Tickets go begging for Diana visit

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THOUSANDS of tickets to visit Althorp Park and the burial site of Diana, Princess of Wales, remain unsold despite frenzied interest nearly four months ago, when they first went on sale. The agency responsible for selling tickets for the opening of Althorp Park, the Spencer family home, told the Independent last night that nearly 8,000 tickets are still available.

It is thought the tickets remain unsold because of a widespread public belief that they were all sold in the first week of January, when they first went on sale. Millions of people from all over the world swamped credit-card phone lines with inquiries and within four days 140,000 of the 152,000 tickets had been sold. But during the past four months demand has dried up.

The Spencer family opposes any form of advertising of the Althorp opening, which will allow 2,500 people a day to visit the grounds and family home during a two-month period from July 1. Rob Wilmshurst, group manager of the Nottingham-based ticket agency Way Ahead, which has sole rights to sell the tickets, said: "Without a doubt, people would be surprised to find out that tickets are still available."

This weekend it was again stated that all the 152,000 tickets had been sold amid reports that Earl Spencer was anxious that the ancestral home was not transformed into "Britain's answer to Graceland". The earl said: "This is not a moneymaking venture, however good the cause might seem; it is meeting an obligation to those who wish to pay their final respects, whilst preserving the dignity of Althorp.

"It must never become Britain's answer to Graceland, and, whilst I live, it will never do so." Earl Spencer has repeatedly stated that he does not want Althorp to be turned into a tourist trap. The public opening will be for only two months each year and coach parties are not being accepted.

The earl has decided that an 18ft-high memorial will be built on the island where Diana is buried. A 4ft-high urn, made in a simple and classical design, will be elevated on a plinth.

At the lake edge, which is as close as tourists will get to the burial site, there is a simple temple that will have two marble memorials. One will bear a portrait of the Princess, designed by a local artist, and a three-line inscription taken from one of her speeches. The other will carry an extract from the earl's funeral service address at Westminster Abbey.

The announcement of charges of pounds 9.50 for adults, pounds 7 for pensioners and pounds 5 for children caused controversy, as it was argued commercial gain was being made from Diana's death. But Mr Wilmshurst said: "Even if all the tickets were sold that would only generate pounds 1.4m, which would not cover the staffing. This is not a money-making exercise."

Selling Diana, page 18