Princess Diana's Funeral

Half the People in the World Were Watching

Princess Diana's coffin carried from Westminster Abbey after the funeral service.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, was held on September 6, 1997, and started at 9:08 a.m. The funeral attracted worldwide attention. On the four-mile journey from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey, Diana's casket, itself rather simple, was followed by her sons, her brother, her ex-husband Prince Charles, her ex-father-in-law Prince Philip, and five representatives from each of 110 charities Diana had supported.

Diana's body had been at a private mortuary, then at the Chapel Royal at St. James' Palace for five days, then was taken to Kensington Palace for the service. The Union Flag on Kensington Palace flew at half mast. The coffin was draped with the royal standard with an ermine border and was topped with three wreaths, from her brother and her two sons. The coffin was attended during the event by eight members of The Queen's Welsh Guards. The procession to Westminster from Kensington Palace took one hour and forty-seven minutes. Queen Elizabeth II was waiting at Buckingham Palace and bowed her head as the casket passed.

The service at Westminster Abbey was attended by celebrities and political figures. Diana's two sisters spoke at the service, and her brother, Lord Spencer, delivered an address that praised Diana and blamed the media for her death. Prime Minister Tony Blair read from I Corinthians. The service lasted an hour and ten minutes, beginning at 11 a.m. with the traditional "God Save the Queen."

Elton John -- whom Diana had comforted at Gianni Versace's funeral less than six weeks earlier -- adapted his song about Marilyn Monroe's death, "Candle in the Wind," retitling it "Goodbye, England's Rose." Within two months, the new version had become the best-selling song of all time, with proceeds going to some of Diana's favorite charitable causes.

"Song for Athene" by John Tavener was sung as the cortege departed.

Guests at the ceremony at Westminster Abbey included:

  • former British Prime Ministers James Callaghan, Edward Heath, and Margaret Thatcher, and the grandson of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, also named Winston Churchill
  • foreign dignitaries Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Queen Noor of Jordan.
  • celebrities Elton John, Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Luciano Pavarotti, 

An estimated 2.5 billion watched the funeral on television -- about half the people on earth. Over a million in person watched the procession of the funeral cortege or the journey to her private burial. The British audience was 32.1 million. 

In one odd irony, Mother Teresa -- whose work Diana admired and whom Diana had met several times -- died on September 6, and the news of that death was nearly pushed out of the news by the coverage of Diana's funeral.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest at Althorp, the Spencer estate, on an island in a lake. The burial ceremony was private.

The next day, another service for Diana was held at Westminster Abbey.

After the Funeral

Mohammed al-Fayed, the father of Diana's companion "Dodi" Fayed (Emad Mohammed al-Fayed), claimed a conspiracy by the British secret service to murder the couple, supposedly to save the royal family from scandal.

Investigations by French authorities found that the driver of the car had far too much alcohol and was driving too fast, and while criticizing the photographers who were chasing the car, did not find them criminally liable.

Later British investigations found similar results.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Princess Diana's Funeral." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2020, August 27). Princess Diana's Funeral. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Princess Diana's Funeral." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 11, 2021).