Chapter no 6


WILLY AND WALKED UP and down the crowds outside Kensington Palace, smiling, shaking hands. As if we were running for office. Hundreds and hundreds of hands were thrust continually into our faces, the fingers often wet.

From what? I wondered.

Tears, I realized.

I disliked how those hands felt. More, I hated how they made me feel. Guilty.

Why were all these people crying when I wasn’t—and hadn’t?

I wanted to cry, and I’d tried to, because Mummy’s life had been so sad that she’d felt the need to disappear, to invent this massive charade. But I couldn’t squeeze out one drop. Maybe I’d learned too well, absorbed too deeply, the ethos of the family, that crying wasn’t an option—ever.

I remember the mounds of flowers all around us. I remember feeling unspeakable sorrow and yet being unfailingly polite. I remember old ladies saying: Oh, my, how polite, the poor boy! I remember muttering thanks, over and over, thank you for coming, thank you for saying that, thank you for camping out here for several days. I remember consoling several folks who were prostrate, overcome, as if they knew Mummy, but also thinking: You didn’t, though. You act as if you did…but you didn’t know her.

That is…you don’t know her. Present tense.

After offering ourselves up to the crowds, we went inside Kensington Palace. We entered through two big black doors, into Mummy’s apartment, went down a long corridor and into a room off the left. There stood a large coffin. Dark brown, English oak. Am I remembering or imagining that it was draped in…a Union Jack?

That flag mesmerized me. Maybe because of my boyish war games. Maybe because of my precocious patriotism. Or maybe because I’d been hearing rumblings for days about the flag, the flag, the flag. That was all anyone could talk about. People were up in arms because the flag hadn’t been lowered to half-mast over Buckingham Palace. They didn’t care that the Royal Standard never flew at half-mast, no matter what, that it flew when Granny was in residence, and didn’t fly when she was away, full stop. They cared only about seeing some official show of mourning, and they were enraged by its absence. That is, they were whipped into rage by the British papers, which were trying to deflect attention from their role in Mummy’s disappearance. I recall one headline, addressed pointedly at Granny: Show Us You Care. How rich, coming from the same fiends who “cared”

so much about Mummy that they chased her into a tunnel from which she never emerged.

By now I’d overheard this “official” version of events: Paps chased Mummy through the streets of Paris, then into a tunnel, where her Mercedes crashed into a wall or cement pillar, killing her, her friend, and the driver.

Standing before the flag-draped coffin, I asked myself: Is Mummy a patriot?

What does Mummy really think of Britain? Has anyone bothered to ask her?

When will I be able to ask her myself?

I can’t recollect anything the family said in that moment, to each other or to the coffin. I don’t recall a word that passed between me and Willy, though I do remember people around us saying “the boys” look “shell-shocked.” Nobody bothered to whisper, as if we were so shell-shocked that we’d gone deaf.

There was some discussion about the next day’s funeral. Per the latest plan, the coffin would be pulled through the streets on a horse-drawn carriage by the King’s Troop while Willy and I followed on foot. It seemed a lot to ask of two young boys. Several adults were aghast. Mummy’s brother, Uncle Charles, raised hell. You can’t make these boys walk behind their mother’s coffin! It’s barbaric.

An alternative plan was put forward. Willy would walk alone. He was fifteen, after all. Leave the younger one out of it. Spare the Spare. This alternative plan was sent up the chain.

Back came the answer.

It must be both princes. To garner sympathy, presumably.

Uncle Charles was furious. But I wasn’t. I didn’t want Willy to undergo an ordeal like that without me. Had the roles been reversed, he’d never have wanted me—indeed, allowed me—to go it alone.

So, come morning, bright and early, off we went, all together. Uncle Charles on my right, Willy to his right, followed by Grandpa. And on my left was Pa. I noted at the start how serene Grandpa looked, as if this was merely another royal engagement. I could see his eyes, clearly, because he was gazing straight ahead. They all were. But I kept mine down on the road. So did Willy.

