Five Years Later, Diana's Flame Still Burns In Paris

Posted Aug 30, 2002 by Siegfried Mortkowitz
PARIS (dpa) - There seems to be no end to the procession of faithful coming to the flame, across the river from the Eiffel Tower, to pay tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Diana died August 31, 1997, when the Mercedes in which she and her lover, Dodi Fayed, were travelling, crashed into a pillar in a Paris tunnel directly beneath the flame, which, five years later, still serves as an unofficial memorial to the woman known as "the people's princess".

Made of gilded copper, the flame was given to the city of Paris by the English-language International Herald Tribune in 1987 on the occasion of the newspaper's 100th anniversary and was never intended to be a memorial for the princess.

The flame became such a popular, and emotional, destination that, much to the chagrin of city authorities and the newspaper, it was cited in many tourist guidebooks, attracting even greater attention.

The association is ironic, since many people still accuse the press of hounding Diana while she was alive and even of killing her, because the driver of the Mercedes, Henri Paul, was speeding away from pursuing paparazzi when he lost control of the car.

It is also ironic that the flame went virtually unnoticed until Diana's violent death. Within hours, however, it became one of the most photographed sites in France.

In the five years since her death, hundreds of thousands of Diana's fans have made a pilgrimage to the site, covering the flame with tokens of their affection

These included personal notes, photographs, flowers or simply messages, in dozens of languages, written directly onto the monument (such as "Diana, We Love You!" or "Diana: Murdered by the Press!").

In an effort to restore the monument's original purpose, the flame was renovated earlier this year.

At a cost of nearly 50,000 euros, the flowers and notes were removed, the graffiti was scrubbed off and a barrier was set up to keep Diana's faithful away from the monument.

In one way, the measure has succeeded. On a recent weekday, the only memento to to be seen at the site was a single dead rose lying at the foot of the pedestal.

However, on that same day, the stream of visitors to 'Diana's flame' never let up, with about 100 people stopping in less than an hour. Many took photos and a few even attempted to brave the traffic below in order to get a look at the fatal pillar.

However, everyone came away unhappy.

"I'm very disappointed," said Inoka Fernandez, of Negombo, Sri Lanka, after taking photographs of her friends in front of the flame. "We looked everywhere, and there was absolutely no mention of her death."

The 28-year-old Fernandez said she took the photos "to keep at least a personal memorial of where Diana died".

The Bolomey family from Lausanne, Switzerland, said they'd been looking forward to visiting the site but were annoyed that nothing marked the spot of Diana's death.

"We expected to see more flowers and photographs," said 15-year- old Jennifer Bolomey. "I loved her. She liked children and was very generous."

Her 12-year-old brother, Stephen, added, "They could at least have put up a statue here."

An official tribute to Diana does exist in Paris, but no one seems to know about it.

A 530-square-metre walled garden behind a primary school in the Marais district was turned into a "children's nature centre" in Diana's memory last year.

But here, as well, only the plaque at the entrance and a pair of flowering white rosebushes called "The Princess of Wales Rose" refer overtly to Princess Diana.

At the time of the garden's dedication, in February 2001, her family sent a message declaring, "To dedicate a garden for children in her name ... is the most beautiful tribute one can render her."

Her loyal fans do not agree.

"It's bizarre," said 22-year-old Aneta Wasznak from Poznan, Poland. "I expected to see more flowers here at the flame, more of a statement."

She said she was upset by the lack of official recognition of the site, but added, "That will not keep me from paying homage."