Background to the Speech
The marriage between Diana (née Spencer) and Charles, Prince of Wales, had collapsed by the 1990s. The two royals had been divorced for a while, when the former Princess of Wales went on a trip to Paris with her new boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed. On 30 August 1997, whilst escaping from papparazzi, Mr al-Fayed's car crashed in a tunnel, leaving him and his driver dead. Hours later, the grievously injured Diana was declared dead by her French doctors, thrusting the British monarchy into an unprecedented crisis of public perception.
At the time of Diana's death, Tony Blair had only been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a few months, having been elected to the nation's highest office in a landslide victory for his Labour Party in May 1997. Now, hours after the tragic news, he was faced with the task of consoling a grieving nation.
Original Text of the Speech
“I am utterly devastated. The whole of our country, all of us, will be in a state of shock and mourning. Diana was a wonderful, warm and compassionate person who people, not just in Britain, but throughout the world, loved and will mourn as a friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, in particular with her two sons, and with all of the families bereaved in this quite appalling tragedy.
I feel like everyone else in this country today – utterly devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana’s family – in particular her two sons, two boys – our hearts go out to them. We are today a nation, in Britain, in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us.
She was a wonderful and warm human being. Though her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy, she touched the lives of so many others in Britain – throughout the world – with joy and with comfort. How many times shall we remember her, in how many different ways, with the sick, the dying, with children, with the needy, when, with just a look or a gesture that spoke so much more than words, she would reveal to all of us the depth of her compassion and her humanity. How difficult things were for her from time to time, surely we can only guess at – but the people everywhere, not just here in Britain but everywhere, they kept faith with Princess Diana, they liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the people’s princess and that’s how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and in our memories forever.
She seemed full of happiness, full of life, she was great fun to be with and she was an unusual but a really warm character and personality and I will remember her personally with very great affection. I think the whole country will remember her with the deepest affection and love and that is why our grief is so deep today. Thank you.”
Note the use of the collective “all of us” by the Prime Minister. He also uses emotionally charged terms such as “loved” and “friend”. He also refers to “our thoughts and prayers”. It is obvious that Blair successfully attempts to speak for the entire nation during what proved to be a trying time for many citizens. This is even more remarkable, as it has been widely reported that Blair hardly knew the Princess of Wales prior to her death.
Blair’s description of Diana is that of a “wonderful and warm human being”. It implies a deeper awareness of the personality of the deceased princess. Additionally, it is notable that he emphasizes the role that Diana played “in Britain – throughout the world”, keenly aware that his words reflect an incident that would be widely reported in international news broadcasts. He then shifts to describe the appeal that the princess had to so many people, including the respect that she had obtained for “her compassion and her humanity”. He also alludes to the difficult times in her life, widely reported in newspapers and television reports – thus empathizing and sympathizing with those tough periods in her life.
But the key to the speech is the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph, which levels the princess to the level of “one of us” – whilst subtly reinforcing the Prime Minister as “one of us” as well. In a way, Blair was distancing himself from the Royal Family (“them”, maybe?) by reinforcing the collective appellation. The final paragraph has to be seen from this perspective as well, since the prime minister talks about the “great affection” with which he will remember the princess. However, given the sparse contact between the two, it would seem that this is an emotional expression on behalf of the wider public, who did get to know her ever since the televised wedding between her and the Prince of Wales in 1981.