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The coffin, borne by eight members of the red-coated Welsh Guards, entered the abbey just as nearby Big Ben tolled out 11 a.m. Inside, the soaring Gothic arches were bathed in sunlight streaming through the abbey's windows. Patterns of stained glass shimmered on stone. The dreaded but inevitable moment of formal leave taking had arrived.
The service, which was broadcast outside over loudspeakers and on three mammoth television screens that had been erected in Hyde and Regent's parks, lasted just over an hour. It demonstrated again the soothing, cathartic power of ritual, the way in which ceremony can provide a shared context for personal grief. There were two dramatic diversions from the normal order of things. First, Elton John sang Candle in the Wind, a song he had originally written to celebrate Marilyn Monroe, with the lyrics revised to honor his friend Diana. A number of people had questioned the propriety of a rock star's performing in Westminster Abbey. But when John, accompanying himself on the piano, began singing the words "Goodbye, England's rose," guests inside the abbey seemed caught up in music and message. Prince Harry, who like his brother had kept his composure while walking behind their mother's casket, buried his face in his hands and sobbed during the song. Outside, people held candles, their flames flickering in the wind.
Then Diana's brother delivered a remarkably personal and pointed tribute. He renewed the denunciation of the press's invasive pursuit of his sister that he had first uttered after learning of Diana's death: "I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down. It is baffling. My own, and only, explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum." The earl said there is no need to "canonize" his sister's memory and acknowledged her flawed humanity: "For all the status, the glamour, the applause, Diana remained throughout a very insecure person at heart, almost childlike in her desire to do good for others so she could release herself from deep feelings of unworthiness, of which her eating disorders were merely a symptom." But he also described his sister as "someone with a natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic." That statement raised some eyebrows because it seemed to refer directly to Queen Elizabeth, sitting nearby, who had seen to it that the appellation Her Royal Highness was taken from Diana when she was divorced last year from Prince Charles. When Earl Spencer concluded his tribute, applause could be heard outside the abbey. Those inside at the rear then began clapping, and the tide of approval swept forward toward Diana's coffin. Services in Westminster Abbey are not supposed to generate applause.
But then so much of what happened on Saturday, and during the six days of mourning that led up to it, seemed unprecedented. At one point British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "It is something more profound than anything I can remember in the totality of my life." Many people might disagree with that sentiment, but few could doubt that something remarkable was going on.