Royal funerals: FAREWELL MA’MA, as they say! Diana-Margaret-Queen Mum
Lord Nelson at Trafalgar - Duke of Wellington - Sir Winston Churchill - Henry VIII
Elizabeth I

This last week (31 March 2002) in the United Kingdom, particularly London, we have been talking about DEATH, the most natural thing to happen to us, yet something that it strange to sort out in your mind and even more difficult to discuss.

Diana’s Funerals
Part I

Diana’s Funerals
Part II

I can recall Diana’s death.   Everyone in London was extremely sad, emotional and sentimental.  She was a glamorous, young, beautiful, princess and a mother of two young boys, one of which (Prince William) is in line for the throne.  She was a celebrity, a magnet for the networks. How could someone with all of this die so abruptly? Many people had questions and many could not accept her death. Hundreds and thousands gathered together to grieve her death.  I don’t believe we will see such a huge _expression of sorrow as was then for many decades.  There is still a cry, by public acclaim, for her canonisation.  The British are known to mourn in a proper controlled manner – often call the “stiff upper lip”.  However, when the news of Diana’s death broke, the British showed a dramatic outward emotion.  She was the most venerated icon of her age.  We held an image of her as a victim, oppressed by forces outside of her control, and her identification with those who suffered as she did.  We also identified with her crowed married.  She once said, “There is three of us in this marriage – Charles, myself and Camilla Parker Bowles.”   How could she tolerated that she was used just for this country, used as a virgin, for a virgin meant that she didn’t have a past, she didn’t sleep with anyone before Charles – no wonder she was cynical.  I call this abused.  I can’t believe that even after she had given Charles an heir (and a ‘spare’), that Charles went on with his love affair with Camilla!!   Diana elevated feelings above reason, and her scandals and lovers are now buried with her. The tragedy of Diana’s death was damaging to the monarchy. Her funeral brought to light the degree in which she was deeply loved and respected and the astounding grief that accompanied her death still cannot be understood. I was privileged to be on Park Road where I saw Dodi’s Funeral cortege leaving the Mosque and I saw Diana’s procession in route to Althorp in Northamptonshire.  I also signed the books of condolence – both at Harrods and Kensington Palace.  I loved her, for I too had a crowed marriage.

Next was the death of Princess Margaret. Germaine Greer, a woman who claimed to have had her hair done by Princess Margaret said, “In the years between, Margaret and I met several times, always on a receiving line, where we would murmur pleasantries, smile and part. Each time I was left with a vivid impression of a real person condemned to live her life as a pantomime.”  The Queen was tearful on the farewell to her sister. Princess Margaret’s funeral took place on the 50th anniversary of the funeral of her father King George VI.  It was the princess’ decision and wishes to have a simple funeral and cremation; her ashes were placed beside the coffin of her father.  (Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria, was the first of the Royal Family to be cremated in 1939.)  After Margaret’s death the media gave her the title of the most beautiful and the kindness princess of all time.  Although in all honesty, the only people who were truly saddened by her death were the elderly monarchists.  She was scandalous in the 1960s. She had affairs, long cigarette holders, and parties on yachts and tropical islands.  She was the forefront of Britain’s new social revolution. She had many affairs but the one I like to gossip about is the one she had with Peter Sellers.  She was a mimic, a singer, and a pianist.  Prince Charles said, “she sang like an angel.”  Before she died, she reduced her estate by giving it to her children. My mother had her stroke on the same day of Princess Margaret, and Margaret was transported to London to the Edward VII Hospital on Beaumont Street, where my mother had her flat. From the window, I was able to see when she left the hospital as well as when other Royalty had attended the hospital (such as when the Queen Mother broke her hip.). 

To see
Queen Mother's funerals

The most recent death was of the Queen Mother, 30 March 2002.  I saw on TV the coffin being moved from Windsor to London.  I went to see the lying-in-state.   I couldn’t believe how many kilometres the queue was for passing in front of her coffin.  People waited hours to pass by, just to say ‘I was there’.  Some of the comments that could be heard from the crowd where, “It is a piece of history that has gone.”  “I saw Churchill’s so I travelled to see our Queen Mother that did so much for this country during the war.”  “She saved the monarchy when Edward VIII resigned”. People slept on the pavement for more then two days to get in the front row of the Westminster Abbey.  I found this incredible. Being brought up in a presidential country, I don’t know much about the Monarchy except for what I have heard in children’s stories. “Once upon time a prince and a princess…” I found this to be pure theatre; I think you have to be born into a monarch country otherwise it’s just interesting and fascinating to you, there’s nothing that lies deeper.  The Queen wrote a simple message on a wreath of white roses using her childhood name.  It read, “In loving memory, Lilibet”.  Prince Charles wiped away tears, for his ‘magical’ granny. The country mourned for 10 days. Because her death was not sudden or unexpected due to her age, the country was not thrown back by surprise or horror (as with Diana’s death).  They mourned but they mostly celebrated her life of dedication to DUTY! – above all she was a person of old Edwardian values.   I like what Prince Andrew said to Sarah: “First I am a Prince, then I am a marine, then I am a husband.” 

