“Where’s our queen?”
How Diana’s Death Caused a Crisis
31-08-22, 1:00 PM
Exactly 25 years ago, Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris. While her sudden death caused mass hysteria in millions of people around the world, the British royal family reacted very late – and thus plunged into crisis.
An “unprecedented mass hysteria” led to the death of Princess Diana in her homeland, later said to be commonplace. Millions of people who had never met Diana mourned publicly as a relative 25 years ago, British media described the emotional state of emergency in which large parts of the population found themselves.
On the night of August 31, 1997, the car in which the princess was sitting with her then-partner Dodi Al-Fayed crashed too high into a pillar in the car tunnel under the Place de l’Alma in Paris. Al-Fayed and the driver Henri Paul died at the scene of the accident, Diana a few hours later from internal injuries. In the week after her death, however, it was not only sadness that dominated the people, in many places anger quickly followed.
No sign of sadness
Anger at the press that haunted Diana to her death. And the monarchy. Because Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family did not behave as the people had imagined. The royals, who stayed in their summer residence in Scotland, appeared to show little or no sign of mourning. Other than a brief statement, they made no further public statements and appeared determined to remain in remote Balmoral. Instead of coming to London and joining the grieving crowd.
For them, Diana was probably no longer part of the family at that point. She had been divorced from the heir apparent, Prince Charles, a year earlier. The routine and processes that are set in motion when a high-ranking member of the royal family dies did not apply here, she said. A serious mistake: according to many royal experts, since the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, the monarchy had not had to survive such a severe crisis as it had after Diana’s death. “Keep calm and carry on” has helped the Queen through many crises before. But that was over now.
“Where’s our queen?”
A few hours after it was announced on the morning of August 31 that Diana had passed away at age 36, the royals showed up. They reportedly attended Sunday service at Crathie Kirk near Balmoral – without reportedly saying a word to the fans or reporters in attendance. “Everyone looked serious but composed,” wrote the Scottish newspaper “The Herald” about the appearance of the royal family. Diana and Charles’ sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, were also there. The two were 15 and 12 years old when they lost their mother.
The tabloids then let some time pass before Wednesday’s first headlines like “Where’s our queen?” appeared. (“The Sun”), “Your people are suffering. Speak to us, ma’am” (“The Mirror”) or “Show us you care” (“The Express”). When the flag at Windsor Castle flew at half-mast, it was too late for many.
In a rare public statement, the then Queen’s press secretary, Geoffrey Crawford, said according to the BBC: The Royal Family had been hurt by suggestions that they were “indifferent” to the nationwide grief over Diana’s death. The primary purpose of the Queen and Prince Charles is to protect Prince Harry and Prince William. Crawford said: “The Princess was a very popular national figure, but she was also a mother whose sons miss her very much. Prince William and Prince Harry themselves want to be with their father and grandparents during this time in the tranquil setting of Balmoral.” As her grandmother, the Queen helps the princes come to terms with their loss as they prepare for the public mourning ceremony – with William and Harry walking behind their mother’s coffin.
Speech on TV
The then Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to have advised the Queen and the Royals on Wednesday and Thursday after Diana’s death to return to London and speak to the mourners. “She gave in,” a former aide to the monarch later said in a TV documentary. “I was suprised.” The 2006 film “The Queen” starring Helen Mirren is dedicated to these days.
Friday, five days after Diana’s death, Elizabeth II finally addressed her people, live on TV. The Queen said she “admired and respected her ex-daughter-in-law – for her energy and devotion to others and especially for her devotion to her two boys”. In Balmoral, the family tried to help William and Harry cope with the devastating loss “she and the rest of us have suffered.” For the Queen, this was a new way of presenting herself to the public – showing feelings “like a grandmother”.
“The Windsors, whose most dangerous moment came with Diana’s death, really owe their staying power to their role model,” Jonathan Freedland was once quoted as saying by The Guardian, quoted by the New York Times. “The Queen is particularly keen to learn lessons from experience, and in this case the lesson was: ‘Don’t get on the wrong side of public opinion’.”