LEADING ARTICLE:Can Di save the monarchy?

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If the Queen thinks it's tough playing puppet for the Government, life is about to get even less amusing. For Diana's debut on Panorama next Monday has the nation gripped with anticipation. Will she titillate us with lurid details of rows in the royal bedchamber?

Whatever she says, it bodes ill for the Queen's conception of the monarchy. But that is probably no bad thing. The Princess could be the catalyst for some necessary and positive changes.

Let's face it, the present monarchy sits uneasily with our modern society. A country that aspires to be meritocratic and classless retains as its figurehead a family that stands at the apex of the class system. The Queen is the symbolic representation of our nation. Yet many no longer wish to be symbolised by a detached, privileged and superior hereditary elite.

The monarchy could have adapted quietly to cope with all these problems. The Scandinavian and Benelux monarchies did exactly that. Humbler, calmer, closer to the lives of the people of their country, they ride bicycles through the streets and have paid tax for years.

Instead, the Royal Family tried to preserve its position of pomp and detached privilege by repackaging itself as a fairy-tale. But just as the Windsors' aristocratic lifestyle runs counter to every trend in modern society, so their fairy-tale image is incompatible with the reality of modern relationships. By resisting gradual change they have been left behind by the world, and a crisis of the monarchy has been the inevitable consequence. And their resort to television has ensured that it is played out in the full glare of publicity.

The Princess has been cast in the most interesting role in this historical drama. She is the catalyst either for renewal or destruction, depending on how the rest of the royals respond. For she has built a huge public following by breaking the traditional royal mode. By cuddling her children, riding the rapids at a children's theme park, jogging, driving her own car and listening to pop music, she has carved out a distinctive image for herself. She is not an inspiring, exciting or regal figure, nor is she a role model for today's youth. But she is modern and sympathetic.

What we are witnessing is a public relations battle between the Royal Family of the past and the mother of the future monarch. Ironic as it might seem, the Princess's challenge might just push and cajole the Royal Family into modernising itself rather more than it has so far been prepared to accept. If she goes too far in pursuit of revenge against her husband, she could drag the whole institution down into an orgy of muck-raking recriminations. If she gets it right, then the Prince of Wales could be forced to respond.

The royals have resisted change for too long. Undignified as these royal rows certainly are, they could conceivably help to create a monarchy fit for the 21st century.