AFTER DIANA: A CHARITY DIRECTOR SEEKS A NEW PATRON

One of the 100 organisations the Princess of Wales resigned from this week was the International Spinal Research Trust. She had been patron for 10 years. Her last act for the charity was to give a send-off, two months ago, to three athletes competing in Push 2000, a cross-Britain wheelchair rally. A giggling performance in front of the cameras ensured that photographs of the event appeared in several national newspapers, for which the trust was grateful.

Benjie Walden, director of the trust, regrets the Princess's decision to withdraw her patronage: "In her time with us, Diana has done two main things. First, she lent credibility to a charity that was only three or four years old when she became involved, and whose mission - treatment for broken necks and backs - was ridiculed by scientists at the beginning. We now know that we can achieve our aims - the scientific consensus has turned through 180 degrees - and she has made a major contribution to that.

"What we are going to miss above all, though, is her raising of our profile, in the way that is really unique to royalty. She raised awareness of our work simply by being interested: the media focuses its attention on her at one of our events, and then focuses on why she's there. She has also been enormously encouraging on a personal level to patients, their families, staff and scientists.

"In financial terms, too, she has had an enormously powerful indirect effect, and has no doubt helped us to raise vast amounts of money. But that can't be quantified. A patron undoubtedly opens doors for a charity, in terms of both funds and facilities, and a famous name on the letterhead lends great credibility.

"We are now keen to invite Christopher Reeve, who was a patron of our Push event, to be a full-time patron: in the US, he has just got $10m through Congress for spinal research, and he is really an icon in this kind of campaigning. Gaby Roslin also recently became a patron, and was present at the Kensington Palace photocall, and media personalities like Roy Hudd and Libby Purves have also given their support."

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