A princess forgotten by her people

Three years on from the death of Diana, her cult is dwindling and the donations are beginning to dry up
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The Independent Online

Three years ago the cult of Diana held the nation in its grip. In the days following the death of the princess, an ocean of flowers welled up around Kensington Palace gardens, millions lined the route of her funeral procession, and millions more found themselves caught up in the convulsive tide of mourning that swept the country.

Three years ago the cult of Diana held the nation in its grip. In the days following the death of the princess, an ocean of flowers welled up around Kensington Palace gardens, millions lined the route of her funeral procession, and millions more found themselves caught up in the convulsive tide of mourning that swept the country.

It was a mass show of emotion on a scale never before seen in Britain. Yet this Thursday, the third anniversary of Princess Diana's death with her lover in a Paris underpass, will be officially marked with... nothing. Today, the cult of Diana has few followers outside the more fanatical remnants of what was, for a while, a mass movement.

There are no memorial services planned, and no memorial concerts. A special road race from Kensington Palace to St Paul's Cathedral, where the 20-year-old Diana married Charles, has been cancelled due to "sponsorship difficulties". There is no large event where the remaining faithful can gather together.

Althorp, Diana's family estate where she is buried in an island grave, says that visitor numbers are down. And while £20m poured into the coffers of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund in those early, emotional days, public donations last year declined to less than half a million pounds.

Who now keeps her flame aglow? Not her husband, not yet her sons, and not her former lovers. Instead, the task of marking the anniversary has been left to Mohammed Al Fayed, father of her final lover. Dodi's father is promising to release yet further "information" on the crash at a Washington DC press conference scheduled for Wednesday.

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty, the premier magazine for Royal watchers, and author of the recently published The Queen and Di, is convinced the Diana bubble has finally burst.

"There is still a big group of people that adores her," said Ms Seward. "But the majority of the population have actually taken her off the pedestal and now see her as a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Her memory is very much alive but I think people have a very different image of her now. I don't think people are anti her, they just see her as a person with all her faults rather than a goddess. I don't think people any longer feel the compulsion to mourn her. Only the fanatics will do that."

Ms Seward believes Diana's case has not been helped by the extraordinary allegations made by Mr Al Fayed who has accused the Duke of Edinburgh of arranging the car crash. That, said Ms Seward, has increased public sympathy for the Royal family, a factor noticeably absent in the aftermath of the crash.

Andrew Samuels, professor of analytical psychology at Essex University says that the lack of public mourning reflects normal patterns of the grieving process. But he said today's public indifference is an over-reaction to the extreme emotions shown three years ago: "I think the people are now just so embarrassed when they look back at the degree of emotional involvement that they showed at the time, suddenly we have become very British again - only more so."

The Princess Diana Memorial Fund charity argues that the drop in donations is meaningless as it never wanted public contributions anyway. Instead, it intended to raise funds through licensing of Diana memorial products such as the "Queen of Hearts" collection of plates.

But a survey by Mintel, the market analysts, into public perceptions of charitable causes shows a marked decline in the actual popularity of the memorial fund. In the aftermath of Diana's death, more than one in four people described it as one of the most appealing causes, rating it above environmental fund-raising or international aid.

Three years on, that figure has dropped to 11 per cent of the 2,000 people polled. Significantly, it now trails behind the Prince's Trust, the charity set up by Prince Charles in 1984 to help young people with 13 per cent describing it as one of the "most worthwhile or appealing" causes.

"The [memorial] fund is much less high profile than it had been in autumn 1997," concluded the report. Its author, James McCoy, says that is due in the main to the inevitable passing of time and Diana slipping out of the public consciousness.

But he also believes that adverse publicity over a legal battle - including £1.7 million spent on lawyers' fees - to protect the Diana copyright from an American firm that produced merchandise has clearly not helped the fund.

A spokeswoman for the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund defended the money spent fighting the legal battle with Franklin Mint to protect the Diana copyright because licensing deals, such as one signed last month with Franklin Mint's rival Bradford Exchange, are set to bring in as much as £40 million.

A total of £28m has already been distributed by the fund to charitable causes, she said, while another £7m is earmarked for later in the year.

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