Outpouring of grief following Diana's death was 'typically British'

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The mass outpouring of grief after Diana, Princess of Wales died was actually a "typically British" response, an expert in death rituals has said.

A sea of floral tributes was left at the gates of the Princess's home Kensington Palace, and hundreds of thousands of people lined her funeral route, with some weeping and throwing flowers as the coffin passed.

But the public sorrow witnessed in 1997 was nothing new.

Professor Douglas Davies, director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies at Durham University, said such a release of emotion has been common throughout history.

From the death of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert to the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, Brits have often gathered together in shock and mourning.

After the loss of life on the Titanic, St Paul's Cathedral had to close its doors two hours before the service because of the vast numbers of people.

"There was an enormous public response to the death of the Titanic," Prof Davies said.

"They were kneeling in prayer in Trafalgar Square. If that happened today the media would go berserk - you can just see the headline now, 'Religious Revival'."

The author of Mors Britannica: Lifestyle And Death-style In Britain Today added: "The reaction to Diana's death was typically British."

But the media overlooked the past when they responded to Diana's death, he said.

"At the time, the response of the media was without consideration of British history of responses to such things... There have been large outpourings of sentiment."

When Prince Albert died at the age of 42 in 1861, the whole country was swathed in black, shops were shuttered, blinds drawn and theatre performances cancelled.

The middle classes dressed themselves in black and even the poorest donned some form of black, if only an arm band.

In 1892, when King Edward VII's son, Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who was meant to be king instead of George V, died unexpectedly from flu just weeks before his wedding, the country was left in shock.

In more modern times, after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, the pitch at Anfield was covered with thousands of bunches of flowers, and football scarves laid as a mark of respect to the Liverpool fans who died.

Prof Davies said Diana's was an "offending death" where the Princess was suddenly killed, viewed as a victim, and where authority figures seemed not to be reacting in the wake of the crash.

In the days that followed, the Queen was criticised for failing to respond to the mood of the nation when she stayed at Balmoral to comfort her young grandsons Princes William and Harry.

The flagpole at Buckingham Palace remained bare, as was the protocol, and the newspaper front pages demanded: "Show us you care" and "Where is our Queen? Where is her flag?".

Prof Davies suggested that the perceived "betrayal of a Princess" was one of the factors which amplified people's grief.

"Had she been betrayed by her husband and had she been betrayed by the Royal Family?

"All the conspiracy theories about her being killed by secret services.

"When you look back on it they were amazing lines of argument, but what they were touching upon was the issue of betrayal."

He added: "Look at the concept of princess in British society. 'My little princess' daddies say to daughters. That cultural category of the princess... and then when the little princess - the princess - is then betrayed that then becomes a big issue.

"They are part of the dynamics - the background - a game switch - to see the kind of public massing in London as a response to it."