Newquay Zoo and Princess Diana’s funeral 1997


I’m sure I shared the shock and disbelief with the rest of the country, possibly even the world, awaking early one Sunday morning to hear that Princess Diana had died in a car crash. It didn’t seem possible. It couldn’t be real. Was I actually awake? Had I heard it properly?

Many businesses closed for the day or the morning of the funeral service on Saturday 6 September 1997.

After long discussion, Mike Thomas (Zoo Director from 1993-2003) decided to keep Newquay Zoo open for the benefit of parents with young families etc., who needed an alternative to the solemnity and sadness of the funeral service. This was indeed welcomed by such small number of visitors who did visit that day. 20% of that day’s takings were donated to the Diana Memorial Fund.

I listened to parts of the funeral service with other staff gathered around the radio in the zoo office, in between feeding talks. Some of our feeding talks were postponed, so that the sound of our speakers did not disturb local remembrance services, just as we do on Armistice and Remembrance Sunday each year. A sad day. I still have that black ribbon issued to staff somewhere.

Not long after this, when the Queen Mum died, a bag piper played late one afternoon in the unlikely surroundings but excellent acoustics of our car park at the bottom of our Trenance valley. He’s playing his  lament, don’t disturb him, Mike said. As it echoed down the valley as our lion’s roar does, the piper was joined by a strange choir of animals, responding to the noise. Another slightly surreal moment …

I have spent long enough at Newquay Zoo to have observed a range of national and interstellar events such as Foot and Mouth Disease (twice),  fuel strikes, royal weddings, the Labour landslide election of 1997, the Solar Eclipse of 1999 and the non-event of the Millennium Bug, celebrated with champagne at work the next day for staff to welcome the new Millennium.

My penguin talks have been interrupted by the Battle of Britain Flight overhead, after the Eclipse whilst others have been to the distant musical backdrop of the Radio One Roadshow.

As the Internet became more and more part of our working lives, the shock of hearing the news of the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11 2001 and the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 remain clearly in mind. Brexit was another such talking point.

National event or not, rain or shine, snow or heatwave, our amazing zoo animals still need feeding and cleaning.

Ask me where I was during many major national and world events over the last 20 years and I usually know exactly where I was when I heard. The answer is usually sharing the shock and the initial misinformation or confusion of the news with Newquay Zoo colleagues. It’s as good a place to be as any!

Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo.

This is the November 2016 post of our monthly blogpost for the Newquay Zoo Archive, being a random item or photo from our archive each month as we approach our zoo fiftieth birthday in May 2019.



Author: worldwarzoogardener1939

World war zoo gardener and zoo educator at Newquay Zoo Cornwall UK

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