Princess Diana’s sudden and tragic death on August 31, 1997 shocked the world and left many of her admirers heartbroken.
News reports showed fans of the Princess of Wales mourning her loss through tear-filled vigils and tributes in the form of flowers and cards left at the gates of Kensington Palace.
As the rest of the world continued to reel from the overwhelming news, the royal family kept a very low profile at Queen Elizabeth’s Scotland home Balmoral Castle.
Many royal watchers and media reports accused Queen Elizabeth II of not caring about Diana’s death, but little did they know that her public silence was to protect her two young grandson’s (Prince William was 15 and Prince Harry was 12) who just lost their mother in the worst way possible.
The day before Diana’s funeral, Her Majesty finally broke her silence during a live broadcast. She described her former daughter-in-law as “an exceptional and gifted human being.”
“In good times and bad, she never lost her capacity to smile and laugh, nor to inspire others with her warmth and kindness,” she added.
It wasn’t until years after the tragedy that those close to the monarch revealed that Diana’s death took quite a toll on her, but she was being a “proper granny” by making William and Harry stay with her in Scotland and avoiding any interactions with the media that could worsen an already painful situation.
“What was the point of bringing the boys down to sit in London with nothing to do but sit there feeling sad about mum?” Margaret Rhodes, the queen’s cousin and close friend told CNN in 2012. “Personally, I think I would have behaved in the same way.”
Elizabeth even confided in one of her closest aides, Lady Henriette Abel Smith, about Diana’s devastating death just six days after it happened.
“It was indeed dreadfully sad, and she is a huge loss to the country. But the public reaction to her death, and the service in the Abbey, seem to have united people round the world in a rather inspiring way,” the Queen wrote in the heartfelt letter.
“William and Harry have been so brave and I am very proud of them. Emotions are still so mixed up but we have all been through a very bad experience!” she added.
According to Ingrid Seward’s book The Queen & Di, the Queen and Prince Charles were the first in the family to find out about Diana’s fatal accident. While Charles was said to have broken down in tears, his mother was in too much shock to do anything.
Despite their differences, the Queen still had affection for Diana and thought the People’s Princess’ death was “a terrible waste.”
At Diana’s funeral, the Queen did a rare gesture that many didn’t see coming: she bowed as the casket was carried past her. It’s customary for women to curtsy and men to bow to Her Majesty as a sign of respect, but she is not required to.
Not only was Elizabeth bowing a sign of respect for her former daughter-in-law, it shows that she held a special place in her life and sends a message of compassion.