Entertainment

Princess Diana's funeral is most-watched live TV event, according to survey

The Princess of Wales was buried in September 1997.

The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, is the most-watched live TV event since current records began, a new survey has found.

Some 31 million people in the UK tuned in for the funeral, which took place exactly 20 years ago today on September 6 1997.

Princess Diana death anniversary
Prince William (left) and Prince Harry, the sons of Diana, Princess of Wales, bow their heads as their mother’s coffin is taken out of Westminster Abbey following her funeral service (PA archive)

At the time, it was the biggest-ever audience for a live television event under the modern system of measuring ratings – and nothing since then has topped it.

The closest has been the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics Games, which was watched by 24.6 million people.

The next biggest audience for a royal event was in 2011 for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which attracted an average 18.7 million viewers.

Duchess of Cambridge pregnant
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London, following their wedding at Westminster Abbey (PA)

The figures have been compiled by the Press Association to mark the 20th anniversary of the funeral of Diana.

They include only live news and sport events, and not pre-recorded programmes made specifically for TV, such as comedy and drama.

Other events with ratings above 20 million include the opening ceremony of London 2012 (24.4 million), England’s match against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup (23.8 million), and Torvill & Dean’s bronze medal-winning performance in the 1994 Winter Olympics (20.7 million).

Winter Olympics – Lillehammer 94 – Figure Skating – Mixed Ice Dancing – Olympic Amphitheatre, Hamar
Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill wave to the crowd after their performance in the Original Dance category in the 1994 Winter Olympics (PA Archive)

The current system of measuring ratings, by the audience research organisation Barb, began on August 1 1981.

This means that no comparable figure is available for the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, which took place just a few days earlier on July 29 1981.

A previous system of compiling ratings estimated the wedding was watched by a combined audience of just under 22 million people.

Royal wedding/couple wave
Prince Edward, the youngest son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and his bride Sophie Rhys-Jones ride through the streets of Windsor after their wedding at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle (PA Archive)

Another royal wedding, that of Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex in June 1999, attracted a TV audience of 14.8 million.

More recently, Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in April 2005 had an average audience of 7.4 million.

The funeral of Diana in September 1997 was the largest outside broadcast ever mounted by the BBC.

Some 100 cameras were stationed around London, along with a further 22 units around the UK. The BBC fed its pictures live to 45 countries as well as broadcasting to 142 other nations via the BBC World channel.

The huge ratings in Britain were partly a consequence of the funeral being broadcast live simultaneously on BBC1 and ITV, with BBC2, Channel Five and Sky also showing part of the event.

 Here are the top 10 most-watched live TV events in the UK since the current ratings system began on August 1 1981.

1. Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (BBC1+ITV), Sep 6 1997: 31.0m

2. Olympics 2012 closing ceremony (BBC1), Aug 12 2012: 24.6m

3. Olympics 2012 opening ceremony (BBC1), Jul 27 2012: 24.4m

4. World Cup 98: England v Argentina (ITV), Jun 30 1998: 23.8m

5. Euro 2004: Portugal v England (BBC1) Jun 24 2004: 20.7m

= Winter Olympics 1994: Ice Dance Championship (BBC1), Feb 21 1994: 20.7m

7. Euro 2012: England v Italy (BBC1) Jun 24 2012: 20.3m

8. World Cup 98: England v Romania (ITV) Jun 22 1998: 19.5m

9. World Cup 98: England v Colombia (BBC1) Jun 26 1998: 19.1m

10. Wedding of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (BBC1+ITV+BBC News+Sky News) Apr 29 2011: 18.7m

(All figures are for the average audience and include HD and +1 channels where applicable)

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