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Long Lines, Common Grief Bring Mourners Together

Aftermath: The wait to pay respects gives admirers time to remember Princess Diana, make contact with each other.


LONDON — At midnight, when Sue Moulder and her 17-year-old daughter, Alison, joined a seven-hour line of mourners paying last respects to Diana, princess of Wales, the whispering crowd whose glistening umbrellas bobbed up and down ahead was still all suspicious, old-fashioned English reserve.

Like the thousands of other people here, shuffling quietly forward through the trees outside the palace where their dead heroine's coffin lies, the Moulders at first seemed unlikely participants in this romantic quest.

Cozy in their layers of sweatpants, sweaters, jackets and woolen socks, they ignored others in the line, chatting quietly among themselves about the details of their family life. Every few minutes, they dipped into the big bag of traditional, starchy comfort food that they had brought along to see them through this rainy night: cookies, white-bread sandwiches and flasks of cocoa.

The rain came off and on. At 2 a.m., it resumed. "Oh well, mustn't grumble," Sue Moulder said. There was scarcely a murmur of complaint as thousands of other stoics put up their umbrellas and prepared to suffer in silence.

But, as the night wore on, that English caution vanished.

By 3 a.m., the Moulders and other once-shy people up and down the line began to shed their inhibitions. "Go on, have on!" a boisterous youth grinned, passing up and down with his own huge bag of sticky cookies. When the Moulders looked down and shook their heads, he shook the bag invitingly and pleaded again: "They're free! They taste great! Someone must want one!" Hesitantly, the women smiled back and dipped into the bag.

In this little group, and others, strangers then began sharing their loving memories of the nonconformist princess whom they claim as the symbol of their own discontent with England's traditional social order.

Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed, were killed in a car crash in Paris last weekend, along with their driver. The crash abruptly ended years of conflict between the spontaneous Diana and the more rigid British establishment personified by her ex-husband, Prince Charles.

"Diana was wonderful, she was just everything," said Al Jackson, 22, a chirpy bike messenger who fetched coffee through the night for the Moulders and others. He planned to spend the next two days living rough in central London parks so he would be sure of a place at her funeral on Saturday. "And you know what I liked best about her? She stood up to the establishment, and she didn't let the old gray suits push her about."

The feeling that gripped the crowd, dominated by women, non-whites, people in wheelchairs, the young and the poor--all vulnerable groups charmed by the spontaneous Diana--was disappointment with the royal family that rejected her in life and is now widely seen, especially by Britain's have-nots, as dishonoring her even in death.

"I've been crying all week, on and off, but that's passed now," said Chris, a 36-year-old secretary who lives near London's Heathrow Airport. "It was deciding to come here that did it; it feels like a pilgrimage, like I can change something by showing that I care. And things need changing."

Resentment against the royal family, known in slang as "The Firm," has focused on their decision to remain quietly in faraway Scotland while their overwhelmed subjects spread cellophane-wrapped bouquets, candles, photographs of Diana and Fayed, and emotional messages.

Ironically, public anger also has focused on two points of very traditional bits of British establishment protocol--the stripping of the title "her royal highness" from Diana's name when she and Charles divorced in 1996, and the official refusal to hoist a mourning flag at the queen's London home, Buckingham Palace.

In sharp contrast to the hands-off royal approach, Fayed's father, the Egyptian billionaire Mohammed Fayed, who owns London's grandest department store, Harrods, has aroused affection by exhibiting red-eyed sorrow at his own son's funeral this week and with his support of the huge wave of love for Diana.

All night Wednesday, Fayed had Harrods vans deliver free tea, coffee and cookies to the crowds waiting outside St. James' Palace.

"Diana found more happiness in a few weeks with Dodi than she did during 15 years with 'The Firm,' " read one anonymous comment pinned to a bunch of flowers. "May this be some consolation to the [al Fayed] family at this terrible time."

"Diana," read another note, pinned to a railing, "others are at fault and this is the price you pay. 'The Firm' were unable to accept your popularity. For us you were THE queen of England."

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