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Farewell, Princess

A million people jam London to witness funeral. Diana's radiance, joy, generosity are celebrated.

September 07, 1997|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thatcher and Henry A. Kissinger came for the service. So did Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Sting, Wayne Sleep and Luciano Pavarotti. Jeweler Hubble, sitting near the Italian tenor, witnessed his discomfort at not knowing the words of the hymns sung lustily by the rest of the congregation. In the same row with Pavarotti, Hubble saw a young man in a wheelchair.

Mohammed Fayed, Dodi's father, was there too.

Three generations of royals sat near the front of the cathedral, but, by prior agreement, the television cameras recording the ceremony only briefly showed their faces.

At 11 a.m., while two fellow soldiers held their bearskins hats, eight redcoats bearing the coffin followed their captain to a catafalque at the altar for the 66-minute service conducted by the Very Rev. Wesley Carr, the dean of Westminster.

"In her life Diana profoundly influenced this nation and the world," Carr said. "She kept company with kings and queens, princes and presidents, but we especially remember her humane concerns and how she met individuals and made them feel significant."

When the Westminster choir began a famous hymn, "I Vow to Thee My Country," tears were as apparent among mourners in the abbey as they were in nearby Hyde Park, where a giant crowd followed the service on a huge television screen.

Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's sister, read a lesson: "If I should die and leave you here a while . . . , complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine and I perchance may therein comfort you."

The service had been designed, like the overall ceremony, to be less formal than usual and to reflect the wishes and the personality of the deceased.

In Diana's honor, soprano Lynne Dawson sang a segment of Verdi's "Requiem," one of the princess' favorite pieces of music.

"I think we all cried, but it was not like some mausoleum. I'd say it was a typical Diana atmosphere. It was a ceremony of mourning, not of despair," said Hubble.

Capturing Diana's spirit, her other sister, Lady Jane Fellowes, read: "Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternal."

Love and compassion were the twin themes of the service. British Prime Minister Tony Blair read a lesson, 1 Corinthians 13: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not loved, I am become a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. . . . And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

Then came the tribute in song from Elton John, who had been comforted by Diana earlier this summer as they both mourned slain Italian designer Gianni Versace. He was followed by Spencer's tribute to his sister, which galvanized mourners to applause.

"I've never heard of anybody clapping at a funeral. We're British; we don't even clap at weddings," said Hubble.

"The applause moved [from the streets] into the abbey, I've never seen anything like it," said movie director Richard Attenborough.

Four on each side, the Welsh guardsmen shouldered the heavy casket after the service and carried it down the abbey steps. It was 12:06 p.m.

It was a national minute of silence, but it seemed longer. Nothing moved inside the abbey or out. People stood still in the parks, along the barriers, at train stations and airports. Then the abbey's 10 bells, each half-muffled by a piece of leather wrapped around half of its clapper, again pealed the nation's grief.

The ceremony was over, but Diana's journey home had just begun. Even in death, the princess who defied convention rewrote ritual. She rode in a black hearse this time, inside a protective arrow of police motorcycles. And the people of London in their multitude clapped her out of town.

Another small cortege assembled began to travel, this time the hearse, its outriders and a limousine taking Frances Shand Kydd, Diana's mother, to the burial ground at the Spencer estate about 80 miles north of London.

Before long, flowers tossed by mourners who lined streets for mile after mile lay heavily on the roof of the gleaming black hearse.

As the vehicle approached the M-1 motorway, its driver had to stop to remove the bouquets that were obstructing his view.

The procession formed the only northbound traffic on the motorway, and as it made its way toward Althorp, southbound vehicles were stopped as it passed. Drivers and passengers left their cars to watch, and many threw more flowers.

At one point, the driver resorted to his windshield wipers to clear the flowers away.

Nearly seven hours after leaving Kensington Palace, Diana's body passed Sue Lyddiatt standing about a quarter of a mile from the 300-acre Spencer estate. Reality came at last to Lyddiatt, just as it came to millions of others in Britain.

"It just seemed real, didn't it?" she said as the hearse headed for the estate gates and the privacy in burial that had eluded Diana in life. "The week has been a haze and you know it happened, but you had to see this."

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