Jemima Lewis: Diana was a porcelain doll in the making

If the trustees had not been blinded by snobbery, they'd have seen the Mint as the ideal custodian of her image
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The Independent Online

If there's a rich American on the warpath brandishing a lawsuit, my instinct is to root for the little guy. But in the case of the Franklin Mint versus the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, I'm with the Americans. For this isn't really a question of copyright or legal wrongdoing: it's an old-fashioned story of British snobbery and American hurt feelings.

If there's a rich American on the warpath brandishing a lawsuit, my instinct is to root for the little guy. But in the case of the Franklin Mint versus the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, I'm with the Americans. For this isn't really a question of copyright or legal wrongdoing: it's an old-fashioned story of British snobbery and American hurt feelings.

The row started in 1998, when the fund's trustees took exception to a 17-inch Diana doll made by the Franklin Mint, a Pennsylvania-based company that produces commemorative plates and porcelain figurines of the type advertised in the back of the Sunday supplements. Most of these feature uncontroversial images such as snowscapes, shepherdesses and tigers peering from jungle undergrowth.

The Diana doll is in the best Franklin tradition. She has a whiff of Barbie about her, with a head far too big for her body, eyes too big for her head and a dazzling-white rictus grin. She wears a miniature copy of the Princess's sparkly Catherine Walker evening dress and crop jacket, topped by a miniature tiara. All very regal.

Alas, the trustees didn't think so. In fact, they thought it was horribly naff. They sued the Franklin Mint to try to halt production, accusing the company of behaving "like vultures feeding on the dead". The case was thrown out of court, and the owners of the Franklin Mint, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, have now launched a £16m counter-suit for "malicious prosecution". The Resnicks may be billionaires, friends of the Clintons and respected charitable donors, but they are not above feeling wounded pride.

Most people would be pretty crushed at having to justify their dodgy taste in ornamental dolls to a court of law. Being American, the Resnicks will have felt it even more deeply. The only thing that Americans still find intimidating about the British is our perceived "classiness". They suspect - quite rightly - that no matter how rich they get, or how hard they try, they will always be regarded as incorrigible vulgarians by the British aristocracy. They long to understand the bewildering nuances of taste upon which such judgements are made.

In this country, unlike America, taste trumps wealth in the game of class. The aristocracy uses it as a kind of morse code with which to filter out eurotrash, Americans and the nouveaux riches. The rules are deliberately perverse, the better to confuse interlopers. Thus, luxury is not at all posh. In order to be classy, one should ideally live in considerable discomfort. Draughts, dust, threadbare Persian carpets, cobwebs in corners and ancient taps that grudgingly drool a tiny trickle of luke-warm water into a bath stained green by the algae of centuries: these are all in excellent taste. Marble bathrooms, gold taps, three-piece suites, deep-pile carpets, windows that fit, saying "toilet" and "pardon" and "lounge": these are not. Neither, emphatically, are "limited edition collectables" from the Franklin Mint.

The irony is that Diana, herself, although posh by birth, was vulgar by inclination. She had all sorts of dubious American traits: the gym-honed body, the coiffed, highlighted hair, the weakness for pop music and personal stereos, the love of victimhood, the perplexing lack of interest in country sports. No wonder Prince Charles's set - who were much more of the muddy-boot, cold-bath brigade - regarded her as dangerously subversive.

No wonder, too, that the masses loved her. If you drew a Venn diagram of the people who collect commemorative tiger plates and the ones who lined the Mall to toss flowers in front of Diana's coffin, I suspect you'd find that they are one and the same. Diana appealed primarily to the romantic tastes of the genteel working classes. She was everything a princess should be: pretty, vulnerable, doe-eyed, tripping about the country doing saintly deeds. She was, in fact, a limited-edition porcelain doll in the making. If the trustees of her fund had not been blinded by snobbery, they would have seen that the Franklin Mint was the perfect custodian of her image.

Besides, there are far worse offenders on the taste scale. Following her death, a tidal wave of Diana-related kitsch swept the planet. I myself am the proud owner of an "England's Rose" ashtray, purchased in Malta, which features a picture of the smiling Princess in exactly the spot where the stubbing-out of cigarettes takes place.

The Franklin Mint, I am pleased to report, is once again doing a roaring trade in Diana memorabilia. Its range includes the Diana Vinyl Doll in the Blue Suit; the Diana, Queen of Hearts Jewelled Tribute Ring; the Diana, England's Rose Diamond Pendant; and the Angel of Hope Diana plate. One can only hope that the trustees of the memorial fund will keep their opinions to themselves this time. Diana was the people's princess, after all, and she should be remembered according to the people's taste.

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