Diana’s Funeral – part 1 – tape 1272

My database has this tape as Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Project A, but I clearly sacrificed that recording for this one. (I knew I had a bought copy of PT&A so I wasn’t really losing anything I’d miss. Sorry, Jackie Chan.)

This is just an off-air recording of the BBC coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral. I remember thinking this was the kind of thing that posterity might appreciate.

As it happens, the BBC repeated the whole darn thing a few years ago on the BBC Parliament channel, and someone’s put all that on YouTube, but I might as well give mine a spin.

It was a very strange time. I’m not much of a royalist, so beyond the shock that someone so famous as (one presumed) so protected could have died in such a manner, I didn’t have any particular emotional attachment to her, and watching the huge amount of public mourning was a little bemusing to me.

On the day, I had the broadcast on TV, although I don’t think we were glued to the whole thing. I wonder what Twitter would have been like. There wasn’t really any ‘live’ social internet in 1997. Usenet newsgroups were the closest thing, and I wouldn’t have been on any that might have been discussing such things, so all we had on the day was my wife and me, and a little later when the events really got going, my wife’s family, who didn’t have a TV at home so they came to our house to watch it.

This tape starts a minute or so before the official coverage, with (I presume) some local news coverage of the build-up. There’s a reporter at King’s Cross talking to people arriving by train, in particular one couple, Goeff and Verna Atkinson from Newcastle, who were very disapproving of the atmosphere on their train. “It was a little too buoyant for me” says Verna,  “I would have liked it to be a little bit quieter, even in the First Class it was too noisy.” Virtue signalling is alive and well, even back in 1997.

If you’re too young to have really experienced this event (and if you are, get off my lawn) you might find the amount and scale of the public mourning surprising. But Diana was (thanks to the press who also, let’s not forget, were partly responsible for her death) one of the most famous women in the world, and held in huge esteem by a large proportion of the British public. I think this happened just when the importance of the royal family was somewhat diminishing, so it’s possible that we won’t see anything like this again. When the Queen finally dies, it will be interesting to see if the response from the public is quite the same. I don’t think it will be.

The Royal Albert Hall looks like they’ve covered up some signage, as it part of the route for the funeral cortege. The Proms would have been running at this time, so I presume it’s covering the bright, happy Proms signs.

Sombre Albert Hall

Sally Magnusson is looking lovely, clutching her reporter’s notebook. (t=32m02s)

Sally Magnusson

Krishnan Guru-Murthy reports that police have told him they’ve now topped a million people along the route. (33:44)

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

As the cortege makes its first appearance within Kensingtom palace, all I can think is it doesn’t look like there’s enough room to get a carriage past that guardhouse. The long focal length of the camera shot is really compressing the distances. (t=39m11s)

Kensington Palace Entrance

As the carriage emerges onto the road where people are waiting, you can hear several people literally wailing, very loudly. The English part of me feels that this is a bit much. Silent sobbing is fine, but when you’re practically shouting your grief, it just feels like it’s affected. However, expressions of grief vary wildly in different places, so I guess I shouldn’t judge. I hate those people you see on Twitter, whenever a much-loved celebrity dies, berating people for daring to express grief over someone they’ve never met, so I don’t want to be like them.


The funeral procession is, unsurprisingly, the least interesting part of this, certainly for the purposes of this blog. Dimbleby is a solid professional, so there’s mainly just the occasional, solid commentary telling us where the procession has reached.

Occasionally, though, there’s a nugget of interest. “A few flowers being thrown at the leading horse there. The horses were specially trained during the past week, having flowers thrown at them so that if this did happen during the procession they wouldn’t become alarmed, so you don’t need to worry for the horses they’ve been trained for this moment.” Link.

The guests are arriving at the Abbey. I couldn’t help booing when Thatcher appeared. Mohammed al-Fayed had to show his ticket going in.

Papers Please

Pavarotti arrives, unable to walk unless supported by two thin women.


The Duke of Edinburgh heads to the Abbey alone, in his car. If you believe certain sections of the press, he’s the architect of this whole tragedy…

Duke of Edinburgh

Elton arrives, with partner David, and George Michael.

Elton John George Michael David Furnish

Tony Blair arrives. Remember when everybody loved him? Before he took us into an illegal war.

Tony and Cherie Blair

Chris de Burgh, “perhaps the princess’s greatest favourite”

Chris de Burgh

Cut to Henry Kissinger. Dimbelby doesn’t reveal whether Kissinger was Diana’s special favourite US Secretary of State. I’d like to think she preferred Madeleine Allbright.

We get a brief shot of Ruby Wax, looking properly sombre until someone catches her eye and she smiles. I’m imagining Rik Mayall, across the Abbey, making filthy gestures. Dimbleby is silent on the matter. We shall never know.

