Today in History: Princess Diana's Death

I can scarcely believe that Princess Diana died 11 years ago. It seems like just yesterday that I heard the news for the first time… only to not believe it at all. It didn’t really sink in until after I heard it from my sister that it was really true.

In my 1997-1998 Online Journal (pre-blogging), I wrote about the moment I first heard about Diana’s death. I had been camping with my friends, and a latecomer to the group first broke the news:

August 31, 1997
… When we got back to the campground, we found out that another friend, Steve, would be arriving in a little while. Steve had gone camping with us in Michigan numerous times. When Steve arrived about an hour later, he said, “So have you guys been living in a vacuum, or have you heard that Princess Diana died?”

We thought he was joking. Steve tends to joke a lot, and a lot of times we don’t know whether to take him seriously or not. We laughed and said “Yeah right,”

“No, I’m serious, she’s dead,” Steve said, and told us about how the paparazzi were chasing her and the car crashed in a tunnel in France. We still didn’t believe him, and he finally gave up trying to convince us.

I, however, was disturbed just enough by what he said that I had to check it out. I snuck out of the campsite and went up to the grocery building and called my parents. My sister answered the phone. The first thing she asked was, “Have you been hearing any news?”

I knew what was next. “No,” I answered. What’s up?

“Princess Diana Died. She was in a car accident.”

I felt my heart sink. I couldn’t believe it was true. “Oh my GOD”….

She told me all about what happened, how the paparazzi were on their tail, how they took pictures after the car crashed and she was still alive; how her boyfriend was dead and so was the driver; how she died a few hours later at the hospital.

I was instantly stunned, and couldn’t think of anything else after that. I ran back to the campground and broke the news. Everyone was shocked, and apologized to Steve for not believing him. I just sat by myself for a while thinking about it.

It’s funny, she wasn’t our princess, and yet she was. They have been calling her the “Princess for the People” and it was true. She was royalty in everyone’s eyes, no matter what the British Parliament said. She was such a humanitarian, and so incredibly beautiful. And now she is gone…. and I will always remember– just as those who were alive when John F. Kennedy was assassinated– where I was when I heard she had died.

The news kind of marred the rest of the day; I couldn’t get it out of my mind… but the day did continue, and we did have a lot of fun. It was so beautiful on Saturday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and at night, the stars were so bright it seemed as if you could pick them right out of the sky. I sat and stared at them, wondering what really happens after we die. Where we go– what we do. Yeah, deep, I know, but I guess I just think of those things when I realize just how insignificant we really are. It’s humbling to think about that once in a while.

One of the most powerful moments of her funeral — and there were many — was Elton John’s performance of “Candle in the Wind,” re-written and dedicated to his friend and fan, Princess Diana, with the subtitle “Goodbye England’s Rose.” It went on to become the best-selling single of all-time; a record that has yet to be broken, and probably never will be broken. And Elton John has stated that, aside from special occasions, he will never perform the song again.

Here, then, in memory of Diana, is his mournful performance of that song at Diana’s funeral. How he made it through without bursting into tears is anyone’s guess. I know I couldn’t have done it. But Elton is a pro, and he handled it masterfully.

0 thoughts on “Today in History: Princess Diana's Death

  1. This happened the weekend of my 10th high school reunion. I remember near the end of the night someone mentioned Princess Di had died, but I thought it was the punchline of a joke that I had missed the rest of. It wasn't until returning to my parent's house late that night that I learned what happened.

    It was the first public figure death that I ever was truly saddened and affected by.

  2. Not to be overly gay, but someone once said that she was the Julie Garland of our generation. Both were tragic figures that died way too early.

  3. Wow, it doesn't feel like 11 years have gone by since her passing. I remember being in Saugatuck for the holiday weekend and turning on the TV to learn of the accident. We just sat there stunned and shocked.

    “It’s funny, she wasn’t our princess, and yet she was”…Rick that is so true

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