When Princess Diana died in a car crash in August 1997, Queen Elizabeth’s slow public response to the tragedy made many question her judgment.
The Queen, then 71, found the monarchy being questioned like no other time since her uncle, King Edward VIII, famously abdicated the throne in 1936.
Should she have said something publicly in Scotland, where she and Diana’s sons Prince William and Prince Harry, just 15 and 12 year old, respectively, were staying for the summer? Should she have come south to London sooner?
When she did arrive in London and walked among mourners, collecting a well-wishers’ flowers and giving her first personal address on the matter on the eve of the funeral, it calmed some of the disquiet.
Then, on the morning of the funeral itself, six days after Diana’s sudden death, the Queen made a gesture many thought changed the public’s opinion. As the funeral cortege passed the palace, the monarch led her family out to the gates.
- Can’t get enough of PEOPLE’s Royals coverage? Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!
Photographer Mark Stewart recalls watching the Queen in the “completely unscripted” moment, “walking out of the palace down to the side of the road with the public.”
“I pushed my way through the crowd, which was about 20 deep, and luckily the BBC had left a ladder against a tree. I managed to climb the ladder and I have the only shot of the Queen bowing her head at the coffin as it goes past,” he says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “It showed the Queen . . . The best of the Queen, really.”
For more about the show and how women are shaping the House of Windsor, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands on Friday.
Stewart is one of many sources, who speak in depth about the Queen, her family, the past and future of the royal family in The Story of The Royals, a two-night television event presented by PEOPLE, airs August 22 and August 23 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EDT) on ABC.