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PRINCESS DIANA: 1961-1997

Princess Diana Brought Home to Grieving Nation

Britain: Prince Charles escorts ex-wife's body as world mourns her death in Paris crash. Anger rises at paparazzi who chased her car. Royal family weighs funeral plans.

September 01, 1997|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — Princess Diana, perhaps the world's best-loved woman, came home to Britain on Sunday in a casket from a lovers' holiday, welcomed by a nation grieving the loss of its "people's princess."

From across Britain, across France where she died and across the world came tears and tributes Sunday for the tall, willowy blond who touched the hearts of millions but never found lasting happiness herself.

With the pain came anger at the international press corps, particularly the freelance photographers who hounded Diana and were pursuing her car when it crashed in Paris early Sunday morning, killing the princess; her companion, Harrods heir Dodi Fayed; and their driver. A British bodyguard survived with serious injuries.

"Bastards!" a middle-aged mourner screamed at photographers outside Buckingham Palace on Sunday morning. But commentators sensed guilt too, as people wondered if a nation's obsession with Diana also had contributed to her untimely death at age 36.

"I always believed the press would kill her in the end. But not even I could imagine that they would take such a direct hand in her death as seems to be the case," Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, said in a statement he read to reporters in South Africa, where he lives.

French police were questioning seven photographers who were chasing the car carrying Diana and Fayed, scion of Egyptian billionaire Mohammed Fayed, when it crashed in a tunnel near the River Seine in Paris.

Amid the tumult, the princess' body was returned in eerie silence to a Royal Air Force base outside London. Not a public word was spoken as an honor guard unloaded the casket draped in the red-and-gold royal standard and slowly marched it to a waiting hearse in the late afternoon sunshine.

Prince Charles, Diana's former husband and Britain's heir to the throne, stood at attention alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair as mute symbols of a country grappling to accept Diana's passing.

Earlier, Charles had flown to Paris to collect the body. Charles, accompanied by Diana's two sisters, went to the hospital with French President Jacques Chirac to thank doctors there for their efforts in trying to save the princess.

In Scotland, locals and tourists silently lined narrow lanes outside Balmoral Castle, where Queen Elizabeth II consoled her grandsons, Prince William and Prince Harry. Diana was to have returned to London on Sunday to be with her sons during the last few days of their summer vacation.

Instead, the boys attended services at a small country church with their father, along with the black-clad queen and her husband, Prince Philip.

Officials at Buckingham Palace conferred with government ministers Sunday to arrange the princess' funeral later this week. Details will be announced today, the palace said. To be answered is whether Diana, not technically a member of the royal family since her divorce, should nevertheless receive a state funeral. It was a decision that rested with the royal family Sunday night.

Fayed was buried in the southern English town of Woking on Sunday evening, police said. A police spokesman said: "The service is being conducted now at a cemetery in Woking. The family have insisted that it is private, and we are respecting their wishes."

Dazed Mourners Outside Palaces

Outside Buckingham Palace, thousands milled in shock, some with flowers picked from neighboring parks. Long lines of mourners, many seeming dazed, filed past Diana's home, Kensington Palace, trailing tears, flowers and anguish.

"Diana, you are the queen of our hearts," read one card, echoing the princess herself, who once said that was her greatest ambition.

On Sunday, traditional British reserve cracked. Comfort-seeking strangers embraced in Diana's honor. Buckingham Palace opened a condolence page on its Web site: http://www.royal.gov.uk

No corner of the kingdom was untouched, from the heart of England to the hills of Wales and the highlands of Scotland. Flags flew at half-staff. The BBC scrapped its scheduled programming, offering hymns and news in its stead.

A hastily arranged service at St. Paul's Cathedral, where Charles and Diana married in 1981, drew 2,000 mourners from all faiths. At Harrods, London's famous department store, the company's green-and-gold flag, usually flanked by the flags of world nations, waved alone at half-staff in a gentle breeze on a sad and bewildering Sunday for Britain.

"I feel like everyone else in this country today. I am utterly devastated," said Blair, the prime minister, fighting back tears. "She was the people's princess, and that is how she will remain in our hearts and our memories forever."

'We Could Not Revive Her'

Diana reportedly never regained consciousness after the crash, which came as she and Fayed were apparently en route to one of the Fayed family's apartments after dining at the Hotel Ritz, which is owned by the family.

Despite extensive surgery, "we could not revive her," said Dr. Bruno Riou, anesthesiologist at La Pitie-Salpetriere hospital.

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