London in 1997

On August 31st, 1997, Princess Diana died. I left for London a day later, greeted by a city in mourning. All of England was in mourning, really. I was young and ignorant about bereavement. Ignorant also about Diana’s significance to her people. It’s hard to describe the magnitude of the sadness that covered the city during those first days. Mourning is such a personal and intimate experience, yet it permeated every inch of London’s streets. I was young and greatly lacked the maturity to respect the gravity of death. Especially that of a Princess who revolutionized the public perception of national royalty, during a time when the crown seemed irrelevant.

Much of our group’s itinerary was cancelled. This was a city in disarray – or at least at a standstill. It was a city filled with the aroma of funeral flowers. Outside Buckingham Palace, the flowers were piled waist high as far as I could see.

Flowers stacked several feet high surrounded the gate of Buckingham Palace

Although there was a cloud of sadness, London was not entirely somber throughout. We toured many of London’s traditional tourist spots, highlighted by our unique and distasteful opportunity to watch Diana’s funeral processional go by. Some of my friends chose not to go. The event seemed too personal for their liking. But I was positioned front and center, and photographed the whole sad parade. (A decision I now see as disappointingly opportunistic.) A People Magazine article captured me as a tourist, camera in front of my face, as Diana’s coffin was carried slowly by. I was not alone in that act, but most British observers watched the moment in somber respect.  Silence engulfed the event and its’ assembly in a rare moment of public unity.

People Magazine captured this moment as the processional passed us by

I have been thinking a lot about this experience. Decades gone by have a way of making you remember. With age comes consideration of notions like death, reverence and the legacy you hope to leave on a place. Although I didn’t grasp her significance, Princess Diana made her mark on me too, even if it took me 20 years to fully understand why her people loved her so.

“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” – Princess Diana

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