Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news Diana died.
My flatmate burst into to my bedroom, waking me and shouting, “Di and Dodi … they’re dead!” Stunned, I turned on the television, convinced she was playing a stupid joke. But BBC News reported it was true — Diana was killed after a collision in a tunnel in Paris, alongside her boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed. Her car was being pursued at high speeds by paparazzi photographers on motorbikes when it hit a pillar and crashed into a wall.
In shock, I threw on some clothes and went to our local newspaper shop, only to see there had been several editions of the day’s paper as the press struggled to keep up with the news.
As I walked up home with newspapers in hand, it suddenly dawned on me that I was, in fact, a reporter myself for a cable news channel. I called and called the news desk until my editor finally answered. He told me to get in as fast as I could and “wear a black jacket.”
The cable channel where I worked was on the 24th floor of Canary Wharf. As I arrived, I noticed how unusually quiet it was. I read the news bulletins for the whole day amidst a somber, sad news team all reeling from the dreadful news. We went live to a reporter just outside Buckingham Palace where hundreds of flowers had already been left. My news editor tossed aside the early Sunday paper editions ( from before the tragic news had come through) and called it “the news that never was.”
As I traveled home on the tube, you could have heard a pin drop. It was as if London had gone silent. I watched people reading the news and openly weeping. In a city where people barely make eye contact, it was bizarre to see people give each other warm smiles and the odd sympathetic nod. I arrived home just in time to see Charles accompany Diana’s coffin back to the UK.
The week leading up to Diana’s funeral was the strangest week I have ever lived in London. There was a silence across the city. Everyone was glued to the news. Had Diana’s driver been drinking? Did the paparazzi literally hound her to death? Why was the Queen still at Balmoral on holiday? Why was the flag at Buckingham Palace not at half-mast? Conversations both at home and at work were of little else.
The day before Diana’s funeral, I was interviewing Patrick Cox, a shoe designer and good friend of Elton John’s for a fashion TV program. Cox told me Elton and Di had a falling out several months before her death, but had made up at Gianni Versace’s recent funeral. He described how the press all wondered what they were discussing, when in fact, Diana was actually handing Elton mints because his throat was dry. Cox revealed Elton was devastated by Diana’s death, having lost two close friends in a matter of weeks.
As I left Cox’s offices in Knightsbridge, I decided to buy some flowers and lay them at Kensington Palace. As I approached Kensington Gardens, I was shocked at the crowds of people entering. The place was packed. But nothing prepared me for the sight that greeted me ahead. In front of a sea of flowers, there were hundreds of thousands of tributes placed from the gates all the way down to High Street. People were taking photos with their cameras; I remember thinking it was such a bizarre thing to do.
Now, I regret that I didn’t take a picture myself. The sight of such an outpouring of grief was incredible. Just as I went to leave, Prince William and Prince Harry arrived with their father, Prince Charles to look at all the flowers. I saw from a distance the grace with which Harry and William conducted their short meet and greet with the public, but I stayed far away. There was something so stoic about them, as if they were sleepwalking through it all. It was the only time I cried about Diana’s death, thinking how her sons lost their beloved mother.
I met friends at a bar near our flat. The place fell silent as the Queen spoke live to the nation about losing Diana and how much she admired and respected her. You could sense the public tension in the air lift as the Queen finally shared in their grief.
The next day, the Union Jack flag at the palace was lowered to half-mast. Everything was still quiet, as if London had been evacuated. Over a million people had gone to line the streets where Diana’s funeral procession would pass by. Some people even camped for several nights earlier to make sure they got a perfect view.
My flatmate had broken her ankle and was on crutches. She was gutted that she couldn’t attend, so I kept her company at nearby cafe to watch the funeral there. We cried silent tears watching William and Harry walk behind their mother’s coffin, unable to imagine what they were going through.
It is only now, 20 years later as a parent that it truly sinks in how faithfully those boys served their country. Stoically attending to their duties and comforting the public, all while their own hearts were breaking.
That day the London Evening Standard brought out a special Saturday edition – something the paper had never done before – to commemorate her funeral. We bought a copy and headed home. The sky was light with the last warmth of summer in the air.
It may have been 21 years ago, but I remember it all like it was yesterday. Diana may be gone, but she will never be forgotten.