
She also thanked the people for their encouraging messages and hoped that the nation would join the following days to honor the late princess. Princes William and Harry didn’t want to walk behind their mother’s casket during the procession to Westminster Abbey, but Prince Philip told them, “If you don’t walk, you may regret it later.”
According to Sally Bedell Smith’s ‘Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbably Life’, their grandfather also said, “I think you should do it. If I walk, will you walk with me?" The young princes walked with the procession near St. James’ Palace. Prince Harry talked about that moment in 2017, stating, “I don't think any child should be asked to do that under any circumstances. I don't think it would happen today.”
However, he also said that he was “glad” to have done it regardless. Prince William added, “But I have to say, when it becomes that personal as walking behind your mother's funeral cortege, it goes to another level of duty." Even Charles Spencer had trouble with that idea, and said it was “very bizarre and cruel”.
"Eventually I was lied to and told they wanted to do it, which of course they didn't but I didn't realize that," he said. "We would walk a hundred yards and hear people sobbing and then walk round a corner and somebody wailing and shouting out messages of love to Diana or William and Harry, and it was a very, very tricky time."
Additionally, Spencer’s eulogy berated everything that led to Diana’s depression. "It is a tribute to her level-headedness and strength that despite the most bizarre life imaginable after her childhood, she remained intact, true to herself...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. It is baffling.”
"My own and only explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age. She would want us today to pledge ourselves to protecting her beloved boys, William and Harry, from a similar fate and I do this here, Diana, on your behalf. We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair."
He also promised that Diana’s side of the family would do everything they could to raise William and Harry “so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned”. During his interview with BBC Radio 4, he said that the Queen was alright with his speech because he had the right to say anything he wanted during his sister’s funeral.
However, it was speculated, by author Tina Brown, that her brother wanted to assuage some of his guilt because he had not taken in Diana when she asked for refuge at Althorp during her worst times. The Queen wrote a letter to her aide Lady Henriette Abel Smith, and it was publicized in 2017. It seemed to confirm her sincere thoughts.
"It was indeed dreadfully sad, and she is a huge loss to the country. But the public reaction to her death, and the service in the Abbey seem to have united people round the world in a rather inspiring way. William and Harry have been so brave and I am very proud of them."
It was said that 2 billion people watched the funeral all over the world, and after that, Charles and the kids stayed at Highgrove House. They remained away from the public for two weeks. Meanwhile, Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla, which was officially public knowledge, took a tiny halt. Charles was going through such a tough time because of the country’s grief.
As he took care of his children in the weeks after the funeral, his public image - which was horrible after his affair with Camilla went public - started to turn positive. However, Bedell Smith alleges that Prince Charles’s private secretary was secretly feeding the press information that the Queen did not want to send the royal plane to get Diana’s body.
Furthermore, apparently, she did not want a public funeral either. Elizabeth II’s press office denied those statements, and a source told the Daily Telegraph, "This is not a game where one member of the royal family gets more credit than the other." But, Charles relationship with his mother was still ice cold because of Camilla Parker Bowles.
It was even said that the Queen and Philip did not attend Prince Charles’ 50th birthday party in November 1998 because she had planned it. Fortunately, the world was finally forgiving Prince Charles, and he was working hard to reach out to the public. He also mended fences with Diana’s brother during a trip with Prince Harry to South Africa in November 2017.
Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning monarch in British history, and she remains as the most popular member of the family. At the age of 92, there are still a lot of people that do not know about her feelings after Princess Diana’s death and the truth about her life. Actress Helen Mirren won an Academy Award for playing her in Peter Morgan’s ‘The Queen’, and then won a Tony for the Broadways show ‘QE2’.
Mirren talked to Playbill in 2015, "I've met the queen on a couple of occasions—usually, quite public occasions with a lot of other people there—and she has always been incredibly gracious, but she never mentions my playing her. I think that's absolutely appropriate. The royal family—and the queen, in particular — have always very liberal because we come from a country that has free speech.”
Read more: How Charles Fell For Camilla: Explained
“There have been films mocking them and suggesting they were Nazis and abusing them in all kinds of different ways, and, through it all, they have never said a word. They just let that happen. They don't defend themselves. They don't say anything. In a sense, it's not their role to critique that particular world. Likewise, it applies to a film that I know was appreciated by the people around the queen—but the queen herself would never say anything."
In the film ‘The Queen’, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) asked her if she shouldn’t return to London quickly after the news got out. Mirren, acting as Elizabeth, said, “I doubt there is anyone who knows the British people more than I do, Mr. Blair, nor who has greater faith in their wisdom and judgment.
"And it is my belief that they will any moment reject this... this 'mood,' which is being stirred up by the press, in favor of a period of restrained grief, and sober, private mourning. That's the way we do things in this country, quietly, with dignity. That's what the rest of the world has always admired us for."
She was obviously wrong, and it serves as another way Princess Diana changed the face of British royalty. Let us know what you think of her reaction to that tragic event. If you liked this article, share it with your friends who were shocked to hear the 1997 news. See you next time!
Source: E Online, Daily Mail, Youtube/Steven Baldesco, Youtube/Leipzig725, E Online, Daily Star, The Guardian, Mirror, Vanity Fair, Daily Mail, Youtube/AP Archive, The Sun, The Guardian, The Guardian, ABC News, Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, Playbill, Harpers Bazaar