Gone but Not Forgotten? ; Five Years after Diana, Princess of Wales Died in a Car Crash, Arguments Rage over Her Legacy. but Did Diana Really Change the Royal Family, or the Way We View Celebrity? and Do We Even Care about `the Queen of Hearts' Any More? by DEBORAH ORR (Left)

By Orr, Deborah | The Independent (London, England), July 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Gone but Not Forgotten? ; Five Years after Diana, Princess of Wales Died in a Car Crash, Arguments Rage over Her Legacy. but Did Diana Really Change the Royal Family, or the Way We View Celebrity? and Do We Even Care about `the Queen of Hearts' Any More? by DEBORAH ORR (Left)


Orr, Deborah, The Independent (London, England)


I was not among the 22 million who watched Diana, Princess of Wales make her return to public life, after a two-year withdrawal, in a Panorama interview on 20 November 1995. I was in the Far East, and had to make do with the generous transcript that was printed the next day on the front pages of The Bangkok Times, which is confirmation, if any were needed, of the impact this conversation made across the planet.

I thought she was a fool to have done such a thing: to have invited once again the gaze of the public into her private existence, to have vilified the father of her children in public, to have further antagonised her powerful, loathsome in-laws. No good, for this vulnerable woman, could possibly come from this.

I was only mildly surprised, though, when I came home to discover that for fellow republicans Diana was now a significant hero, a darling of subversion who could be eventually enlisted, apparently, to bring down the House of Windsor.

It didn't make sense to me. Diana was no republican. On the contrary, she still, after all the trauma she had experienced as a Royal, wanted her first-born to be king. She herself longed to reign, triumphant against her in-laws, as a "queen in people's hearts".

When she died so terribly, it seemed for a time in the hysterical grief and anger that marked her passing that at least she'd got that wish. But just five years on from her awful end, what is being mustered in her memory? A tiresomely predictable dispute over the design for her putative fountain, some trouble-stirring, disgruntled remarks to the media from her brother about how little he sees of his nephews, and a bizarre, belated, surely pointless inquest into her death.

Sure, children play in the Peter Pan playground that was extensively remodelled in Diana's memory in Kensington Gardens. It is a happy place, a lovely place, and there should be many more such places, and without a young woman's violent death to prompt them. Diana would most certainly have liked and approved of it. But it is no place for vigils, for wreaths or for reflection.

Likewise, in the Diana Cafe down the road there's a neo-realist painting of the Princess and the cafe owner, Mario, on the wall. She ate here often, the staff remember her, and the waiter says that many people come here and ask about her. When pressed about how many, he says that they get enquiries a couple of times each week. Which hardly seems like an ongoing, evolving discussion.

Her fake Greek temple at Althorp, near the island where her body lies, still receives its visitors, but there's no sense of a focused yearly ritual emerging. In fact, there's no sense of a measured assessment of what her life actually meant emerging at all. She was sweet, she was compassionate, she was flawed, she was beautiful, she was wronged. This is all there seems to be. The debate has moved no further on in five years. Even now, no one quite knows exactly how to handle Diana.

It isn't that people no longer think Diana was significant. But when it comes to working out where her importance lay, and what tangible impact she made, there is no concrete consequence to alight upon.

Diana has not "dissolved, like a Disprin" (to use her own words), not in the least. Look at the recent BBC poll of 40,000 people, which sought the 10 Great Britons about whom the corporation should broadcast a documentary series in the autumn. Elizabeth I and Diana were the only women nominated as being of crucial significance to the history of the nation.

It will be interesting to see what the BBC casts this historical significance as being. Some answers would be a public service indeed, because when it comes to actually pinning down the mark Diana left on the world, there's just a miasma of unresolved sympathy and unfocused conviction.

And while in the poll at least the House of Windsor found itself ousted by Diana once again, it appears to have been fulsomely forgiven for its shabby treatment of England's Rose.

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Gone but Not Forgotten? ; Five Years after Diana, Princess of Wales Died in a Car Crash, Arguments Rage over Her Legacy. but Did Diana Really Change the Royal Family, or the Way We View Celebrity? and Do We Even Care about `the Queen of Hearts' Any More? by DEBORAH ORR (Left)
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