The bulk of the Queen Mother’s wealth was in her art collection, her porcelain, silver and jewels.  Her paintings are valued at £36 million, which includes a Monet, Study of Rocks: Creuse, Fresseline, painted in 1889.  She has a series of John Piper watercolours, a Latour, a Millais, and a Raffaellino del Garbo, the Florentine master, of the Madonna and Child with St John.  Her collection of Chelsea porcelain, her silver, her clocks and her furniture are worth around £15 million.  Her jewellery is worth around £16 million.  One of her jewels is a diamond tiara with flower motif, which was a wedding gift from her father, the Earl of Stranthmore, is worth £450,000. The most valuable item of this collection is a diamond and pearl necklace worth approximately £2 million.  She lived in five castles but owned only one, the Castle of Mey, in Caithness, North of Scotland. The other castles were provided by the State or by the Queen. Her racehorses had given her more pleasure than financial gain. At the time of her death she had 10 horses in training.  

Something that caught my attention was that for more than 20 years the Queen Mother’s funeral had been rehearsed. It was thought to be politically incorrect to have such an elaborate funeral, but the Queen Mother had already decided that she deserved it!  But no one can emulate the British media’s coverage of events – it is the best in the world and nobody does ‘pageantry’ like them!! (It took the Brazilian newspapers three days to print the news because the Sunday newspapers were already on sale on Saturday morning.  They should take notes from the Evening Standard, which has three editions a day as an example of how to run newspapers).   Even after all the rehearsals and pre-arrangements that were made, the press were not prepared for the Queen Mother’s death to fall on a weekend of a Bank Holiday.  It became the most expensive story ever told. The Sunday Mirror had 41 pages and the Sunday Express an extraordinary 74.  The announcement of her death came at 5:45 PM, which couldn’t have been a worse time for Sunday papers.  It was the exact time that they send the first edition to printing. All the newspapers needed instant coverage; the result was the most extensive forward planning in modern journalistic history.  It was also an unusually expensive moment in history.  The original editions had already been printed and had to disposed of.  Then the new edition was printed; this was a great financial cost for the British press.   Presumably, they also have draft press releases for the Pope, Ronald Reagan, many member’s of the Royal Family, and for TV personnel.  Apparently, the new releases did not reach all the TV personnel in time, one BBC newsreader failed to wear a black tie.  People were extremely upset and it was talked about for days.  The news of the Queen Mother’s death took precedence over the reports of the Middle East.  Two hundred million television viewers across the globe watched the funeral that involved over 250 cameras and 400 technicians utilising 10,000 metres of cable, which made the funeral available to 187 countries to view. The BBC World Service Broadcast, CNN and SKY News provided live coverage in 45 languages.  One fifth of the one billion viewers who tuned in to the funeral of Diana, five years ago, watched the ceremony for the Queen Mother.  19 million people watched Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965.  Earl Mountbatten of Burma’s funeral was viewed by 15 million (he was killed by an IRA bomb, another victim of the religious war).   14 million people from the UK tuned in for the wedding of the Earl of Wessex and Sophie Rhys-Jones. 

Nothing about the Queen Mother’s funeral was left to chance; they rehearsed during the night with the regiments, bands and with a replica coffin. One of the female soldiers that participated in the funeral was suppose to get married on that weekend.  She and her future husband postponed the wedding.  During a television interview she said she was honoured they were choose to participate in the funeral and that DUTY came first. Now I don’t know any Italian or Brazilian that would postponed their wedding for a funeral of any member of their country.  I think this is what makes Britain so great, the sense of duty and respect for their institution.  Though, I must sadly say this concept does not apply at the hospital in which my mother is residing.  In Britain I see two countries – one that can do magnificent things, that has great pride and respect and the one that is greatly lacking, that falls short in areas such as public transportation and healthcare. 

