LONDON -- The woman the world knew simply as "Di" made her final wrenching journey on the streets of London yesterday followed by her family and people whose lives she had touched, and watched by millions whose love she had captured.
It was a journey back through her own brief years, along the broad avenues of this venerable capital, from her home at Kensington Palace, past the royal bastion of Buckingham Palace to the narrow country lanes leading to the English country estate where she was born into the aristocracy.
Every inch along the way was jammed with well-wishers.
At the last mile, the journey was joined by her two sons, the young princes, William and Harry; her brother, Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer; her former husband, Prince Charles; and her former father-in-law, Prince Philip.
William, with his head bowed much as his mother used to do, displayed a fortitude that could only win the hearts of a sympathetic nation and the admiration of a watching world.
Behind them came 550 representatives of the charities the Princess of Wales had supported, some dressed in T-shirts, some riding in wheelchairs.
"It was absolute silence," said Melanie Brown, one of those invited to walk in the procession. "You could hear the wheelchairs rolling. People [along the route] would see the coffin, and then we'd pick up the affect of that reaction. They were upset. They were crying."
Such striking togetherness of the royals and ordinary Britons was in contrast to the initial public silence of Queen Elizabeth II and her family after Diana's sudden death a week earlier.
In another gesture to close the worrisome gap between the palace and the people, the queen led members of the House of Windsor to the gates of Buckingham Palace to watch the coffin go by, bowing her head in respect.
And, by popular demand, the Union Jack flew over Buckingham Palace for the first time, at half-staff. Tradition and precedent aside, it was almost universally felt that Diana deserved better than a bare flagpole despite her rupture from the family with her divorce last year.
People patted at tearful eyes as the coffin, draped in an ermine-fringed blue, red and gold Royal Standard, was carried on a green gun carriage through the streets of London, following a ceremonial route the royals have used for centuries.
The sadness and solemnity of it all transfixed the people in an eerie silence, broken only by the occasional sob and the minute-by-minute tolling of the half-muffled tenor bell of Westminster Abbey.
It was a sadness that became more tangible the closer the clatter of the gun carriage's metal wheels and the clack of the hoofs of the six dark bays pulling it.
Astride and beside the horses were men of the King's Troop of Royal Horse Artillery in their black uniforms with gold-braided doublets and cockaded hats. Escorting the coffin were the pallbearers from the Prince of Wales Company of the Welsh Guards, resplendent in their scarlet jackets and black bearskin busbies.
It was a minimal display of military pomp for a princess renowned for her informality.
As the coffin, topped by three white wreaths of lilies and roses, on one of which was a card with the single word "Mummy," passed by, mourners sprinkled the route with flowers.
From across the country they came to say goodbye, a blossom-bearing throng of millions, turning the environs of the royal palaces of Kensington, Buckingham and St. James's, where their princess lived, loved and lay in state, into carpets of flowers, filling the air with summer fragrance.
"You've just go to be here," said David Wheatley, 17, who came from Bradford, 200 miles north of London.
"I just wanted to be part of it," said Steve Dodds, 27. "I suppose in my estimation she was different. She did so much for so many people, and from a royal, it has never happened before."
Katherine Messem, 36, the same age as Diana, said: "I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I think I identified with her and thought how wonderful she looked and how it was good to be 36."
All the way from Los Angeles on "a spur-of-the-moment decision" came Kevin Parker, 40, making his first trip to London to watch the cortege go by the Albert Gate.
"I thought this was a perfect opportunity to come to show my respect and to come with sorrow in my heart for someone I admire," he said.
As the cortege emerged through the wrought-iron gates of Kensington Palace at 9: 08 a.m. London time, there was brief wailing and shouts of "Bless you, Bless you" and "Diana, we love you" from mourners, many of whom had spent the night waiting to pay their final respects.
But, for most of its journey, the cortege moved through a strangely silent city, its people, standing shoulder to shoulder and in places 20 deep along the four-mile route, lost in their own sadness and memories.
The old comforted the young, couples embraced, and some sobbed alone. Many were casually dressed; others were in funereal black.
Wearing a smart suit and tie for the occasion, Philip Bingham, 23, watched the coffin pass through Hyde Park and said; "It's quite a thing, isn't it? It's hard to explain. She's certainly a special lady. It seemed to be the right thing to dress up and give it a little bit of formality."
From inside Westminster Abbey, the ethereal music and solemn words echoed along the grandeur of Whitehall, across the greenery of Hyde Park, and under the tall trees of Kensington, where tens of thousands gathered to follow the service through loudspeakers and giant TV screens. For a brief time on a sunny day more suited to the joy of a picnic than the sorrow of a funeral, London was turned into a virtual open-air cathedral.
"When we were singing, it felt like we were a real community. It just felt all right to sing," said Verena Wright, 50, a lecturer from Portsmouth and a member of a church choir who joined the hymn-singing in Hyde Park. "If this is the British nation, this is the first time I've really experienced it. People are beautiful."
The emotional words of Earl Spencer, Princess Diana's angry brother, resonated inside and outside the abbey with particular force, as he lauded his sister, laid down ground rules for how she would wish her sons to be brought up and lamented the intrusions of the press that turned Diana, named after the Roman goddess of hunters, into the world's most hunted personality.
"He spoke from the heart," one woman told the BBC. "He was speaking for every single one of us."
Amid a circle of flowers in the shade of a tree in Kensington Gardens, alongside the funeral route, was a bouquet of red carnations with a card saying: "We are so sorry for anyone who ever hounded you."
And next to it, in a child's handwriting, another card on another bouquet, with the message: "I hope she is in a nice place and has a much nicer time than ever she had when she was with us."
The service over, the nation stopped to observe a one-minute silence.
People stood silently on street corners, in subways, at airports. Public and private vehicles pulled to the roadside. Shops were closed.
The silence ended in a peal of bells as Diana's coffin was carefully placed by its red-jacketed handlers into a black hearse for the 72-mile drive to the family seat at Althorp House, Northamptonshire.
Along the road through the London suburbs, on bridges over the six-lane motorway and in every country village through which she passed, thousands more gathered, showering the hearse with so many bouquets the driver could hardly see through the windshield.
Once through the flower-bedecked fence of Althorp, the public mourning gave way to a private burial ceremony, with Diana laid to rest on an island in an oval lake at the country home where she grew up.
Pub Date: 9/07/97