I remember feeling numb. I remember clenching my fists. I remember keeping a fraction of Willy always in the corner of my vision and drawing loads of strength from that. Most of all I remember the sounds, the clinking bridles and clopping hooves of the six sweaty brown horses, the squeaking wheels of the gun carriage they were hauling. (A relic from the First World War, someone said, which seemed right, since Mummy, much as she loved peace, often seemed a soldier, whether she

was warring against the paps or Pa.) I believe I’ll remember those few sounds for the rest of my life, because they were such a sharp contrast to the otherwise all-encompassing silence. There wasn’t one engine, one lorry, one bird. There wasn’t one human voice, which was impossible, because two million people lined the roads. The only hint that we were marching through a canyon of humanity was the occasional wail.

After twenty minutes we reached Westminster Abbey. We filed into a long pew. The funeral began with a series of readings and eulogies, and culminated with Elton John. He rose slowly, stiffly, as if he was one of the great kings buried for centuries beneath the abbey, suddenly roused back to life. He walked to the front, seated himself at a grand piano. Is there anyone who doesn’t know that he sang “Candle in the Wind,” a version he’d reworked for Mummy? I can’t be sure the notes in my head are from that moment or from clips I’ve seen since. Possibly they’re vestiges of recurring nightmares. But I do have one pure, indisputable memory of the song climaxing and my eyes starting to sting and tears nearly falling.


Towards the end of the service came Uncle Charles, who used his allotted time to blast everyone—family, nation, press—for stalking Mummy to her death. You could feel the abbey, the nation outside, recoil from the blow. Truth hurts. Then eight Welsh Guards moved forward, hoisted the enormous lead-lined coffin, which was now draped in the Royal Standard, an extraordinary break with protocol. (They’d also yielded to pressure and lowered the flag to half-mast; not the Royal Standard, of course, but the Union Jack—still, an unprecedented compromise.) The Royal Standard was always reserved for members of the Royal Family, which, I’d been told, Mummy wasn’t anymore. Did this mean she was forgiven? By Granny? Apparently. But these were questions I couldn’t quite formulate, let alone ask an adult, as the coffin was slowly carried outside and loaded into the back of a black hearse. After a long wait the hearse drove off, rolled steadily through London, which surged on all sides with the largest crowd that ageless city had ever seen—twice as large as the crowds that celebrated the end of the Second World War. It went past Buckingham Palace, up Park Lane, towards the outskirts, over to the Finchley Road, then Hendon Way, then the Brent Cross flyover, then the North Circular, then the M1 to Junction 15a and northwards to Harlestone, before passing through the iron front gate of Uncle Charles’s estate.


Willy and I watched most of that car ride on TV. We were already at Althorp. We’d been speeded ahead, though it turned out there was no need to hurry. Not only did the hearse go the long way round, it was delayed several times by all the people heaping flowers onto it, blocking the vents and causing the engine to overheat. The driver had to keep pulling over so the bodyguard could get out and clear the flowers off the windscreen. The bodyguard was Graham. Willy and I liked him a lot. We always called him Crackers, as in Graham Crackers. We thought that was hysterical.

When the hearse finally got to Althorp the coffin was removed again and carried across the pond, over a green iron bridge hastily positioned by military engineers, to a little island, and there it was placed upon a platform. Willy and I walked across the same bridge to the island. It was reported that Mummy’s hands were folded across her chest and between them was placed a photo of me and Willy, possibly the only two men who ever truly loved her. Certainly the two who loved her most. For all eternity we’d be smiling at her in the darkness, and maybe it was this image, as the flag came off and the coffin descended to the bottom of the hole, that finally broke me. My body convulsed and my chin fell and I began to sob uncontrollably into my hands.

I felt ashamed of violating the family ethos, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer. It’s OK, I reassured myself, it’s OK. There aren’t any cameras around.

Besides, I wasn’t crying because I believed my mother was in that hole. Or in that coffin. I promised myself I’d never believe that, no matter what anyone said.

No, I was crying at the mere idea.

It would just be so unbearably tragic, I thought, if it was actually true.

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