Where Is Princess Di? Has She Already Been Airbrushed out of Royal History? the Answer May Be Found on the Postcard Racks at Windsor

Article excerpt

You can smell "heritage" everywhere in Windsor. It is the same smell you get in a National Trust shop: a mixture of scented soap, potpourri, beeswax candles, milk chocolate and herbal teas. When the East End of London was full of working breweries such as Truman's and Charrington's you could always tell when they were making beer; the air in the streets was sticky with malt. The Royal Borough of Windsor brews heritage.

It is England the way we would like to be seen. The views look as though they sprang straight off a tea-towel or out of a jigsaw. Coming out of the Riverside station, the first thing you notice is a pub (mock Tudor) and the walls and towers of the castle (mostly mock mediaeval). Almost everything you see of the castle was built in the high Romantic heyday of the early 19th century. Windsor is a stage-set for Englishness and for royalness. It is a fake, but a deeply felt fake. It was all got ready in time for Victoria to play her long-running part as Queen and then as Empress.

The White Hart Hotel has become Ye Olde Harte & Garter. Peascod Street has been closed to traffic, like an open-air shopping mall (Marks & Spencer, Boots, Next, Principles, Thorntons, Knickerbox), with a Crown Jewels exhibition at the end (but when you go down, you find these are "life-size replicas"). The town information centre offers Royal Buttermints, tins of Windsor soup, and (for 3.95[pounds]) copies of the Magna Carta.

As her summer job, a physiotherapy student stands opposite the gate where tourists leave the castle. She is in mid-Victorian costume, with a huge green hat. For six hours a day she waits there, looking pretty and smiling. Occasionally she waves a lace-mittened hand. Every so often a visitor comes across to be snapped standing next to her, and puts a pound in her wicker basket. The hope is that some visitors will go along to the photography studio that hires her, to have their own portrait taken in "costumes which fit over your own clothes": "a special souvenir from the royal town of Windsor". It is a good job, she says, especially in fine weather. Smiling is the newest form of manual work.

This is history for everyman; or, more especially, everywoman. There seem to be far more women visitors to Windsor than men. Royalty-watching, like churchgoing, is heavily skewed: women's magazines are known to sell better if they have a royal cover.

There is also a surprising number of East Europeans. Perhaps Windsor's air of assurance -- that this is what Englishness means -- consoles the citizens of nations whose frontiers shift around the map like mercury on glass. …