Diana: Death Of A Princess

IT was just after 5am on a summer Sunday morning when the phone rang.
The voice on the other end told me that Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed had died in a Paris car crash.
My first sleepy reaction was one of disbelief.
The second was to get on with covering one of the biggest stories in our lifetime.
I’d been lucky enough to be the MEN’s lead reporter inside St Paul’s Cathedral for the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.
Now I was about to fulfil the same role at Diana’s Westminster Abbey funeral.
Over the following days I witnessed first hand the nation’s grief at both Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace.
I also visited the Abbey as preparations began for a unique funeral.

The 10th anniversary of Diana’s death on Aug 31 1997 has already been marked by a number of TV programmes.
There are more to come, including The Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales – an archive broadcast of the BBC’s live coverage.
It will be screened on BBC Parliament between 8.25am and 4.05pm on Sat Sept 1, at the same time as the original coverage of Sat Sept 6 1997.
The re-run includes the funeral procession from Kensington Palace, through the crowds to the Westminster Abbey service.
We’d all grown up a bit since that “royal fairytale” wedding at St Paul’s.
Looking back today at the media coverage from Wed July 29 1981, and knowing what we know now, much of it appears, frankly, laughable.
But it was absolutely right for the time.

The MEN’s front page intro read: “The Prince married his ‘Fairytale Princess’ today…with the eyes of the world following the glorious spectacle.”
The media inside St Paul’s had some of the best seats in the house at what was a massive global story.
It was the same 16 years later, although there was an initial panic when an Abbey official couldn’t find the key to a side door to let us in.
TV, radio and newspaper coverage can only convey part of the experience of being there.
You can file thousands of words, but not the physical sensations – the organ reverberation, the hairs rising on the back of the neck, the emotional charge and the hanging sense of history.
The MEN printed a special late edition that Saturday afternoon, with the headline “Farewell”.

My story began: “Westminster Abbey wept with the tears of millions today as the people said farewell to Diana.
“Grief-stricken Princes William and Harry were both in tears as they heard tributes to their mother in a funeral of almost overpowering emotion.”
Earl Spencer was just a few yards away from my seat when he made his outspoken tribute to his sister.
In the distance we could hear a faint ripple of applause from the crowds outside.
And then we felt the wave of sound roll from the back of the Abbey to the front as members of the 1,900-strong congregation joined in.
A truly extraordinary moment.
Emotions inside the Abbey also peaked when Elton John sang the re-written version of Candle In The Wind.
Several members of the press, including hard-bitten hacks, concentrated all the more on their notebooks.
Again, looking back now, you can argue that the nation was caught up in a form of collective hysteria.
But the tears of Charles, William and Harry – out of bounds to TV cameras in the Abbey – were all too real.