Why I didn′t watch Princess Diana′s funeral | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 25.08.2017
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Culture

Why I didn't watch Princess Diana's funeral

Like the 9/11 terrorist attacks or 2005 London bombings, the Brits remember where they were when Princess Diana died. Abigail Frymann Rouch shares how it impacted her 21st birthday - and her mourning for her own mother.

I was in bed, coming round slowly, and my boyfriend's stepfather woke me. He was making no sense. Princess Diana had been killed? In a road accident? She was only 36.

It was 1997, in the final days before 24-hour news and news websites. We turned on the television, I think, and after a while, I headed home: I had more immediate worries.

My father and stepmother were about to emigrate, and my sense of loss focused on them and the family home. News of the crowds and the banks of flowers swirled around me, but I shut them out.

I didn't consider joining the crowds outside the royal palaces although I lived 15 kilometers away (just over nine miles). I had to help pack the house up and decide which boxes I needed for my final year at university.

Bad timing for a funeral

The grief so curiously and visibly engulfing the nation did intrude on my preoccupations. My 21st birthday party was scheduled for Saturday, September 6. With my father and stepmother abroad, a friend had offered to host it and another was coming all the way from Wales.

Then September 6 was announced as the day of Diana's public funeral. Someone asked me if I would cancel. I was baffled - my party was to cheer me up amid my own losses. London would be at a standstill, but friends could work out ways to avoid getting stuck.

So I was not one of the 32.1 million people in Britain alone who watched the funeral on television. 

Lady Diana's funeral (picture-alliance/dpa)

DW's Abigail Frymann Rouch missed the funeral due to challenging events in her own life

I can't remember how much later it was that I watched excerpts, but I recall seeing the young Princes William and Harry trailing behind their mother's flag-draped coffin, blank, lost, watched by thousands on site and - via the cameras - millions more.

Prince Harry reflected this June, saying "I don't think any child should be asked to do that."

The loss of a mother

My ambivalence was not because I didn't care. As a child I thought the rumor that Diana had thrown herself down the stairs was terribly sad. I admired her for leaving her gloves in her car when she visited an AIDS hospice in east London - a radical step in the 1980s.

But as a girl growing up I hadn't been interested in Princess Di's style or her torrid love life, or her rather distant in-laws.

Suddenly her sons' tragedy resonated with my own: My mother had died in an accident when I was 15, the same age as William was in 1997.

But I shut out the public mourning because I had had enough grief and the publicity that accompanies untimely deaths. The princes didn't need an extra pair of eyes gawping at them.

How the monarchy has changed

Twenty years on, what has changed? Press self-regulation has been tightened and the use of shots by paparazzi - who were initially blamed for causing the fatal car crash - restricted.

Lady Diana surrounded by photographers (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Fraser)

Paparazzi have been tamed since Lady Di's death

In William and Kate, the public enjoy a royal young couple at ease with each other in a way that Charles and Diana never were. But gone is the confidence of New Labour Britain and its talented young leader, who crowned her "the people's princess": Tony Blair is still paying for the Iraq War and the nation is gnawing away at itself over Brexit.

Meanwhile, the queen has recast herself, from a silent stoic to a dignified interpreter of the national mood.

Having been criticized for remaining aloof in Scotland after Princess Diana's death, she told 9/11 survivors four years later: "Grief is the price we pay for love." Her Christmas Day speeches and other interventions become ever more pastoral.

Read more: The House of Windsor turns 100

Prince Harry has been most heart-on-sleeve. In interviews earlier this year, he depicted his difficult journey through grief, doubtless complicated by the ambiguous circumstances of his mother's death and the family's high profile.

A future king shows no weakness

Some commentators felt he was "over-sharing," although he was campaigning to raise awareness of mental health issues. Notably, William has not talked in such terms, possibly because even the modernized royals could not display such fallibility in a future king.

Princes William and Harry (picture-alliance/AP Photo/K. Wigglesworth)

Prince Harry has opened up more than William about their mother's death

William and Harry are working hard to focus public attention on their caring mother and away from the restless lover. When William gave Kate his mother's engagement ring, Princess Diana returned to the public imagination, but the gesture reinforced that she had never left her sons'.

Last month when the Duchess of Cornwall turned 70, the right-wing press hailed her "Queen Camilla" and said she would be worthy of the title when Charles becomes king.

But surveys and letters to newspapers suggest popular support for the pair has waned. The collapse of his first marriage, and Diana's many comments about it, have cast a long shadow.

Only time will tell if the nation can hold in its heart respect for Charles as king while popular affection for Diana continues to be stoked.

Meanwhile a carefully evaluated legacy of the woman who left her gloves in the car lives on in the reformed, more humanized monarchy and in the words and gestures of her sons.

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