London, Aug. 31: Ten years after Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, her younger son, Prince Harry, who was only 12 at the time but is now an army officer, made an emotional speech today at a service of thanksgiving for the life of the princess held at the Guard’s Chapel in London.
“She was quite simply the best mother in the world,” said Harry. “We would say that wouldn’t we. But we miss her. She kissed us last thing at night.”
Thirty members of the royal family, including the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles, as well as 100 people connected with many of Diana’s charities, were present in the 500 strong congregation where the guest list and the order of service reflected the personal wishes of princes William and Harry.
In the sea of mainly upper class English faces no concession was made either to multicultural Britain or Diana’s worship of Mother Teresa, who comforted her at a difficult time in her life.
The notable absentee today was the former Mrs Camilla Parker-Bowles, now called the Duchess of Cornwall after her marriage to Prince Charles.
She was invited by the princes but was finally forced to retire back to the pavilion away after a spate of vicious attacks in the media by women columnists and Diana’s “friends”. Camilla stayed and probably followed the live television coverage of the service from her countryside retreat, Ray Mill in Lacock, Wiltshire, the private family home she kept after her marriage to Charles.
There has been much squabbling about who should or should not be invited to the service, as there has been about who really has inherited Diana’s legacy a decade after her death.
This explains the appeal by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, for an end to hostilities between the various Diana lobbies in his address today.
Chartres spoke glowingly of Diana’s charity work for victims of AIDS, leprosy and landmines but also struck a stern note: “It’s easy to lose the real person in the image, to insist that all is darkness or all is light. Still, 10 years after her tragic death, there are regular reports of ‘fury’ at this or that incident, and the princess’s memory is used for scoring points. Let it end here.”
Chartres, who was a chaplain who had met Diana just before her wedding in 1981 and later became one of the executors of her will, said: “Let this service mark the point at which we let her rest in peace and dwell on her memory with thanksgiving and compassion.”
Prince William, now a tall army officer of 25 – he had to stoop to kiss his many royal cousins, as did Harry – read a religious text from the Ephesians Chapter 3, verses 14 to 21.
There was a reading by Diana’s elder sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, from J.S. Hoyland's The Bridge Is Love.
But Harry, who had followed his mother’s coffin with William 10 years ago, spoke from the heart.
“William and I can separate life into two parts,” he began. “There were those years when we were blessed with the physical presence beside us of both our mother and father.”
“And then there are the 10 years since our mother’s death,” he continued. “When she was alive we completely took for granted her unrivalled love of life, laughter, fun and folly. She was our guardian, friend and protector. She never once allowed her unfaltering love for us to go unspoken or undemonstrated.”
“Her beaming smile greeted us from school,” he recalled. “She laughed hysterically and uncontrollably when sharing something silly she might have said or done that day. She encouraged us when we were nervous or unsure.”
He pointed out: “To lose a parent so suddenly at such a young age – as others have experienced – is indescribably shocking and sad. It was an event which changed our lives forever, as it must have done for everyone who lost someone that night. But what is far more important to us now, and into the future, is that we remember our mother as she would have wished to be remembered – as she was: fun-loving, generous, down-to-earth, entirely genuine.”
Harry concluded: “We both think of her every day. We speak about her and laugh together at all the memories. Put simply, she made us, and so many other people, happy. May this be the way that she is remembered.”
Compared with the hysterical grief that marked her passing, with huge crowds swamping the gates of Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace with a mountain of flowers, there was a small turnout today outside the Guard’s Chapel in St James’s Park.
To many in Britain, Diana, stripped by the royal family of her “Her Royal Highness” title and lowered to the less important, “Diana, Princess of Wales”, remains the “People’s Princess”.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, one in four people still think Diana was murdered, according to the latest poll conducted for Channel 4 News by ICM.
Although the British monarchy is a remarkably resilient institution, it has clearly been damaged because of the manner in which Diana was treated in the years leading to her divorce and her death. A YouGov poll conducted for the Daily Telegraph today shows that public respect for the royal family has slipped below the critical 50 per cent for the first time.
Diana’s other sister, Lady Jane Fellowes, and her brother Earl Spencer, were present at the service but did not speak. The guests included the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his predecessors, Tony Blair and Sir John Major.
Others in the congregration included Diana’s friends, among them singers Sir Elton John and Sir Cliff Richard, Gandhi director Lord Attenborough, celebrity photographer Mario Testino and Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson.
The service ended with Diana’s favourite hymn, “I vow to thee, my country,” which was sung at both her wedding and funeral. The choirs, who did much to ensure the service was simple, dignified and reflected Britain at its best, were from the Guards’ Chapel, the Chapel Royal and from Eton College, where Diana would turn up frequently to see her sons.
Those excluded included her former butler Paul Burrell, who has published two books about the princess, and Harrods boss Mohamed al Fayed, whose son Dodi was killed with Diana.
Harrods came to a standstill as shoppers joined Fayed, who stood behind the store’s famous statue of Diana and Dodi for a two-minute silence.