The revelation is made by the princess’ biographer Tina Brown in tonight’s documentary Diana: 7 Days That Shook The Windsors, which reveals the turmoil surrounding the week after the royal’s death.
‘Prince Harry actually asked his father, “Is it true that Mummy’s dead?”‘ she explained. ‘The children couldn’t understand why everything was as normal, except a couple of hours earlier they’d been told their mother had died.’
The programme explains that the royals’ initial reaction to Diana’s death was to ‘do as they had always done’ and, as it was a Sunday, that meant going to church at Balmoral where they where staying.
Just hours earlier William, 15, and Harry, 12, had woken to the news that their mother had been killed in a car crash, but there was no mention of her during the service at Crathie Kirk church at the request of the Queen as she feared upsetting her grandsons.
The documentary also reveals how tensions ran high as the royals battled with Downing Street over funeral arrangements – with the Prince William initially refusing to walk behind the coffin in the funeral procession.
Meanwhile, Paul Burrell and Diana’s chauffeur Colin Tebbutt had to set up a make-shift morgue when they went to Paris to collect her body from the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, bringing in fans to keep the stifling August heat at bay and hanging blankets on the windows to deter photographers.
According to the programme, it appeared to the public that the royals were treating Diana as they had done when she was alive – with ‘cold detachment’.
Royal bigographer Ingrid Seward summed up the public reaction, saying: ‘The first thing we saw of the boys was when they were going to church for Sunday service. ‘And people were saying, “How could they? These boys have just lost their mother.’
The Mail’s Richard Kay also recalled the shock over the fact that there was no mention of Diana during the service, saying: ‘That rang a bell, I think, across the country.’
Prince Charles: When Prince Charles learned of her death he was absolutely distraught,’ said royal biographer Tina Brown.
‘I mean, he fell apart, completely fell apart. He knew instantly that this was going to be a terrible thing.
‘That this was going to be, he would be blamed, that they would be blamed for the death of Diana.’
Despite all this, he took the decision that he was going to Paris to bring back Diana’s body.
Richard Kay explained: ‘In many ways, that was a very surprising and brave move because he was a divorced husband, he was an ex-husband, he had no legitimate right to be there, if you like, beyond being the father of her sons.’
The Queen: Royal biographer Ingrid Seward explained: ‘She came out of the bedroom, I remember somebody telling me, and she was sort of clutching a hot water bottle…it’s cold there, even in the summer, and the Queen’s first reaction was someone had greased the brakes.’
The Mail’s Richard Kay added: ‘Right from the get go the Queen’s view was the boys are the priority.
‘The decision the Queen and Charles took was that they wouldn’t wake William and Harry to tell them that night. They would wait until the morning and tell them then.’
But there was tension between Charles and the Queen over his decision to go to Paris to collect his the body of his ex-wife who had been stripped of her HRH title, and initially refused to lend his the royal private plane.
Charles is said to have asked ‘well what would you have? That she came back in the back of a Harrods van?’.
‘Finally Charles won the argument,’ said Tina Brown. ‘There really was a moment when it looked like he was gonna have to fly commercial to Paris, and, you know, get a taxi at the airport which would have been incredible.
‘The irony is Charles fought for Diana, more than he’d ever fought for her in her lifetime. He really did. ‘
But the Queen firmly believed that any reference to their mother would be ‘heartbreaking’ for William and Harry, and even ordered all TVs and radios to be removed or hidden at Balmoral so they wouldn’t hear any traumatising details of her death on the news.
The documentary also reveals tensions between the funeral committee made up of representatives of the royal family, Downing Street, the police and Diana’s family, laid bare by Tony Blair’s former head of government relations Anji Hunter.
‘The most tension in the room always came from Charles Spencer’s people,’ she revealed.
The programme will claim Earl Spencer wanted to walk alone behind Diana’s coffin, but Prince Charles was adamant that he should join the procession.
The rest of the funeral team felt William and Harry, then 15 and 12, should be there, too.
However, William was refusing to join the procession, saying he wanted to grieve privately.
Diana’s chauffeur Colin Tebbutt also talks on camera for the first time about the moment he received the news of Diana’s death.
‘I was in bed. The phone went and I was going to have a good night’s sleep because I was picking her Royal Highness up that morning,’ he said.
‘It was one of my colleagues, and he said just sit on the edge of the bed and be prepared.’
Mr Tebbutt also reveals what really happened in the hospital room when he and the Princess’s butler, Paul Burrell, arrived in Paris to collect her body.
‘I was worried about the room, which was very, very hot,’ he said.
‘We looked up at the window above the Princess’s bed and could see people on rooftops, trying to take photos.
‘It didn’t seem as if they knew which room to look for at that stage, and I asked for blankets to hang up at the window, so nobody could see in.’
This made the room even hotter, so Tebbutt placed fans all around the Princess’s body to keep her cool.
‘I noticed her hair was moving — which was the breeze from the fans of course.
‘But for just a fraction of a second I thought, ‘Is she alive?’ which was a silly thing to think.
‘Having been on top of everything until then, I had to turn away and take 30 seconds to myself, as a personal emotional moment.’
Meanwhile, Paul Burrell revealed that he first knew something was wrong when he called Diana and she didn’t answer.
‘Diana always had a mobile phone in her handbag, so I rang her phone and it rang and rang and rang, and I thought “it’s very strange because she always answers her phone”,’ he recalled.
Recalling their journey to Paris, he said: ‘I was a mess, Colin guided me through the airport and onto the plane. I don’t even remember the airplane journey.’
On seeing the royal’s body at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital he still couldn’t believe she was really gone.
‘I honestly thought, entering that room and looking at her, “She is not really dead, it’s just a joke, a very silly joke and you can wake up”.’
Hoping to persuade William to change his mind, five days before the funeral on September 6, the team set up a telephone conference call with Balmoral via a big loudspeaker box on their conference table.
‘I can remember — it sends a tingle up my back, actually,’ says Hunter. ‘We were all talking about how William and Harry should be involved and suddenly from this box came Prince Philip’s voice.
‘We hadn’t heard from him before, but he was really anguished.
‘It’s about the boys,’ he cried, ‘They’ve lost their mother.’
‘I thought, “My God, there’s a bit of suffering going on up there”.’