LONDON – Kathy Martin joined the stream of visitors laying tributes to Princess Diana outside the gates of Kensington Palace on Thursday, just as she did 20 years ago.
The 55-year-old Diana devotee vividly remembers Aug. 31, 1997. She was wakened by an early morning phone call from family in Australia telling her the princess had died in a Paris car accident, then raced to the palace with her daughter and was among the first to leave a floral tribute. Throngs of people began arriving 10 minutes later, adding cards, teddy bears and mountains of flowers.
Martin returns to Kensington Palace, where Diana once lived, every year on the anniversary of her death, on Christmas and on the princess’ birthday. On Thursday, she brought picture collages, poems and a Victorian spongecake decorated with Diana’s picture, which she shared with other royal fans.
“She was just the beautiful, warming, caring humanitarian,” Martin said. “She touched all walks of life. Diana always put a smile on the face and that’s something for people.”
The weeks leading up to the anniversary have been filled with television documentaries and newspaper stories reflecting on the princess and her contributions to the country and to the monarchy. Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry, added to the buildup with a series of heart-wrenching interviews in which they talked about their mother’s love and the pain of her death.
On Thursday though, it was the public’s turn to recall “The People’s Princess.” Fans like Martin gathered at the palace to mark the two decades since Diana’s death triggered a flood of grief across Britain and beyond. Her admirers began paying tribute to the princess before dawn, placing candles shaped in the letter “D” at the palace gates.
“We had never met her and been nowhere near her, but I think she touched so many people because of who she was, the way she conducted herself in the context of where she was living and who she became,” said Mara Klemich, 55, a well-wisher from Sydney.
William and Harry weren’t scheduled to take part in any events Thursday. They honored their mother Wednesday, visiting a garden at Kensington Palace where she used to stroll and talk to gardeners about their ever-changing displays. The princes and the Duchess of Cambridge, William’s wife, met with well-wishers afterward.
The 36-year-old princess died in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997. Her Mercedes, pursued by paparazzi, crashed into a concrete pillar in the Alma Tunnel in Paris while traveling at more than 60 mph (100 kph).
Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and their driver Henri Paul were all killed. Her bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, was injured but survived.
In Paris, royal watchers gathered at the tunnel Thursday to remember Diana’s life. Some wept.
“It’s been 20 years now, but there are people you don’t forget, and she is one of them,” said Sylviane Rives, who works nearby. “That is what I wrote on a little card for her.”
Those who didn’t go to the palace or to the tunnel took to social media to express their grief and to recall her kindness.
20 years after her death, we look back on Princess Diana’s life and legacy at https://t.co/vqTBfK6P1r #Diana20 pic.twitter.com/3a4pOL3r6e
— CNN (@CNN) August 31, 2017
The co-designer of Diana’s wedding dress, Elizabeth Emanuel, tweeted a picture of the princess shortly after her arrival at St. Paul’s Cathedral for her 1981 wedding. In the image, the designers and bridesmaids straighten the dress’ immense train, unfurling a sea of white that flowed in her wake.
“Thinking of the wonderful times we spent with Diana and the great joy she brought into our lives and all those who knew her,” Emanuel said.
Elton John offered a tribute, posting an image on social media with his hand on her shoulder. Both are smiling.
The pop icon, who memorably performed his moving song “Candle In The Wind” at Diana’s funeral, wrote “20 years ago today, the world lost an angel. #RIP.”
As the day wore on, images of the day two decades ago ran on the television newscasts and websites, reminding the nation of events long past. Aerial photographs offered reminders of the carpet of flowers that people brought to the palace, one bouquet at a time.
The intense outpouring will likely not be the final time the country mourns for Diana, said Pauline Maclaran, co-author of “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.” Like other cultural icons, such as Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, Diana will live on — even if the royals may have said all they wish on the subject.
“Maybe a new generation doesn’t relate to her that much,” Maclaran said. “But that will change. … The media will find new and innovative ways to reinvent her.”