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.’