IT was 20 years ago today when Somerset – and the world – united in grief following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

From the announcement of her death in a car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997, to her funeral procession lined by a million people, it was a week that shook Britain and the Monarchy.

It was a week nobody will forget.

Somerset County Gazette:

Her death led to unprecedented, personal grief. Diana was not just a princess; she was a loving mother, an astute leader, and an independent woman who inspired millions of people with her humanitarian work.

How she touched the hearts of the nation was reflected in Bridgwater, where the town’s streets were deserted on Saturday, September 6, 1997.

Virtually every shop, bank and building society in the town centre closed its doors until 2pm with the blessing of the public to say their own goodbyes to the ‘Peoples’ Princess’.

Sedgemoor sportsmen also bowed out of their Saturday matches as a mark of respect to Diana, whose televised funeral attracted an estimated 2.5 billion, around half of the world’s population.

Somerset County Gazette:

Bridgwater and Albion Rugby Club was ordered to pull out of a planned gamed against Plymouth Albion and Bridgwater Sunday Football League held a two-minute silence before the first match of the season.

Many people in the town met the Princess during an official visit on April 16, 1991, when she opened the Sedgemoor Splash swimming complex (pictured below).

Resident Sally Tottle summed up local feeling when she said: “We could not all go up to London, so lighting the beacon was a way of showing how much we care.”

A book of condolence was opened at Bridgwater House and people in their droves queued to sign it. Flowers dedicated to Diana and Dodi Fayed, who also died in the crash, were laid at the war memorial in King Square and at the plaque the princess unveiled at Sedgemoor Splash.

Somerset County Gazette:

Similar tributes were also paid in Taunton and a service of remembrance was held at St Mary Magdalene Church.

Former minister of the United Reformed Church in Taunton, Rev Ray Avent, presided over the wedding and christening which Diana attended in secret in Taunton in 1987 and 1990.

He said at the time: “Both occasions were special. Diana arrived at the church and insisted she play a minor part in the proceedings as a guest. She left a wonderful impression on all of us and like everybody else we are devastated at what has happened.”

Taunton mum Fay Appleby went to London to join mourners at Westminster Abbey for the funeral of the princess, who was her employer and considered a friend.

Somerset County Gazette:

Fay, who was helped through her cancer ordeal by Princess Diana, said at the time: “Diana was so supportive and kind to me.

“First and foremost she was my employer, but she was also my friend and I feel honoured.”

Fay, who has twin sons Ben and Chris, aged seven, was Diana’s personal dresser for six years from 1984 to 1990.

She lived in the Royal household at Kensington Palace and was responsible for calling the Princess in the mornings, helping her dress and playing a part in arrangements through the day.

She accompanied the Princess abroad on many occasions and saw a side to her the public could only imagine.

“We were very, very close – it was an intimate job, I suppose you could call it intrusive,” said Fay.

Diana was very sincere. She would be upset by what she saw. Things definitely affected her. She had genuine concern for people and despair at the injustices of the world.”

When Fay married at the North Street Congregational Church , Taunton, in October, 1987, Princess Diana insisted on attending – to the surprise and delight of other guests.

Somerset County Gazette: