Tuesday 9th September 1997
Reflections on a Visit to Kensington Palace Gardens
NORFOLK, ENGLAND. Yesterday, we travelled the hundred or so miles by train and tube to Kensington Palace Gardens. According to the BBC evening news late last night we were amongst 30,000 people to visit the gardens on that day alone - nine days after the Princess was tragically killed - to lay memorial flowers with the huge mass already lying in a great semi-circle in front of the black and gold wrought-iron gates of the great house which was Diana's home. A news helicopter hovered motionless high overhead all the time we were there, and it was quite something to return home late in the evening and see the film of the great mass of flowers in the Gardens where we had been, shot by their overhead camera.
The British police constables were polite and helpful, after what one described to me as: "the longest two weeks of my life!" ushering and directing when people requested. A security alert later turned out to be unfounded, in connection with the Israeli embassy nearby. People were apparently still queueing to add their thoughts to the 43 books of condolences at the back of the Palace to which they had been moved, but the queue was somewhat shorter than the twelve hours which people had been patiently waiting at its height.
The mood has changed. I only saw one person openly weeping, and like many people, my wife Claire, her mum and I were enormously touched and uplifted not only by the extraordinary sight of so many, many flowers - a whole field of them, their cellophane wrappers sparkling and twinkling in the gentle breeze, as nine-year-old Michael noticed, something that would not come across in still photos or overhead filming. But even more touching were the messages - not only on the bunches of flowers on the ground, but pinned and hanging from every tree along the perimeter paths of the large park and all the trees close to the gates of the House. So many, many, touching messages, many from children, many with pictures of the Queen of Hearts or the playing card itself attached. One small card hanging from a branch particularly struck Claire, and I copied it down. It expresses very well how we, and I am sure many, many other people feel at this time:
We were a party of seven - my wife's mother, 70, who had especially requested for us to come, I and my wife, and our four children,aged 9, 6, 3 and just four months. It would have been unwise (on safety grounds) for us to travel to central London for the service on Saturday, since between 2 and 6 million people were expected, and we would not have wanted to leave anyone behind. So we watched it on British TV, switching channels for the best commentary and view, and, like everyone else, saw how excellently the whole service was conducted, how well people behaved, and, also like everyone else, were moved by 'Goodbye England's Rose' and Earl Spencer's speech - someone on the train yesterday referred to it as 'the speech of the century.' I have certainly never heard any two performances so eloquent, so perfect, and yet so full of deep emotion.
We will all remember this - and by we I mean we, the human race. It is a chapter in history so well documented that it will never be forgotten or misread by the mass. Our three older children each laid two red roses on the great mass of flowers, and we adults one each. One red rose bud fell from our bunch, and we kept that, but there was no souvenir hunting. No one could have taken anything.
Further written messages seemed superfluous and inadequate at this point. The size of the main mass of flowers was so great that we were able to join the line of people right at the edge of it, next to the flowers themselves, to lay our own. They lay two feet deep - more in places - bunches on top of bunches, so that the ones on top are still fresh. It was then that I appreciated the scale of the problem of what to do with this amazing, amazing tribute and outpouring of people's hearts, not just here, but in front of Buckingham Palace, at the gates and road in front of Althorp (pronounced by the owner of the house as it is written - not 'All-throp') House, where Diana has been lain to rest. The police have requested people stop taking flowers there, since Althorp Island where she is buried is now completely covered in flowers taken there from the gates. An air exclusion zone to protect their privacy has been announced over the Althorp estate, with two incursions warned off so far. All this just goes to reinforce the incredible, incredible, nature of the phenomenon, with which the world is still trying to come to terms. Some try to ignore it and return to normal, to others it seems like a fantastic dream.
And it is a moral phenomenon, too. The Spencer family have requested that people now donate any further money that might be spent on flowers to the Memorial Fund:
LONDON W8 4PU
(sterling cheques money orders, or British postal orders made payable to The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund )
or for credit card donations telephone:
0990 66 44 22
adding international code prefix to the U.K. telephone number above.
Because of the huge continuing response it is an automated system, which accepts donations by means of the following cards:
The credit card donation line was on Monday reported to be receiving telephoned donations alone of £7,000 per hour. It will be used to support and carry forward the charitable work which Princess Diana did her best to publicise and help during her life-time, including the mammoth task of attempting to clear the estimated 100 million mines laid in developing countries and trouble spots around the world, from which are killing and disabling innocent people (mainly women and children) - by the Hazardous Areas Life-S upport Organisation (HALO) which cleared around 10,000 mines and 25,000 tonnes of unexploded shells in Angola and elsewhere last year alone. (For which information I am indebted to an article by Martin Revis in this magazine to be found on the internet at:
article by Martin Revis about the HALO Trust or for more information contact:
With almost certainly the best-selling single of all time, and an album of Diana tributes by British artists like Paul McCartney, Sting, George Michael and others planned for Christmas, Diana's should be the biggest Charitable Fund of all time. My own suggestion - suggested by many other also - was that the memorial flowers should be dried as bunches of pot pourri and sold for the fund at £1 a packet, producing an estimated £10 million pounds. If the flowers had been laid in a single layer in the Gardens they would have dried naturally in the good weather - but there would have been no room for any people! It is only having been right to them that I can now see and appreciate the scale of the problem. Because of the way they have been placed by all of us spontaneously, layer on layer in a great crescent over ten days, the ones underneath will undoubtedly rot, and are to be used as compost for the gardens which are to be re-named The Princess Diana Memorial Gardens in her honour. To give you some idea of their size, they are immediately to the west of Hyde Park, and about half its size. There is some idea of taking the freshest flowers to local hospitals, but it is estimated that already it will take FIVE WEEKS (!) to pick them all up, detach and store the cards - which will be retained by the Spencer family as a national treasure. There will then be a horseshoe garden area laid out in the Gardens where visitors can continue to lay flowers to Diana, which will, it seems to me, continue to happen for any foreseeable future. This is a more appropriate place for flowers for Diana to be laid than outside Althorp House, where there is only a road, and where they would need constantly clearing to avoid obstruction.
It does all seem like a dream, or some fantastic fantasy, doesn't it?
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