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article imageDiana Slips From Memory, But Royals Are Changed Forever

By Rohan Minogue     Aug 28, 2002 in Lifestyle
LONDON (dpa) - Visitors from abroad following the Princess Diana walk, marked out by a line of bronze plaques set underfoot in the parks of central London, are surprised at how she has faded from public consciousness.

These plaques, straggling across the royal parks around Buckingham Palace, together with an island shrine at Althorp, the Spencer family seat near Northampton where she lies buried, appear, at first sight, to be all she has left behind.

But Diana has paradoxically left her mark on the very institution of British public life she had come to despise most - the royal family that dazzled her and drew her into its stifling embrace before casting her out again.

Her death has changed that institution for good and the change was clearly in evidence during the queen's long Golden Jubilee tour of the country, which came to an end as the fifth anniversary of Diana's death drew near.

During the tour, the queen went out of her way to meet the crowds, shaking hands, entering mosques and Sikh temples, officiating at sports events and generally allowing her subjects to approach her in a way unthinkable even five short years ago.

This is clear evidence of Diana's impact and a memorial likely to be more enduring than any granite monument.

She has left her mark too on the husband who rejected her. Prince Charles will be radically different from any 20th century king, speaking his mind on emotive issues close to his heart, irrespective of the criticism, and less afraid to admit doubts and weaknesses.

Their son William bears her imprint - in his looks, in his shyness and in his ready laugh. Early signs are for a people's prince, much in the way his mother was the people's princess.

At Althorp there are still long queues, despite the steep entrance price. Visitors to the Diana museum, the lake where she is buried and the Spencer house come away impressed with the care taken to preserve her memory and with the tasteful way in which it has been done.

By contrast an attempt to commemorate the princess in stone is beset by controversy.

Weeks before the fifth anniversary of her death on Saturday August 31, an unseemly wrangle broke out over the design for a fountain to bear her name that is to be built in London's Hyde Park.

Her close friend Rosa Monckton criticized the bureaucracy that bedevilled the process, and art critics were scathing about the design finally chosen, calling it a ditch.

There is controversy too over the funds collected in her name to be put to charitable use. Some 115 million pounds (175 million dollars) have been collected and only 45 million pounds spent.

But Andrew Purkiss, chief executive of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, is adamant this is her living memorial.

"I never met her, but I did admire a lot of her work. She didn't have to do what she did," he says, pointing to her key role in ending the stigma attached to AIDS and her work to get landmines banned.

Demand for memorabilia has dried up, but Purkiss believes the fundraising future lies in quality products carrying the Diana brandname and is zealously protecting that name, through the courts if necessary.

And he holds out the hope Diana's sons will want to pick up where their mother left off.

"It goes without saying that if and when they are ready, we hope they will want to take an interest in the work of their mother's memorial fund," Purkiss says.

Whether the royal family, often accused of wanting to airbrush Diana out of history, takes the same view remains to be seen.
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