It was just before midnight on August 30, 1997. I was sitting in my friend's kitchen on Cape Cod waiting for the Spice Girls to perform on "Saturday Night Live." Brian Williams then cut in with breaking news: Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a car crash in Paris' Pont de l'Alma tunnel. She was 36.
Over the next week, tributes were paid to Diana in the form of flowers, statements of condolence and commemorative magazine issues. Over one million bouquets were placed at the gates of Kensington Palace, where Diana lived with her sons, William and Harry.
It was late August, and the princes were with their dad visiting the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral castle. Purchased in 1852 by Prince Albert for his wife, Queen Victoria, the Scottish estate allowed the royal family to relax in a more rural, private setting.
15-year-old William and Harry, 12, were -- as they recalled in an ITV documentary that aired earlier this month -- having a "very good time" with their cousins that vacation while their mother was traveling with her new boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. William said that he and his brother spoke to their mother on the phone, and as teenage boys do, were in a "desperate rush to say goodbye" so they could get back to hanging out with their cousins.
"It was her speaking from Paris," Harry added. "I can't really necessarily remember what I said but all I do remember is probably regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was."
In the early morning of Aug. 31 the Queen's then-private secretary, Robin Janvrin, received a call from the British embassy in Paris -- Diana had been injured in a car accident. The Queen advised Charles not to wake William and Harry up until they had more information. At around 4:00 a.m. Diana was pronounced dead at Pitie Salpetriere Hospital in the French capital. It was the job of Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenemen to deliver the news to Buckingham Palace.
What happened over the next few days put the royal family in an unenviable position. As the Queen provided a safe place for her son and grandsons to grieve in Scotland, people in London wondered why their head of state was absent from the capital. The royals were quickly labeled "heartless" and cold.
It's my belief that for the first time in her reign, the Queen was putting family above duty. This move surprised the majority of her subjects, many of whom were used to the Queen being present following a national crisis. What was so wrong with a grandmother -- even a grandmother with a very big job -- tending to her grief-stricken grandsons? They were teenagers who just lost their mother in a horrific car accident.
Up at Balmoral, Her Majesty made sure to keep things as normal as possible for William and Harry. That meant the removal of newspapers and TVs, as well as no mention of Diana during a sermon at church that Sunday. The boys' oldest cousin, Peter Philips, kept them company and distracted them with walks around the Scottish Highlands.
Meanwhile, the press seized their opportunity. "Speak to us, Ma'am," the Daily Mirror's front page screamed. "Show Us You Care!" the Daily Express's headline cried out. These were just a sampling of the British newspapers echoing the sentiments of those gathered outside the palaces to pay their respects.
At this point in time, the royals were mourning privately. They're allowed to take some time out of their duties and do this on such an occasion, no?
Royal aides relayed this information to the Queen, who was surprised by the amount of attention paid to her former daughter-in-law's death. The hostility felt towards Her Majesty and the rest of the royals was so palpable that her press secretary, Geoffrey Crawford, was forced to issue a press release defending the Queen's decision to remain in Scotland.
"The princess was a much loved national figure, but she was also a mother whose sons miss her deeply," the statement, sent to all major news outlets on September 4, 1997, read. "Prince William and Prince Harry themselves want to be with their father and their grandparents at this time in the quiet haven of Balmoral."
In the recent BBC documentary, "Diana: 7 Days," William and Harry were asked to speak about the days following their mother's death, in particular their grandmother's decision to remain with them in Scotland. Both were grateful that she gave them the "privacy to mourn" and collect their thoughts away from the public.
“She felt very torn between being the grandmother to William and Harry, and her Queen role," William explained. "And I think she – everyone – was surprised and taken aback by the scale of what happened and the nature of how quickly it all happened.”
Some newspapers changed their tune and welcomed the Queen when she traveled back to London. She and Prince Philip paid their respects to Diana's body at St. James's Palace and greeted mourners, as did Charles and the boys.
Other outlets were not as forgiving.
"What would really do the monarchy good and show that they had grasped the lesson of Diana's popularity, would be for the Queen and the Prince of Wales to break down, cry and hug one another on the steps of the Abbey this Saturday," the Independent wrote at the time. "That such an event is unthinkable shows how great is the gap between the people mourning `their' princess, and the Royal Family to which she never, quite, belonged."
On the eve of Diana's funeral, the Queen addressed the nation in a live broadcast from Buckingham Palace.
"I admired and respected her -- for her energy and commitment to others, and especially for her devotion to her two boys," Her Majesty said.
The next morning, William and Harry would have to walk behind their mother's casket, their faces watched by millions lined along the procession round, and by millions more on television. In those moments, the Queen could be forgiven for keeping her grandsons out of London for a few days.