Ruby Wax

Here’s a young Princess Beatrice.

Princess Beatrice

A truly poignant image is the card on the wreath on top of the coffin, saying ‘Mummy’. Now I’m crying…


Another is the two sons, still so young, following the carriage as it processes. From left to right, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William (with his head right down), Diana’s brother, Prince Harry (still really blonde) and Prince Charles.

The Princes

When the coffin arrives at the Abbey, Dimbleby is relieved from commentary duties by the far more pompous Tom Fleming, who recounts his memory of Diana attending the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco. “Little did I imagine that fifteen years later, to the month…” Yuck.

The service opens with the National Anthem. If only God hadn’t been so busy saving our Gracious Queen, maybe he’d have had some energy left over to save the People’s Princess.

I wish Fleming would shut up when the choir are singing.

This top down shot makes me wonder what an 8-bit computer game based on the funeral would be like.

Top Down

I could have sworn Fleming said “The coffin now rests on the catapult” but on checking, it sounds like “catapulk”. Google is no help.

The first hymn is ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’ – based on Jupiter from the Planets, by Holst, a beautiful piece of music.

The BBC Singers sing part of Verdi’s Requiem.

BBC Singers

Tony Blair reads from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – the famous one that’s read at virtually every wedding. His delivery is so odd, not helped by what I presume is the King James version, with very archaic language.

Mr Tony Blairs

And finally on this tape, Elton John sings Candle in the Wind, with the lyrics reworked by Bernie Taupin. “Along England’s greenest hills” still annoys me, destroying the scansion of the chorus. Oh well. It sold trillions.

Elton John

The tape ends just as Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer takes the pulpit.

There’s no BBC Genome link, because this broadcast was arranged long after the Radio Times had gone to press.

Here’s the whole thing on YouTube. It’s not my video, so apologies for the terrible smoothing and stretching of the picture.



  1. “I think this happened just when the importance of the royal family was somewhat diminishing, so it’s possible that we won’t see anything like this again. When the Queen finally dies, it will be interesting to see if the response from the public is quite the same. I don’t think it will be.”

    I’m not much of a royalist myself either, but I take issue with this somewhat – I think the reason the outpouring of grief was so much, to a point where it seems surreal now, was clearly because of the circumstances of how she died, and the age at when she died, coupled with the fact that she was arguably the most famous woman in the world. When the Queen dies it will of course be nowhere near as similar as that, because it will have been expected, for want of a better phrase.

    The public’s affection towards the royal family was certainly at a low at this point (dramatised in the Helen Mirren film), however since then I’m sure it’s gotten to a point where they are as popular as they have ever been. I do think that is because of the longevity of the Queen’s reign though – we’ll have to see what happens if/when Charles takes over…

    1. I think you’re right. The combination of the shocking manner of death, her youth and her colossal fame is something unlikely to be replicated. It’s like a perfect storm of Tabloid Celebrity.

  2. Some interesting stuff in Will Wyatt’s book about being Director of BBC Television and the funeral. He says that he, Alan Yentob and Tony Hall had three tellies in front of them so they could watch ITV and Sky as well, and pass on messages to the director. They were a bit concerned that the director was unwilling to deviate from his script, so there were lots of lovely shots of stained glass windows and architecture, but not enough shots from outside of the public, so they kept on asking and the director almost walked out in disgust. But in the end they got something they both liked.

    Surely this was the strangest and most bizarre week of my lifetime. I was absolutely fascinated by all the coverage, not least because I was about to go to university and I assumed I’d never have time to watch much telly. Of course, I ended up watching more than I’d ever done before or since.

    My other interesting anecdote about that week is that on the day she died, BBC1 were supposed to be showing Airplane II in primetime – http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/schedules/bbcone/london/1997-08-31#at-21.05. I was amazed when I saw that in the Radio Times, because although I’d seen Airplane I umpteen times, I’d never seen this one before (a look through Genome suggests it was the first time the Beeb were ever showing it, previously it had been on ITV). Inevitably, they never showed it, and didn’t reschedule it for over a year. To this day I’ve never seen it.

  3. I remember the Queen doing her sub “3 pm Christmas Day” thing to the camera at around 6 pm the evening before, thanking us, the public, for our tributes, although I could be thinking of the Queen Mother’s funeral five years later which I still have a BBC off-air of.

    And the driver stopping to brush the flowers off the windscreen and putting them to one side before getting back in the car again. The memory will always stay with me.

    I remember the Diana Princess of Wales funeral so well. A family member had her birthday on that day, and because the Royal Mail postmen weren’t delivering post as a mark of respect, (and as the following day was a Sunday), she didn’t get her cards until Monday 8th.

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