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1961-1997

O.C. Mourns Princess Who Showed 'Better Side of Britain'

Mourning: English expatriates and non-Brits alike gather to watch Diana's funeral and share their grief.

September 07, 1997|DEBORAH SCHOCH and MIMI KO CRUZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — They watched passively at first, sipping drinks and exchanging pleasantries, almost as if this televised procession was just another live-from-London special.

But then the big screen filled with the wrenching sight of two solemn young princes in suits and ties, prepared to march behind their mother's coffin.

Several women wept, tissues wadded tight in their palms. A man rubbed his face with his hand.

The funereal sound of rhythmic hoofbeats filled the darkened interior of the British and Dominion Social Club in Garden Grove, where British-born patrons and their friends gathered long before dawn Saturday to witness Britain paying tribute to Princess Diana.

Some murmured when they saw the simple inscribed card amid the flowers atop the horse-drawn coffin.

"Every time you see that card--with 'Mummy'--that's what does it. Oh, God," said Judy Southby, 35, a native of England, her eyes awash with tears.

All over Orange County, people stayed up late or set their alarms early to watch the funeral eight time zones away.

They stayed glued to television sets in living rooms, bars, even the waiting room of a Santa Ana hospital emergency room.

But the vigil was especially poignant at the British social club, tucked away at the back in a Garden Grove office park. There, with the bar closed and the pool table abandoned, 20 people watched intently as the coffin wended its way through once-familiar streets.

Some had left Britain two or three decades ago or more. But nearly everyone said they wished they could be standing shoulder to shoulder in the London crowds Saturday.

As the night passed, the reality of this simple club room--tables, chairs, a Guinness sign, an old Beatles poster--seemed to dim amid the clip-clop of horses, the pulsating organ music, the muffled chimes, the vistas of massive stone arches at Westminster Abbey.

No one seemed unmoved, especially as Prince William marched with his family.

"Such a sweetheart. He's going to be like his mum," said Southby, of Huntington Beach, who has two sons and a daughter.

"I really think Diana was the person who showed a lot of people that it was OK to show their emotions," she said.

Others agreed Diana was good for the British people.

"I think she showed the better side of Britain, the emotional side of Britain, the side that made Britain tick. She was more popular than the queen, in my opinion," said Lee Perry, 20, a college student visiting Orange County with his family from Birmingham, England.

Perry was only 4 when Diana married Prince Charles, but he can still remember the commemorative royal wedding glassware. As he grew up, the princess evolved and matured in the public eye.

Now, Perry thinks Prince William should next inherit the crown.

But Michael Tildesley, 46, of Westminster thinks Prince Charles would make a fine king.

The club's vice president, he arrived here 19 years ago. Yet he pointed out the London landmarks, the flags, the guards' traditional uniforms, the Windsor family members with the familiarity of perusing family photo albums.

He admits he is surprised the royal family agreed to such an elaborate funeral for Charles' former wife--almost a full royal funeral.

"This is about as close as you're going to get that the royal family would allow. The queen was forced into something like this," he said. As for Diana, "She was loved by the people."

Bob Goldie, 66, a native of Fifeshire, Scotland, pointed at the screen.

"I don't think you're going to find a nicer person than that lady right there. Diana," he said.

Some watchers murmured with respect as the 97-year-old queen mother walked across the stone floors unassisted except for a cane. And whatever their opinions of the Windsors, many in the room gasped when Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, took what some considered a jab at the royal family with a comment that Diana in her last year needed no royal title to generate magic.

"That shot he took at the royals was totally uncalled for," Tildesley said, bridling. "You don't do that in front of the queen."

"You see how many people in the church didn't applaud it?" said Ronnie Bambrough, 42, of Fountain Valley, once of Liverpool.

Non-Brits as well stayed up late to see the funeral, some at Buckingham Palace Pub in Capistrano Beach.

There, two posters featuring Diana had been taped to a mirror next to two lighted candles and a bouquet of sunflowers in a vase, creating an impromptu shrine.

Before the bar stopped serving alcohol, the television was tuned to the funeral procession, its volume turned down, while a Neil Diamond tune blared on the speakers. But after the bar closed, a bar patron turned up the television volume.

"Look at it," said Jim Neely, 28, of San Clemente, pointing to the procession. "It's beautiful . . . Her death was a worldwide disaster. Look, there's Tom Cruise. Did you see him? There's Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg.

"Where's President Clinton? Why isn't the president of the United States at the biggest funeral of the world?"

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