Diana Redefined Fame and Royalty
Her achievements live on as do new questions about the role of monarchy.
WASHINGTON AND LONDON
Diana, Princess of Wales, redefined the nature and uses of fame even as she struggled to find peace in her own private life. Reaction to her death Sunday made clear she was one of the world's greatest celebrity icons of the century.
Her legend now seems sure to grow and continue to influence everything from her personal crusades, such as the effort to ban land mines, to the very future of the British monarchy.
Britain's grief at her death shows that she remained royal to the public, whatever her estrangement from Buckingham Palace. Her memory is a powerful force that the remaining royals will struggle with for decades to come.
"If the monarchy is going to continue, it must be seen to be magnanimous in its treatment of the late Princess of Wales," warned royalty expert Harold Brooks-Baker.
Whether the queen and her family were according fair treatment to the memory of a princess who captured the imagination of the world was an open question for some, at least in the initial days after the tragic accident.
When mourners gathered outside the gates of London's Buckingham Palace Sunday morning, an initial - and, commentators say, revealing - failure of Queen Elizabeth's advisers to assess the developing public mood soon became clear.
"Why isn't there a flag flying?" asked a Jamaican woman clutching a bouquet of late summer flowers. Flags were at half-mast at the nearby Houses of Parliament, so why not at the Queen's London home?
A police constable explained that the queen was on vacation in Scotland, and said it was "not correct form" for the royal standard to be flown while she was away from the capital. The woman appeared not to understand the explanation.
Anthony Holden, author of acclaimed books about the British monarchy, says the failure to order the flag to be flown at the palace was "typical of insensitive officials mired in protocol."
The tension of protocol versus spontaneity was one that marked the princess's whole relationship with the royal family. From her first appearance as a shy former kindergarten teacher, to her later life as single mother and international celebrity, she was the one who appeared modern and unstuffy. Fairly or no, the tradition-oriented Prince Charles had little chance of winning the public's hearts when paired against his former wife.
Not that her image was one of Saint Diana in life. At times she seemed self-centered and too attracted to the rich and idle. She was hounded by the press, but in turn she knew how to use it as well as any celebrity in the world - occasionally meeting reporters for clandestine leaks, for instance. In the end she, like so many others, found that there is no on-off switch to fame.
Now, after dying in an automobile accident in Paris, she will remain forever young, as has Marilyn Monroe. If nothing else the outpouring of affection from British and world publics shows many regarded the princess as an icon, and appeared to agree that her work for a wide range of charities had made her deeply loved.
A spokesmen for the Red Cross said that, until Diana's high-profile visit to Angola last year, attempts to make progress on banning land mines had become bogged down. Her decision to be filmed and photographed near a mine field transformed the campaign, the spokesman said.
Among ordinary people, Diana's impact has been enormous.
Details of her more discreet activities, largely unreported by the media until now, were recounted on round-the-clock TV by many people.
After her frequent private visits to a London children's clinic, a nurse said, Diana had remained in touch with patients, telephoning them and writing them letters. The nurse declared: "She is irreplaceable."
Charity workers recounted similar stories of a Princess who stayed in touch with hospital patients and members of poverty groups and minority communities long after she had visited them.
"In almost anything she did," says newspaper columnist Henry Porter, "she struck a contrast with the old ways of the royal family. No member of the family had ever confronted pain with quite the boldness and lack of fear that she exhibited." For this reason, Mr. Porter says, "even after her death, Diana will make us all question the ethics of the family that rejected her."
The jury may be out for some time before Diana's influence on the royal family can be fully assessed. Matthew Engel, a writer on royal affairs, says "the lives of Queen Elizabeth and her family have been utterly transformed by Diana, in life and death." He compares the impact of her death with that of John F. Kennedy on the United States.
Mr. Holden says Diana tried hard, against considerable odds, to try to ensure that her two sons - Prince William, 15, heir to the throne, and Prince Harry, 12, - were kept in contact with what he calls "ordinary life and ordinary people."
"I think this had a big effect on William in particular. For example, she took the boys to supermarkets and made sure they lined up at the checkout to pay for the groceries. Their father, Prince Charles, never had an experience like that."
Holden worries, however, that with their mother gone, such influences "are likely to disappear."
"By being such a modern person, Diana showed the way forward to the royal family," he says. But he adds: "Whether they will follow that way may be debated."
The early reaction of royal advisers, Holden adds, was "apparently to imagine that Diana's death could somehow be marked in a private, low-key way."
Yesterday, before Buckingham Palace said that Diana's funeral would be held in London's Westminster Abbey on Saturday, there were signs that Prime Minister Tony Blair and the royal family were at loggerheads.
Mr. Blair said he would like to see "a major commemoration" of Diana's life, but it took many hours for the queen's advisers to announce funeral details. Late Sunday, a Buckingham Palace source said this was because Diana was "no longer technically a member of the royal family."
When an announcement was finally made next day, it appeared to embody an awkward compromise between Blair and the royal family. A palace spokeswoman said it would be "a unique funeral for a unique person." There would be no lying in state of Diana's body, and the spokeswoman refused to say whether the funeral would be a state, ceremonial, or private occasion.
Apparent royal hesitation over how best to honor Diana helped to put the the attitude of Queen Elizabeth toward her under close and in some cases critical scrutiny. At the time of the divorce last year, the queen decided to strip the princess of her "Royal Highness" title and ordered that her name no longer be included in prayers for the royal family.
At a church service on Sunday morning at Balmoral, Scotland, attended by the queen and her family, Diana was not mentioned.