The Crown: How Did The Royal Family Really React to Diana’s Death?

The past few series of The crown prepared us for the moment that shocked the nation in 1997: the death of Princess Diana.

The first half of the Netflix show’s sixth and final season, out today, covers the lead-up to the late princess’s fatal car crash in Paris, from her holiday with Dodi Al Fayed, to the kiss that made headlines. dominated the tabloids until the fateful trip to the French capital at the end of August. But it also focuses on how the royal family responded to Diana’s death.

As we now know, Peter Morgan’s show offers a largely fictional account of what may have gone on behind closed doors in the various castles and palaces. So what actually happened when the Royals learned about Diana’s death?


On August 31, 1997, Diana was involved in a car accident at the Pont de L’Alma in Paris, reportedly caused by her driver’s attempts to escape the pursuing paparazzi group. Diana died shortly afterwards, as did Dodi, along with the driver, Henri Paul. Trevor Rees-Jones – a bodyguard employed by Al Fayed – was the only survivor of the crash.

According to Christopher Andersen, who wrote The King: the Life of Charles III, then-Prince Charles was “ashen and shaking” when he received the 4:30 a.m. phone call revealing Diana’s death. “He let out a cry of pain that was so spontaneous and came from the heart. Palace staff rushed to Charles’ room and found him collapsed in an armchair, crying uncontrollably. He added: “I don’t think people realize how badly he was affected by her death. I interviewed the nurses at the hospital who saw him when he came into the room and saw her body for the first time, and he looked like he had been punched in the face.”

Tina Brown, author of 2007 The Diana Chronicles said: “He was absolutely distraught. He fell apart. He knew immediately that this would be something terrible, that… he would be blamed, that they would be blamed for Diana’s death.”

Charles wanted to take the royal plane to Paris to take Diana’s body home, but according to Brown, the queen initially said no, but later relented. Charles also told Harry – who was only twelve years old – that he could not go with him because he was too young.

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Royal versus public response

In the show, Dominic West as Prince Charles is heard saying on the phone: “This is going to be the biggest thing any of us have ever seen.”

He was right. The British public took to the streets in unprecedented displays of mourning, but the masses were outraged when the Royal Standard flag at Buckingham Palace was not flown at half-mast (as is tradition when members of the royal family die).

The public wanted to know why Queen Elizabeth had not acknowledged Diana’s death. Following an outcry, the Queen sent a spokesperson to address the issue four days later, saying the family was “hurt” by the suggestion they were “indifferent” to the tragic accident.

A day later, on September 5, the Queen made a public speech and called Diana ‘an exceptional and gifted human being’. She added: “Through good times and bad, she never lost her ability to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness. I admired and respected her – for her energy and dedication to others, especially her dedication to her two boys.

The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry then sat down for a meet-and-greet with the public outside Buckingham Palace and read out the many tributes, flowers and messages left for Diana outside.

Diana’s funeral took place on September 6 at Westminster Abbey, and the young princes walked in a funeral procession behind her coffin. Encouraged to do it at the time by Prince Philip, who, according to Sally Bedell Smith in her 2017 biography Prince Charles: the passions and paradoxes of an unlikely life, told them: “If you don’t walk, you may regret it later. I think you should do it. If I walk, will you walk with me?”.

However, it was a decision that Harry came to regret, and he later revealed that he felt forced into it. In an interview with Newsweek, he said: “My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me, while millions of others did so on television. I don’t think every child should do that. I don’t think this would happen today.”

After the funeral, Buckingham Palace considered restoring Diana’s title of Her Royal Highness – which she lost when she divorced Charles – but her family turned down the offer. According to CNNAccording to a palace spokesperson, officials spoke to Earl Spencer hours after he said in his eulogy that “she did not need a royal title to continue generating her particular brand of magic.” The source added: “They (the Spencer family) were adamant that the Princess herself would not have wanted any change in the style and title by which she was known at the time of her death.”

Diana was then buried on an island in the grounds of Althorp Park, the Spencer family home.

The first half of The Crown series 6 can be seen on Netflix from November 16.