What Happened During Princess Diana’s Funeral?

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Princess Diana of Wales was one of the most beloved members of the British royal family. She went from Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of an Earl, to Princess Diana when she married Prince Charles in 1981. Together, the royal couple had two sons—William and Harry—before they divorced in 1996. 

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On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana passed away from injuries following a car crash in Paris, France. She was just 36 years old at the time.

Princess Diana’s funeral, which took place on September 6, 1997, left a lasting impression on England and the world.  

What Was Princess Diana’s Funeral Like? 

Approximately 2.5 billion people watched Princess Diana’s funeral on television as it was broadcast live. People all around the world felt they’d lost a friend, even if they’d never met Princess Diana in real life. 

As a charity activist and cultural icon, Princess Diana went above and beyond her work as a member of the royal family. And the scale of her funeral reflected the impact she left on those around her, and on the world as a whole.  

Location

Princess Diana’s funeral took place at Westminster Abbey in London. But the full service began almost two hours earlier at the royal residence of Kensington Palace. 

Kensington Palace

Princess Diana’s body was brought back from Paris to St. James Palace in London. From there, a hearse transported her coffin to Kensington Palace—her former home—days before the funeral took place. 

Although this wasn’t the formal procession, thousands of onlookers lined the streets of London as Princess Diana’s body was moved to Kensington Palace. Her coffin remained there until the procession, which transported her to Westminster Abbey for the funeral service. 

Westminster Abbey

The funeral service for Princess Diana took place at Westminster Abbey in London at 11:00 AM. The enormous and elaborate church is a World Heritage Site, and it’s served as the royal coronation church since 1066. It’s the final resting place of 17 English monarchs. 

The Abbey is also famous for playing host to 17 royal weddings, including the 2011 ceremony for Diana’s son, Prince William, and Kate Middleton. (Princess Diana and Prince Charles had their wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral.) 

In addition to its royal graves, Westminster Abbey is the final resting place for over 3,000 people. It has a special corner set aside just for world-famous poets, authors, and artists, including the likes of William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, and several others. Although her funeral took place at Westminster, Princess Diana was laid to rest on her family’s estate in Althorp. 

Funeral songs

Princess Diana’s funeral featured a combination of traditional hymns, classical pieces, and more current performances. Music played as people filtered into the Abbey, as well as throughout the service, and as the service came to a close.

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Welcome Music

As people found their seats at Westminster Abbey, the church’s Assistant Organist, Stephen Le Prevost, played a number of funeral songs, including hymns. 

Martin Baker, Sub-Organist of Westminster Abbey, then performed several classical pieces by Bach, Dvorak, Pachelbel, and others. 

National Anthem

After everyone was seated, the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the guests, conducted by Martin Neary, sang England’s National Anthem.

The Sentences

The Choir of Westminster Abbey continued to sing after the National Anthem came to a close, this time singing the Sentences as the procession carried Diana’s casket to the front of the Abbey. The Sentences are a compilation of Bible verses, beginning with: 

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. (St John 11: 25,26)

BBC Singers

After the formal bidding by the Reverend Dr. Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster, another hymn, and a reading by Lady Sarah McCorquodale, the BBC Singers performed a piece by Guiseppe Verdi. Lynne Dawson sang soprano. 

Elton John

Additional readings and traditional hymns followed, after which Elton John performed a re-written version of his song about Marilyn Monroe’s death. Rather than Candle in the Wind, the new tune was entitled, Goodbye, England’s Rose. 

Within months, the new version of the song was the best-selling song of all time. And the proceeds from its sales went to some of Princess Diana’s favorite charities. 

Closing Music

Princess Diana’s younger brother, the Earl Spencer, gave a tribute, and additional hymns, blessings, readings, the final Commendation, and a rare moment of silence across all of London followed. 

Then, the cortege carried Princess Diana’s casket back out of the Abbey. As they did, the choir sang Song for Athene by John Tavener. 

The Abbey organists performed classical pieces by Bach and Camille Saint-Saens as guests exited the Abbey. 

Who attended

Princess Diana’s family, including the Spencers and 43 members of the royal family, were present at Westminster Abbey. Both of her sons, Harry and William, were present during the procession and the ceremony. 

Additionally, some notable dignitaries and celebrities attended the funeral, including: 

  • Elton John
  • Richard Branson
  • Tom Cruise
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Tom Hanks
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Luciano Pavarotti 
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • James Callaghan
  • Edward Heath
  • Winston Churchill (grandson of Sir Winston Churchill)
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Queen Noor of Jordan

Procession

Princess Diana’s funeral featured a funeral procession to Westminster Abbey from Kensington Palace, as well as from the Abbey to her final resting place. The procession to the funeral was an elaborate affair, while only a single car followed the black hearse on its way to the burial. 

To the funeral

Before the funeral service at Westminster Abbey, the procession brought Princess Diana’s coffin nearly four miles from Kensington Palace. Thousands of onlookers lined the streets of Central London, throwing flowers and observing the casket as it traveled past. 

The coffin was carried on a horse-drawn gun carriage, lined on either side by Guardsmen of the Queen’s Welsh Guard. A Union flag shrouded the casket, and it was topped with three wreaths, from her brother and her two sons. 

Following her casket walked her ex-husband, Prince Charles, and her sons, Harry and William. Also in the procession were her ex-father-in-law, Prince Philip, as well as five representatives from each of 110 charities the Princess had supported. 

As the procession moved past Buckingham Palace, the Queen of England stood by and bowed her head outside the residence. 

To the burial

Following the funeral ceremony, the Queen’s Welsh Guardsmen placed Princess Diana’s coffin in the back of a plain, black hearse just outside the Abbey. The hearse returned partly back down the road Princess Diana’s coffin had traveled in the procession earlier that day. 

Thousands of onlookers, still lining the street to the Abbey, applauded the hearse as it made its way passed. Again, the respectful crowd threw flowers and observed as the sound of church bells rang out. The hearse then turned off that road to make its way to the Spencer estate for Princess Diana’s burial. 

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How and Where Was Princes Diana Buried?

Princess Diana’s family had a private ceremony for her burial later on the same day. Only Diana’s former husband, mother, sons, siblings, a close friend, and a clergyman were in attendance. 

Princess Diana was buried within the grounds of her family’s property at Althorp Park, on a small island in an ornamental lake. 

Just before her burial, the family replaced the Union flag with the Spencer family flag. 

She was buried in a simple, black cocktail dress which she’d chosen herself several weeks prior, and she held in her hands a set of rosary beads. She’d received the beads as a gift from Mother Teresa, who died the day before Princess Diana’s funeral. 

Remembering Princess Diana

Princess Diana’s death had a profound impact on her nation and the world. As a philanthropist, she helped over a hundred charities and countless people worldwide.

In her time as a member of the royal family, she touched the hearts of people everywhere. And her funeral at Westminster Abbey, watched by more than 2.5 billion people, was that of a true royal. 


Sources 

  1. “Princess Diana Biography.” A&E Television Networks. 2 April 2014.  www.biography.com/royalty/princess-diana
  2. “Westminster Abbey.” History. 26 July 2017. www.history.com/topics/british-history/westminister-abbey
  3. Lewis, Jone Johnson. “The Funeral Service of Diana, Princess Wales.” BBC. 31 January 2019. www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/diana/order.html
  4. “Princess Diana's Funeral.” www.thoughtco.com/princess-dianas-funeral-3528738
  5. “Diana's Coffin Moved Amid Emotional Scenes.” BBC. www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/diana/coffin.html

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