The last few minutes of The Crown season six, episode four, fixates on a pair of young, grieving faces: Ed McVey’s Prince William and Fflyn Edwards’s Prince Harry. They march solemnly behind Princess Diana’s casket beside Dominick West’s Prince Charles and Jonathan Pryce’s Prince Philip, as millions of people in the crowd openly weep. “Why are they crying for someone they never knew?” William asks Philip. “They’re not crying for her,” he replies. “They’re crying for you.”
In an unusual creative decision, Peter Morgan then breaks from his critically acclaimed cast to archival footage of the real-life William and Harry trudging along The Mall outside Buckingham Palace, heads bowed in sadness. While The Crown often closely mirrors real-life events, Morgan makes a definitive point here: This scene was not exaggerated or sensationalized. It actually happened.
Prince Harry was 12 and Prince William was 15 when their mother, Princess Diana, died tragically in a car crash on August 31, 1997. The two boys, up at Balmoral in Scotland with their family, were told the next morning by their father.
The funeral took place on September 6. The week before, the royal family found itself navigating an unprecedented situation: While Diana was no longer an official member of the monarchy, and therefore did not technically qualify for a state funeral, the public viewed her as such. “People everywhere, not just here in Britain, kept faith with Princess Diana,” Prime Minister Tony Blair remarked on August 31. “They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the people’s princess, and that is how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and our memories forever.” (To this day, The People’s Princess is a sobriquet used for Princess Diana.) A nation wanted to—perhaps needed to—mourn together. So Buckingham Palace and Downing Street planned a royal ceremonial funeral.
A debate was quickly sparked around whether Prince Harry and Prince William should take part in the public procession to Westminster Abbey. The royal family, at first, was hesitant to thrust the two young boys into such a spotlight: “The events of that week in September 1997 were very sad, but as the spinners from Downing Street came to Buckingham Palace and started to kick around what roles Harry and William should play in the funeral, the Queen had relished the moment when Philip had bellowed over the speakerphone from Balmoral: ‘Fuck off,’” journalist Adam Boulton wrote in his book about the Blair premiership, Tony’s Ten Years.