LONDON -- Acting in the face of harsh criticism from the British press and public, the royal family made its first public comment yesterday on the outpouring of grief over the death of Princess Diana and announced that the route of her funeral procession Saturday would be much longer than originally planned so more people could witness the event.
"All the royal family, especially the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry, are taking strength from the overwhelming support of the public, who are sharing their tremendous sense of loss and grief," said a spokesman for the royal family. "They are deeply touched and enormously grateful."
The statement came after British newspapers and mourners in London criticized the royal family for keeping to its tradition of stoicism in the face of tragedy.
"Show us there's a heart in the House of Windsor," the mass-circulation Sun tabloid had demanded.
"If the royals let this crucial moment pass with no public expression of regret, it will rebound on them in the months and years to come," royal biographer Anthony Holden warned in an article in the Express.
The royal family also bowed to pressure to lengthen the route of the funeral procession in London on Saturday, so it will begin from Kensington Palace, where Diana lived, instead of St. James's Palace, where her coffin has rested since Prince Charles brought her body back from Paris on Sunday.
Charles, whom Diana divorced a year ago, and their two sons, William, 15, and Harry, 12, will return to London tomorrow from Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where they were vacationing when they got the news that Diana had been killed. Since then, the family's only public appearance has been the trip they made to the local church for a Sunday service.
When they arrive in London, Charles and his sons will go to St. James's Palace, where people have stood in line by the thousands, waiting sometimes for up to 11 hours, to sign condolence books. More than 30,000 signatures have been inscribed in the 43 books as of yesterday.
After the princes' visit, Diana's coffin will be moved to Kensington Palace.
On Saturday morning, about 10, her coffin will be mounted on a gun carriage. This, unaccompanied except for riders of the King's Troop and mounted police, will proceed through Hyde Park, down to the Mall, where it will be joined by the hundreds of guests invited to join the procession.
Among these are about 500 representatives from the princess' favorite charities. Other dignitaries will be in the entourage as well, possibly even the three princes. They will follow the carriage to Westminster Abbey.
About 2,000 guests will be present at the church for the actual funeral ceremony.
The royal family has been widely criticized since Diana's death for arranging a shorter procession, for favoring a subdued funeral.
A palace spokesman said the family, by lengthening the route, was not responding to public pressure. Rather it had come to appreciate the need for more distance to allow the mourners more space.
Two million or more people are expected to fill Central London to say goodbye to their beloved princess. The entire Metropolitan Police Department will be on duty to deal with the crowds.
"We've always tried to consider a way of lengthening the route in such a way that more people would be able to see the procession in safety," said the spokesman.
"Doing it this way by using the parks -- Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park -- is a safe and secure way of ensuring that more people can see the procession."
Speculation had developed early yesterday that William had demanded that he be allowed to walk behind the coffin as it wends its way to the abbey.
This would effectively compel the rest of the family to walk with him.
Later in the day word came that a decision on that matter would depend on what the palace described as "the level of the 15-year-old William's distress on the morning of the funeral."
Earlier the palace gave out some details on the route the cortege carrying Diana's coffin would take after the ceremony in the abbey is complete.
The former Lady Diana Spencer is to be interred in the family chapel at St. Mary the Virgin Church in the tiny village of Great Brington, near the Spencer family ancestral estate at Althorp, in Northamptonshire.
It is about 70 miles northwest of London, and considering the great numbers anticipated for the funeral, many people are expected to see the hearse pass by on its way to her final resting place.
After leaving the abbey, the cortege will return up through London to the M1 highway to Great Brington.
Frank Whiteley, assistant constable of the Northamptonshire Police, said he expected tens of thousands of people will line the route to Great Brington. He has urged the public to stay away from the village and to respect the Spencer family's wishes that they be left alone to have a quiet and private ceremony inside St. Mary's.
He said if too many people arrive, he would seal the village off.
About 300 policemen have been detailed just for this last part of Diana's journey, her return home.
Also, all unofficial aircraft will be routed away from Central London and the Great Brington area for the duration of the funeral.
Last night, authorities, expecting large numbers of people to camp in the streets over the next two nights to be in a good position to see the procession, warned them to dress against an early chill, and possibly some rain.
Diana, Princess of Wales: A special, 8-page commemorative section Sunday in The Sun will tell in photographs and stories
the very public life of the Princess of Wales.
Pub Date: 9/04/97