Wednesday 25 April 2018

Walk behind Di's coffin still haunts me in my sleep - Earl

Charles Spencer hits out at 'glacial' royals in interview with Gay Byrne

Charles Spencer walks behind the coffin of Princess Diana
Charles Spencer walks behind the coffin of Princess Diana
Princess Diana
Earl Spencer delivers the eulogy during princess Dian's funeral service
Diana and Charles Spencer as children
Charles Spencer talks to Gay Byrne

NIamh Horan

It's been 18 years since the tragic death of Princess Diana, but her younger brother Earl Charles Spencer is one man still gripped by the trauma of her funeral.

In his first major sit-down television interview, the man who delivered one of the modern world's most memorable speeches - in which he called Diana "the most hunted person of the modern age" - speaks candidly to Gay Byrne about how memories of his long walk behind her coffin still haunt him in the dead of night.

In a follow up to Gaybo's extraordinary Meaning of Life interview with Stephen Fry, the 9th Earl Spencer also described how the eulogy ripped the air out of his lungs as he was watched by over a billion people across the world.

Recalling the five-minute, electrifying funeral tribute, in which he accused the British press of turning on Diana, he described in vivid detail just what was going through his mind as he delivered his words.

He tells Gaybo: "I had been a broadcaster so I knew how to speak, I thought. But it was very different to do that in front of a billion-and-a-half people.

"By the end, I was completely wrung out emotionally and I couldn't breathe, and I can remember the last 30 seconds, I was punching air at the bottom of my stomach, using the muscles in the base of my stomach, because my lungs - I mean - just sort of had enough.

"And I remember just collapsing into my seat after that."

When asked if he could remember the overwhelming response from the public and media in the aftermath of the funeral, he said: "I can sort of remember that. I was just slumped in a chair at the time."

Spencer also speaks about how his strong criticism in the speech was received by the royal family: "Actually, I believe the Queen said to somebody close to her that I had a right to say what I wanted to at my sister's funeral."

Elsewhere in the interview, he describes the traumatic long walk behind his sister's coffin through the "channel of grief".

And he said his eulogy paled in comparison to what came before. "What was far worse was knowing I was going to be walking behind the coffins with her sons."

He continues: "That was the real trauma of the day. I still have nightmares about that."

When Gay asks him, 'Where is Diana now?', he replies: "Sometimes I feel my parents or my sister [around me], but I wonder, is it just wishful thinking?"

He added: "I think that whatever the state is after this life, it's of such a higher order that they move on into it, and even as we sit here and think 'I wonder what happened?', I think this whole other existence opens up and they move into that. I don't think there is much looking back if there is an afterlife."

Speaking about his childhood with Diana, Earl Spencer reveals that when their mother left home because she fell in love with someone else, it was akin to an "atomic bomb" going off in their lives.

He said: "The fallout for us as young children was very severe. I think my father, looking back on it, was clinically depressed".

He recalled how Diana told him "years later that she could hear his grief in their huge home", but was too scared to go to him.

He said: "Diana told me later she could hear me crying down the other end of the corridor and she couldn't come because she was terrified of the dark."

Looking back, he says: "I realised a house is a pile of bricks, no matter how big the pile of bricks, and a home is what you make it."

In one of the lighter moments during the emotional half-hour programme, Spencer also took another shot at his English relatives. When asked about his Irish roots he quipped: "I really felt the warmth from that side of the family that some of my more glacial English relations can't really match."

The full interview on 'The Meaning of Life' with Gay Byrne airs tonight on RTÉ One, at 10.30pm.

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