'Black Diana' memorial gives Her Majesty displeasure

The Queen says she will not approve statue's public display - but it is likely to go up anyway
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The Independent Online

The Queen has stepped into a lengthy political and constitutional battle - over a black granite statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, meant for a West Midlands bus station.

The Queen has stepped into a lengthy political and constitutional battle - over a black granite statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, meant for a West Midlands bus station.

Her Majesty has refused to give permission to erect a life-size sculpture of Diana made by the artist, Andrew Walsh, who specialises in headstones for graves. It was first offered to his home town of Walsall three years ago - when the leader of the local council dismissed the labour of love as "demonic" and "bizarre".

Upset, Mr Walsh withdrew the offer. Then the councillor, Mike Bird, saw the £16,000 sculpture for himself and changed his mind. The man who had described the work as "more like a plastic toy than a lasting image of a princess" now declared that Walsall Council did want it after all.

He was too late. The sculptor had already done a deal with local transport bosses to make his "black Diana" the centrepiece of their new, state-of-the-art bus station: a project that came in eight months late, £1.5m over budget, unfinished and with a leaky grass roof.

All that remained was to get planning permission - from the spurned council - and settle the wording on the plaque. Advice was sought from the Home Office, which wrote to Buckingham Palace after consultations with the Spencer family and the Diana Foundation set up in her memory.

Five months later - last week - the answer came back. The use of royal names, titles and memorials required permission from the Queen, but in this case Her Majesty was not amused. The statue would not be allowed to carry the name of the woman it was meant to represent, Diana, Princess of Wales.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office refused to go into details, since this was "a matter of royal prerogative". Asked whether the black Diana could be put up without a plaque, she thought not. "It is a representation of Diana," she said. "They are still representing a member of the Royal Family."

The constitutional truth, however, may be different. Diana ceased to be a royal when she divorced the Prince of Wales. The title "Her Royal Highness" was taken away, but she was allowed to continue calling herself "Princess of Wales". Mr Walsh, and those who want to see his work displayed, are now taking legal advice about whether they can call it "Diana" or even "The Princess".

"Everybody knows who it is," says Jeffrey Williams, a director of the sculptor's company, Walsh Memorials.

"We are delighted at what we have done. The people of Walsall will get what they want, and it will be done in a respectful way that satisfies all the legal bigwigs."

The statue is currently at the firm's showroom in Cannock, Staffordshire, waiting for its fate to be decided.

"We had thought this unfortunate saga was over a few months ago," says Mr Williams, who is angry that the decision was made without sight of the statue. "Nobody at the Home Office has been to see it."

Mr Williams says he will meet the architect and representatives of the transport executive Centro on Tuesday to finalise the details of its site. "This is not going to stop the statue going to its intended place, in the vicinity of the bus station. The only thing that is debatable at the moment is the actual wording."

It is now three years since Andrew Walsh made the offer "in good faith and good heart", says Mr Williams. "Things have gone very sour, and Andrew feels very hurt by it, obviously. It took five months for that letter to come and when it did it was signed by a junior clerk." The Black Diana is five feet eight inches tall, weighs a ton and a half, and is made from Indian granite which is not disfigured by rain.

She made her debut at the Funeral Services Exhibition in Birmingham last May, but was withdrawn after complaints from Earl Spencer.

"We are distressed that an image of Diana is being used at an exhibition of funeral services," said a spokeswoman for the family.

"It is wholly inappropriate, whatever it is made out of or looks like."

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