Home Decades Events Death of Diana, Princess of Wales (1997)

Death of Diana, Princess of Wales (1997)

The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on Saturday 6 September 1997, drew reported television viewing figures of 2.5 billion worldwide, making it the most-watched TV event ever.

The sudden death of Diana, following a car accident in Paris in the early hours of Sunday 31 August, sparked a dramatic week of intense television coverage and high public emotion in the UK and sent shock waves through international media circles.

At the age of 36, the princess cut a figure of glamour and beauty and, despite the years of controversy and acrimonious dispute with the royal family, she still commanded much public popularity and international interest.

In the week leading up to the accident, the tabloid press in Britain had been filled with pictures of her relaxing in the south of France with her new boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed.

Her death in a car crash, apparently while being chased by press photographers, seemed as shocking as it was unexpected.

Live coverage of the funeral commenced at 9 AM in the UK as the funeral cortege, consisting of a horse-drawn gun-carriage bearing the princess’s coffin, and a small escort of guardsmen and mounted policemen left Kensington Palace in London.

The coverage followed the cortege every step of the way as it made its two-hour journey, on a sunny morning, through streets lined with people, past Buckingham Palace and Whitehall to Westminster Abbey.

On the BBC, historical continuity was provided by the solemn commentary of David Dimbleby, son of the famous broadcaster Richard Dimbleby who had commentated for television at the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and the funeral of Winston Churchill in 1965.

The coverage continued through the hour-long service, which was marked by hymns, prayers, and readings and included an address by Earl Spencer and a live rendition of the song Candle in the Wind rewritten for the occasion and sung by the pop star Elton John.

After the service and a national minute of silence, the main broadcasters continued to follow events as the princess’s coffin was taken by hearse back through London streets, lined with crowds applauding and throwing flowers, and then onto the motorway to make its last journey to Althorp in Northamptonshire.

There the coverage ended as the princess was finally buried, out of the public gaze, at a private family service in the late afternoon.

Undoubtedly a poignant event that gripped and moved a large British and international audience, the funeral was considered the kind of television event at which the British excel.