That was the week that was Not on
David Nolan's diary of how Britain closed down after Diana's deathTV AND RADIO On Sunday 31 August, the day Diana died, ITV and BBC TV dropped their entire schedules in favour of an all-day grief-fest. All five BBC national radio networks cancelled their regular programmes and carried continuous coverage from Radio 4's Today team. On Radio 1 there were no jingles or trails until the afternoon of Monday 1 September. Radio 4 cut Monday's Newsquiz and a Julian Clary comedy. ITV took out Talking Telephone Numbers, Strike It Rich, and Police Academy 6 from Monday's schedule; and on Tuesday Lethal Weapon III was replaced by the 'gentle fantasy' Field of Dreams. Throughout the week, TV and radio schedules were subject to further revision. Chris Evans cancelled his show TFI Friday (the first in a new series), saying he 'wasn't in the mood for a lot of jokes, and he didn't suppose anyone else was either'.
On Saturday 6 September, ITV and Channel 4 carried un-interrupted coverage of the funeral, without breaking for adverts (Mercedes had already withdrawn its advert). The National Lottery draw did not take place on Saturday evening; it was held over until Sunday morning, but was not broadcast even then. An episode of London's Burning featuring a car crash in a tunnel under London's Docklands was hastily rewritten, even though it was not due for transmission until early 1998. Fridge magnets (price: 59p) in the shape of the Spitting Image puppet of Princess Diana were withdrawn from sale.
On Monday 1 September Hello! magazine pulped several hundred thousand copies of its 'Diana Romance' edition, which suggested that Di and Dodi might marry. A memorial issue appeared later in the week. On Wednesday the American publicist for the Duchess of York said he had tried to withdraw all Fergie's slimming ads in which she says that losing weight is 'harder than outrunning the paparazzi'; the ads did appear in two magazines which went to press before Diana's death. The biggest supermarket chain in the USA announced that it would not sell newspapers which carried pictures of the crash victims in the car; nobody dared print them anyway. Earl Spencer asked tabloid editors to stay away from Saturday's funeral, although broadsheet editors were invited.
National newsagents removed copies of the Viz summer issue (printed ages before Diana's death) because it carried the coverline 'your chance to romp with a naked Princess Di' and featured a spoof board game called 'Princess Di's Shopping Extravaganza'. Private Eye also disappeared from many shop shelves, even though its 'controversial' issue was criticising press and public hypocrisy rather than taking the rise out of Diana herself.
Liz Hurley and Mike Myers cancelled the Monday premiere of their new film Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. Bette Midler postponed the release of her film about a paparazzo-turned-hero. On Tuesday the Royal Shakespeare Company cancelled Cole Porter's 1930s musical Jubilee (about a princess called Diana who does not want to be royal) at the Barbican. Sir Cameron Macintosh stopped all the Saturday matinees of his London shows. Saturday evening performances of Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Martin Guerre concluded with a minute's silence.
U2 were criticised for not cancelling their Tuesday night gig at Edinburgh's Murrayfield stadium. Scheduled for Saturday 6 September, Wet Wet Wet's concert at Glasgow's Parkhead was held over until the following day. Kylie Minogue changed the title of her album Impossible Princess to...Kylie Minogue. Techno-punks Prodigy postponed the release of their single 'Slap my bitch up' (already in trouble with radio controllers) while the sleeve was re-designed; the original artwork depicted a banged-up VW Beetle. Rolling Stone Keith Richards refused to participate in a Diana memorial album, saying 'I never met the chick'.
With only days to go before the Scottish and Welsh referenda, all political parties suspended their devolution campaigns. Party politics went into abeyance, until Tory leader William Hague was strongly criticised for suggesting that New Labour was making political capital from its connections with the princess. In Dublin a 'giant' city-centre street party in honour of retiring president Mary Robinson was called off. Irish Prime Minister Bernie Ahern hoped that the death of Diana would be a spur to ending hostilities in the North. Demos, publishers of BritainTM (a booklet about New Britain and its identity), postponed its release until the following week.
While Tesco, Safeway and Asda said they would remain closed until after the funeral, the Somerfield supermarket chain planned to stay open (and donate the takings to charity) until 'pressure from staff and customers' forced it to give way. The Federation of Small Businesses advised employers to allow 'sympathy leave' on Saturday 6 September (employees at the Aker McNulty offshore rig-yard went on strike after they were told to work as normal). All over Britain, notices went up saying that shops, post offices, parcel delivery companies, museums and zoos (the animals must have been in mourning too) would close that day 'as a mark of respect'. Among the many establishments that closed their doors until the afternoon was Diana's favourite department store, Harvey Nichols.
Bass pubs stayed shut until the funeral was over. Pubs owned by Scottish & Newcastle kept their doors closed until noon. Whitbread's did not open till 1pm. Pubs on or near the Spencer estate in Northamptonshire remained closed all day. Even the skies darkened: the Civil Aviation Authority banned low-flying aircraft between central London and Northamptonshire.
While the Scottish FA only begrudgingly gave in to demands to postpone its World Cup qualifying match scheduled for the day of the funeral, the organisers of the 180-year-old Braemar Gathering quickly called off the Highland Games on the same day.
Reproduced from LM issue 105, November 1997