SEPT. 5, 1997
An "Exceptional and Gifted Human Being"
LONDON (AP) Queen Elizabeth II, speaking from the heart as "your queen and as a grandmother," paid tribute today to Princess Diana as an "exceptional and gifted human being."
She spoke hours after people in the streets had reached out directly to Diana's sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, and to her and Prince Charles outside the palaces which have been a focus for an immense public tribute.
"We have all been trying in our different ways to cope," the queen said in an extraordinary live broadcast. "It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings: disbelief, incomprehension, anger and concern for those who remain."
The queen normally speaks to the nation only on Christmas Day. This was the second exception in her 45-year reign; the other was on Feb. 24, 1991, at the end of the Gulf War. The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, also paid their respects at the coffin of their former daughter-in-law. "I want to pay tribute to Diana myself. She was an exceptional and gifted human being. In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness," the queen said. "I admired and respected her, for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys."
During a week in which the family was secluded at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, "We have all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss that they and the rest of us have suffered," the queen said. Speaking steadily through one of the most testing times of her reign, the queen said, "We have seen, throughout Britain and around the world, an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana's death. We have all felt those emotions in these last few days. So what I say to you now, as your queen and as a grandmother, I say from my heart. I hope that tomorrow we can all, wherever we are, join in expressing our grief at Diana's loss, and gratitude for her all-too-short life," the queen said. "It is a chance to show to the whole world the British nation united in grief and respect."
The queen, wearing black, arrived from Scotland earlier today and went to Buckingham Palace. Stepping from her limousine, she spoke with some of the thousands who gathered to offer condolences, shaking hands and smiling bravely as she accepted their flowers. The queen later met other mourners outside the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace, and paid her respects at Diana's coffin.
The family of Diana's new love, Dodi Fayed, said today that Diana had given him a pair of cuff links that belonged to her late father and a gold cigar clipper with a tag inscribed "With love from Diana." The family also confirmed reports that Fayed gave Diana a $205,000 diamond solitaire ring shortly before they were both killed in a car crash early Sunday in Paris. "What that ring meant, we shall probably never know," said Michael Cole, spokesman for Fayed's father, Egyptian-born billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed.
Cole also showed reporters a security video containing shots of Diana and Dodi's last hours at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The video showed Diana waiting inside the hotel's rear entrance, Dodi's arm around her waist. When the Mercedes Benz limo arrived, they got in the back seat and the limo drove off slowly. Footage from a security camera at the front of the hotel showed a posse of figures then racing toward motorcycles. The Fayed family released the video to counter reports that Diana's driver, Henri Paul, had raced off at high speeds. French police say Paul was legally drunk at the time of the crash.
The royal family had been strongly criticized earlier this week for going into seclusion in Scotland while Britons lined the streets in a massive display of public grief over Diana's death.
Today, they laid that criticism to rest during an emotional homecoming. "Thank you very much," Prince William, 15, told a woman who reached from behind barriers to hand him flowers. William, tall and bearing a striking resemblance to his mother, walked with his father and brother, Prince Harry, 12, near the railings of Kensington Palace, Diana's former residence, which was engulfed in a sea of floral tributes. The princes' arrival from Scotland was kept secret to avoid attracting a media crush, but television networks were permitted to broadcast the scenes live.
"Prince Charles said to me, `We appreciate you coming, we appreciate all the flowers, we are very touched,"' said Rosalind Wederell, from Chatham, who was at the front of the police barrier at Kensington. Charles gulped several times before making a remark to the boys, and William looked moist-eyed. But the young princes conducted themselves in an assured way.
"Prince Charles seemed overwhelmed and somehow a lot more human than he ever seemed to be before. I said to William, `You are a wonderful boy,' and he smiled at me," Wederell said. Londoner Andy Kalli said William thanked him. "I said to him, `Be strong, your mum is in a good place,' and he smiled."
With the funeral approaching, there has been no letup in the public surge of emotion. Police estimated that 12,000 people were in line today, a 10-hour wait, to sign condolence books at St. James's Palace.
Diana will be buried privately Saturday after a public procession and a Westminster Abbey funeral that will blend Anglican funeral rites with a song by Elton John. The procession and funeral will be broadcast on three giant TV screens in London, two in Hyde Park and one in Regent's Park, as well as around the world.
Diana's brother, the ninth Earl Spencer, announced today that his sister will be buried on an island on the grounds of the family's stately home, Althorp Park, instead of in the nearby church. The change reflected fears that the village of Great Brington would be turned into a shrine to the 36-year-old Diana and overrun by sightseers.
French police, meanwhile, held three more photographers in their investigation of the crash that killed Diana, Fayed, and their chauffeur. Earlier, seven photographers and a motorcyclist were detained. The paparazzi could be charged with manslaughter and other crimes. All of those detained have denied claims that the high-speed pursuit of Diana's car caused the wreck that took her life.
A man claiming to be one of the photographers at the scene of the crash Sunday told the French daily Liberation that he and other colleagues took photos and left without trying to help the victims. "OK, we took photos without thinking," the man, who was not identified, was quoted as saying in today's edition. "What was I supposed to do? I'm neither a doctor nor a fireman."
The man, who was not identified, also insisted that Diana's driver was going too fast. "I have never seen anyone take off like that," he said. "He was driving like a gangster."
Authorities are particularly interested in how one photographer's car came to be parked in front of Diana's crumpled Mercedes. One man, Franck Levi, told The Associated Press that a motorcycle did cut off Diana's sedan, which was two cars behind him as he entered the Paris tunnel that night. "When I was halfway through the tunnel, I saw a motorcycle cut in front of it," he said. "When the motorcycle cut in front of him, I saw a large white flash." After that, he said he saw the Mercedes' headlights "go to the left, to the right and again on the left." He then lost sight of the Mercedes as he drove out of the tunnel.
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