Just when you thought there was nothing more to hear about the death of Princess Diana 20 years ago, along comes the best documentary of them all – Diana: The Day the World Cried.
No more revelations about the rancid relationship between Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Instead, this is a forensic examination of how her funeral came together – the largest Royal Funeral in the modern era and the biggest-ever security operation in the UK.
The people who appear aren’t famous, but they were heavily involved in laying her to rest. Their stories touch even the hardest of hearts, while explaining why her death caused unprecedented mourning.
Sir Malcolm Ross, a senior official in the Royal Household, explained he had just five days to prepare for her funeral, which would be watched by more than two billion people around the world.
He says Royal Mail postmen and women voluntarily drove 1200 vans to London to collect the invites and deliver them on time.
And Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin rewrote “Candle In the Wind” in a few hours to make it about “England’s Rose” and not Marilyn Monroe.
Eight soldiers from the Welsh Guards were flown in from security patrols in Northern Ireland, chosen for their height and fitness to carry her lead-lined, quarter-ton coffin.
Corporal Philip Bartlett was just 24 at the time and had met Diana.
“She was our princess,” he says. “She was so keen, so willing to be part of your life. We knew what she had done for all of us. We knew we had to do something for her. It was hard but we all knew the job we had to do.”
After numerous rehearsals, the soldiers had dressings on their shoulders covering raw skin as they began the 7km, two-hour journey, slow walking alongside the coffin now on a gun carriage.
Choirboy Oliver John Ruthven recalled the moment.
“The first time I realized the enormity of it all was when I saw the soldiers carrying the coffin and how nervous they were and how much it mattered to them. There was a sense that this had to be absolutely perfect.”
The horses that pulled the carriage were specially trained using newspapers rolled in tinfoil so the flowers raining down on them wouldn’t frighten them.
PC Stuart Spinks volunteered to work that day, helping to control the million-strong crowd.
“You had the sound of the soldiers marching, the horses hooves, the wheels of the carriage. It was dead silence. No one was speaking.
“One couple I was speaking to, the man blessed himself and his wife started crying. When she began crying, it set everybody off in front of her and you don’t realise just how contagious that was.”
Royal Protection Officer, Graham Craker, who was at Balmoral with Diana’s sons when their mother died, travelled with the hearse to the family home.
“I thought it would be a comfort for William and Harry to know their Mum wasn’t alone on that final journey.”
This outpouring of emotion is rare among Britons, as Welsh Guard Captain and Chief Pallbearer, Richard Williams, points out.
“I think we surprised ourselves as a nation on the day because we reacted in a way that is a little bit un-British, but that’s okay isn‘t it?”
The documentary airs on Channel Nine at 9.30pm, Sunday, September 3.