Magazine article The Spectator

What the Crowds Want Now

Magazine article The Spectator

What the Crowds Want Now

Article excerpt

THE FLOWERS are talking, and they are whispering for reform.

On Thursday, the bouquets laid for Diana, Princess of Wales at the London royal residences will be removed and taken to hospitals or composted. In the fortnight since her death, they have become symbols of grief, sorrow, compassion and guilt.

At Kensington Palace, the Princess's former residence, the bouquets resemble not so much an ocean, as they have been described by the papers, but rather a large dew-pond of tears - the cellophane wrapping does nothing to diminish their poignancy. They are spontaneous gifts from a nation united in shock and sorrow - from school projects, from minority interest groups, from political parties and from different nations, all of whom the Princess touched. The only discordant note among them is a large placard placed, without any sense of shame, by the Daily Mail at the very front of Kensington Palace, a gesture as false in its offering as Lord Rothermere's meaningless promise this week that the paper will in future not accept paparazzi photographs `without my express permission'.

Why such a large number of flowers and gifts have been left and why teddy bears now hang from royal railings may be explained as an outpouring of personal sadness. As the initial shock of Diana's death subsides, and before the bouquets are finally whisked away, it is worth considering their wider influence and implications.

On Tuesday, in the early autumn sunlight in Kensington Gardens, the crowd by ten o'clock still numbered more than 5,000. True, the queue to sign the books of condolence had been reduced to a few hundred, and those who regularly use the park had returned with their personal stereos, baseball caps, skateboards and t'ai chi exercises, but the lasting impression was that Kensington Palace would become a shrine, a place of pilgrimage far more appropriate, by geography and sentiment, than a statue in Trafalgar Square or the renaming of Heathrow airport.

The real significance of the flowers and the outpouring of grief they represent is how they will affect the monarchy itself. It is not enough to say, as Earl Spencer did at the funeral, that Diana's influence was achieved without the help of her royal status. Nor is it enough for the royal family to believe that such a volume of flowers is also meant for them. Very few - perhaps a dozen - of the attached messages make any reference to the Prince of Wales, whereas Dodi Fayed (often mentioned in parentheses) is frequently included.

The Queen's speech was perceived by many as icy, grand and remote. `We are here for Diana, not for the monarchy,' explained a South African, Ron Cowley, 54, on holiday for a week with three friends. `The monarchy severely underestimated that what she did she always did well, and we do not respect them for that,' said a physiotherapist, Franne Mallen, also in the party. Seventy-eight-year-old Gladys Swansbury-Jones, a Metropolitan Police schools patrol crossing officer, was prepared to go further. `What the Prince of Wales and the younger royals need is a good kick up the arse,' she said. `If it wasn't for our effort in the war, none of them would be here, enjoying the privileges that they do.'

Robert Lucke, a pilot, also from South Africa, believed that the royal family, and the Prince of Wales in particular, had much to learn from the tragedy. …

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