Gently helping the brothers to cope was, like everything royal, more than just a private, family matter. If the two young princes did walk through the streets in London on Saturday, their composure would be the pivot on which the whole occasion turned.
Working out the details of the funeral had been the other big job since Sunday — the style of the service, the length of the route, as well as the role that William and Harry would play. There had been family arguments in the small hours as the bad news came through. The Spencers — Diana's mother, brother, and two sisters — had wanted a private funeral, a small family affair, and to start with the queen herself had agreed. But by Sunday evening it was clear it would have to be a full-scale ceremony in Westminster Abbey, and since Monday the fax machine had been processing hymn sheets and processional time-tabling non-stop. Princess Margaret disapproved, but the queen mother had got quite excited about the prospect of listening to Elton John.
Then came all the fuss about the flag.
Downing Street was the first to sense that something was awry. Sitting in his media command room at No. 10, Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's press spokesman, caught a cable television news bulletin that worried him. It was Wednesday morning, and the long lines of mourners waiting in the Mall to sign the condolence books for the princess were spending as many as five hours looking through the trees towards Buckingham Palace.
People were not just signing their names when they got to the head of the queue. Most wanted to pen some special tribute of their own, and after half a day on their feet everyone wanted to sit down.
"In retrospect," says an official of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, "it was clearly a mistake to have supplied chairs."
Some people were spending as much as half an hour over the page composing their essays. So the lines waiting outside in the Mall grew longer, and as people shuffled slowly forward, they had been struck by the absence of any flag flying at half-mast over the queen's principal residence.
It was a technical matter. The queen's presence is signalled wherever she may be — in palace, car, boat, or plane — by the Royal Standard, a luscious and ancient confection of heraldic lions and symbolic harpstrings that follows her everywhere, battle-standard-style, and is never lowered, even when the sovereign dies. "The King is Dead, Long Live the King."
But the tradition had developed at Buckingham Palace — though not at any other royal residence — that, in the absence of the Royal Standard, no other flag should fly. So while flags all round the country — including those over Windsor Castle and over the royal country residence of Sandringham in East Anglia — were now flying at half-mast, Buckingham Palace itself was conspicuously bare of any sign of mourning for Diana.
"I've just been watching Sky News," said Campbell in a phone call to Robert Fellowes, the queen's private secretary, who was also Diana's brother-in-law, married to her elder sister, Jane. "Now, it's just a straw in the wind, but I think they're going to make some mischief over this thing of the flag."
Rupert Murdoch's Sky News had been running dramatic vox pop interviews from the Mall in which mourners complained about the bare flagpole over the palace. It made for compulsive, angry television, and Campbell guessed it was only a matter of time before the other bulletins followed suit.