Very soon after Diana’s death, the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and William and Harry went to church as usual on the Balmoral estate.
The vicar was instructed not to mention Diana in the service, prompting the charge that it was probably the only church in the country that did not mention the Princess by name in its prayers.
It was as if she was being airbrushed from history. There is even a suggestion that 12-year-old Prince Harry said to Charles during the service: ‘Are you sure Mummy is dead?’
The sheer intensity of the public response to Diana’s death, at the age of 36, took Buckingham Palace aback. As did anger among MPs and the public who felt the royals were aloof and uncaring.
The hostility was inflamed by the fact that Buckingham Palace’s flagpole had stood bare — in stark contrast to the way flags on all other official buildings had been lowered, and to the mass of flowers at the Palace gates.
It did not matter that the Queen was simply observing protocol — that the Royal Standard is flown above the Palace only when she is in residence, and had never been at half-mast because it symbolises the continuity of the monarchy.
When, finally, the Queen came to London and made her TV broadcast, the Standard was flown at half-mast. And the crowds broke into spontaneous applause.
She tore up the rule book to support the nation in its grief.
That public backlash had shaken her, says royal commentator Michael Thornton. ‘By talking of a “very bad experience” the Queen meant not just the shock of the death of Diana but the events of the week after which were unprecedented to someone who had such a well-ordered life,’ he says. ‘I suspect she still struggles to comprehend what happened that week.’
Penny Junor, whose semi-authorised biography of Camilla Parker Bowles is top of the bestsellers list, suggests the Queen was trying to be a good grandmother while being unfairly criticised for doing so.
‘She was thinking of William and Harry,’ she says. ‘For the first time in her life, she put family first by staying in Balmoral with the boys.
‘The fact those boys were as brave as they were, and able to do that ghastly walk behind the coffin, is, I suspect, a lot to do with the support they had during that week from their grandparents.
‘If their grandmother had left them to go to London, it would have been terrible for them.’
Ian Shapiro, a leading London collector of royal memorabilia, said it was almost unheard of to read a letter from the Queen in which she expresses such private views.
‘I think the comments reflect the Queen’s utter confusion,’ he said.
‘She was following her instinct by staying with her grandsons. At the same time, she was being bullied by the Government over the need for a broadcast to the nation, to leave Balmoral and to lower the flag over the Palace.