A Princess And The Public: How Diana’s Death Changed the World

Moments from the world mourning Princess Diana after her death.

There are some moments that live forever in our shared human cultural history — the moments that prompt the question, “Where were you when you heard about it?” The moon landing. The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. Times in our collective memory where a marker is placed, as if to say, something has changed and we will not be the same.

The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, on Aug. 31, 1997, is one of those touchstones.

The public outpouring of grief during that week, from her death to her funeral, was something new. It wasn’t enough to know that Diana had been killed — people wanted to stand and be counted as one of her mourners. From the moment that her death was announced, there was a movement to make sure her passing would not be forgotten. Tens of thousands flocked to British palaces and embassies around the world to leave flowers, notes, posters, and any other sort of talisman as a tribute to her life. In London, people from all walks of life waited up to 12 hours to sign books of condolence at St. James’s Palace, and “quiet sobs” were heard from outside Kensington Palace, Diana’s onetime home.

Even at the time, people found it hard to explain exactly why they were so determined to honor her memory.

“I had to be here," one man told the Daily Mirror on the day of Diana’s funeral. "It's so difficult to put into words, but if you look at all the other people here, you will know what I mean."

Her life touched something within people. And after her death, as images from this time of international mourning show, people wanted to touch back, to use their hands to show the mark she had left on their lives.

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