The Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales 2.0

Tom Overton

Last Thursday night there was a 21st-anniversary re-enactment of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Shortly after 6.30 p.m., a crowd – the Daily Mail estimated 160 – gathered under a bridge in Salford, some carrying flowers, most dressed in black. A Daily Star article the week before, and another that afternoon – ‘Fury as “sickos” prepare to “EXORCISE” Princess Diana in “funeral 2.0” TONIGHT’ – may have helped publicise the event. The editor of Royal Central (‘the latest news on the royals of Europe’) was said by the Star to have ‘raged’ that ‘the production will also be casting people to play living people, including Diana’s brother Earl Spencer … No doubt when William, Harry and Diana’s closest family find out about this production, they will be disgusted.’

The coffin was draped in a black-and-white flag and topped with a wreath. As we followed it down the streets, through an underpass, over a bridge and along a section of dual carriageway, people in cars and restaurants seemed unsure if they were gawping at a real body. Two paparazzi were in the crowd, looking by turns confused, angry and nervous, their telephoto lenses quaint in the shoal of cameraphones. No one seemed sure if they were part of the performance or not.

They weren’t. When we got to the venue, the White Hotel (a fairly new place on an industrial estate near Strangeways Prison, named for D.M. Thomas’s novel), its artistic director, Austin Collings, told the bouncers not to let the paparazzi in. The photographer who sold his pictures to the Star told the paper that ‘the “mourners” were all too young to remember Diana’s funeral – they were all bohemian arty types’. He seemed oddly proud of being a member of the press corps who was around at the time. He filed his photos sitting against an outside wall hung with print-outs of pictures that the Mail – which bought his colleague's snaps – had dug up last year: Diana playing tennis in a shirt and swimsuit.

Inside the White Hotel, there was neither a Mercedes S280 nor a white Fiat Uno but a black VW Polo, its door ripped off, bonnet and windscreen smashed, flowers strewn everywhere, airbags out and scraps of blonde wig in the footwell. The official mourners were sitting on pews to the right of the stage behind a barrier. Proceedings began with a fanfare from a Mexican mariachi trumpeter. Stanley Schtinter, the artist responsible for the event, was among the speakers. In the promotional material, he both pointed out his own slight physical resemblance to Diana, and archly suggested that her death ‘liberated’ Britain from Protestantism, putting it

more in touch with its feelings. Before Diana any public expression of grief was forbidden; after Diana public expression of grief became mandatory. This paved the way for the renaissance of feeling which facilitated Facebook, live-streamed suicides and store-bought guacamole. The renaissance of feeling is now over.

Tony Blair was played by Rob Thornber, a friend of Collings who thought he’d been picked for having the poshest voice available. The face-twitching effort not to smirk every time he was booed and heckled – ‘say sorry Tony!’ – made the impression all the more convincing.

The most deliberate moment of pantomime tastelessness involved a bearded man among the official mourners putting on a gas mask and shooting the actor dressed as Jill Dando: a mummers’-play reminder of the conspiracy theory that she and Diana were murdered because they were about to expose Jimmy Savile’s paedophile ring.

The lights went out and music played: the Aloof’s ten-minute electronica instrumental ‘The Last Stand’. Radio 1 had played it every thirty minutes on the day Diana died. ‘Haunting and incredible – it matched the mood of the nation perfectly that day,’ one of the commenters on YouTube remembers. If it did, though the drum rolls occasionally sound vaguely courtly and official and the strings have pretensions to the orchestral, there’s very little funereal about it. It’s major-key and optimistic, like the credits of an uplifting film in which someone has been freed. The vocal version which mixed in afterwards, ‘One Night Stand’, adds in a bassline and 1990s lad-mag lyrics: ‘Why am I lying here and what was her name? I feel nothing at all/I feel no shame.’

The Funeral of Diana 2.0 may not have been the spectacle of manipulative hypocrisy that the first one was, but it wasn’t straightforwardly and cynically satirical, either. Everyone stood in silence for Jonathan Meades’s eerie performance of Earl Spencer’s speech. And as the mariachi trio performed a broken, lilting ‘Candle in the Wind’, people threw roses and sang along. At the end of the song, someone who'd been waving their lighter in the air lowered it to their lips and blew it out.


  • 11 September 2018 at 4:43pm
    Philip Welch says:
    The Wedding of Charles and Diana v1.26: On 29 July 1981 at midday I married 25 pairs of Charles and Diana look-alikes (well, many holding cardboard masks) in front of the Beethoven statue in the Muensterplatz, Bonn. It was a happening/art action organised by friends of mine in the Bonner Kunstverein as a parody of what was happening in St Paul's. After the ceremony there was a procession through the town with many people dressed up in what they took to be Upper Class English togs (Ascot, top hats, several Margaret Thatchers). I was invited as presumably I had a sufficiently posh accent and could remember enough of a C.of E. wedding service to do a serviceable mock rendering.
    The whole crowd of us then marched through the city to the Kunstverein House, escorted by a pair of unsmiling police motocyclemen in green leathers. At the House we then partied. Eventually some artist out on the street inflated with helium what slowly vertically emerged to become a two storey high floating rubber penis. I had not noticed but up the length of the penis-balloon was a thin rubber hose. At the moment of greatest engorgement somebody shook up a bottle of sekt (ersatz german champagne) and held it to the bottom of this tube. The effect was marvellous, under pressure sekt spouted out the top and showered the cheering crowd. Then the policeman smiled.

  • 11 September 2018 at 6:17pm
    lfraley says:
    Sounds like fun for the art crowd. The more mundane of us are finding out how the first day of school was for the grandkids, weeding the walkway, and thinking about the world after 9/11.

    • 12 September 2018 at 4:02am
      jrsm says: @ lfraley
      Yes, how dare people do things.

  • 12 September 2018 at 11:40pm says:
    I guess some people like this kind of stuff. The workd apparently is still a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel. I gather feeling still isn't popular in the UK or in Bonn..I get the satire but there seems something very mean-sprited about it all.