The other thing that caught my attention were the comments by the people interviewed regarding the Queen Mother.  Some of them were very funny.   One English girl about 12 years old said, “I love her because she was ‘NORMAL’ she was ‘A HUMAN BEING’ she was like us!”  I would like to hear what she thinks about the other members of the Royal Family.  Another vignette in The Times was about a man in a sleeping bag, who was asked how long he was sleeping on the pavement.   He said, “I am not queuing for the Queen Mother.  I live here!

The British are pomp and pageantry, and they do it well. The Times wrote:

“The art of perfect pomp. The pageantry of royal funeral was invented for war heroes. Much in common with the Duke of Wellington’s quick and dignified end at the age of 83. His decease, long anticipated, also induced a profound sense that an earlier wartime era had passed.  For Wellington’s funeral Charles Dickens called the display ‘such a palpably got-up theatrical trick.’ Sir Winston Churchill received the honour of a state funeral, normally limited to sovereigns.  Secondary to this is a ceremonial royal funeral, largely paid for by the Queen, for members of the royal family who hold high military rank (such as Lord Mountbatten), the sovereign’s consort (the Queen Mother is “queen consort”) and the heir to the throne. There is a third type is a private royal funeral, held for all other members of the royal family, their children and spouses. Princess Margaret’s funeral in February fell into that category. The format evolved after the death of Victoria in 1901 prompted the first full-scale state funeral since the Duke of Wellington’s half a century before. The Tudor monarchs had funerals on a grand scale. Henry VIII’s death in 1547 at the age of 55 unleashed an outpouring of public grief and ritual. The period following his funeral has been characterised as the ‘theatre of death’, next marked by Elizabeth I’s passing in 1603. However, the £50,000 bill for of her successor, James I, dwarfed the £11,305 cost of her elaborate funeral (today about £1.5m), in 1625.  However, the death of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805 released all restraint, resulting in a spectacular funeral that vied with Wellington’s.  Nelson’s body, preserved in a cask holding 180 gallons of brandy was brought Farewell Ma'Ma in HMS Victory’s five-week passage from Trafalgar to Portsmouth. Sir Winston Churchill’s death at the age of 90 in 1965 had some affinities with Wellington’s. Both recalled a heroic defence of the nation, a time when Britain had fought on against a Europe dominated by one power –Napoleonic France and Hitler’s Germany.”

The Queen Mother’s funeral was great theatre, so very well orchestrated; I loved it!  When the Scottish’s piper led the procession in the Abbey my heart cried the same melancholy sounds that poured out from his instrument. The Queen was standing alone by the front door of the Abbey waiting for her mother’s coffin.  At the end of the service the Irish pipe played the coffin out of the Abbey, another melancholic sound came from this instruments.  I got emotional when the military members of the Royal Family gave a salute. For the first time, a woman (Princess Anne), followed the coffin, which was something she had asked permission to do. The Cardinal of the Catholic Church and the Head of the Scottish Church were present for the first time. 

I liked the poem that was chosen….“You can shed tears that she is gone or you can smile because she had lived.”  This elegy was also spoken at Lady De L’Isle’s funeral service (a friend of the Queen) but the author of these beautiful words remains unknown.  The next trip I take to Brazil I will arrange for the same poem to be read at my funeral.  The words were sent to the Queen and she liked them so much that she chose it for her mother.  The Queen said in her broadcast to the nation that people should celebrate the life of her mother and not grieve her.  The poem was used as the preface to the Queen Mother’s funeral. 

Clarence House may be bequeathed to Prince Charles.  “Death starts a royal race for the best palaces.” said The Times.  A race for not only who will be the new occupant of the Clarence House but where her statue is going to be erected. I think Trafalgar Square would be ideal, as the fourth plinth is currently empty.  Another possibility is the Mall. 

With all this talk of death and non-resuscitation being discussed in the UK and in the media, I find its words ringing close to my heart as I think upon my mother.  There are people who are going to court for the right to die; I can think of two women in particular.  One, known in the media as Miss B, asked for her ventilator to be switched off.  The other, Diane Pretty, has motor neurone disease, a disease which slowly kills every muscle in the body but leaves the brain fully functional and alert.  She has requested from the European Court the right to die.  They have denied her request.  Both of these women wanted the choice to be able to depart from life when it no longer had value to them.  I wrote to the authorities about my mother concerning her request to be resuscitated for as long as it is possible, only two people answered my letter.  It’s so difficult to speak of death and most of us try desperately to avoid the topic.      

Verinha Ottoni


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