Late last year, Prince William and Prince Harry jointly announced that there would be no concert or other major event to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. Anyone thinking that this was royal-speak for “we will mark this sad anniversary quietly and privately” has been proved wrong.
Barely two months later, the Princes’ home, Kensington Palace, was a hive of Diana-related activity. There was news of the commissioning of a statue, the planting of a memorial garden, and the opening of a year-long exhibition of Diana’s gowns and dresses. Diana: Her Fashion Story opened two weeks ago and several dates promptly sold out at £19 (C$31) per ticket, as did two ancillary “brunch lectures”—David Sassoon (Diana’s former hairdresser) and Makeup and Monarchy—at £15 a pop. A Designing for Diana study day (£70) exploring the late princess’s relationship with designers Catherine Walker, Bruce Oldfield and Jacques Azagury also sold out. It triggered more news: Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, would make their first official visit to Paris on March 17 and 18.
Then came word that March 31 is to be designated National Kindness Day to honour Diana’s compassion and service. It would dovetail with the Diana Award, which recognizes young people who have fostered social change. Two Canadians are among its past recipients. William and Harry are said to be supporters of the Award. So is their uncle and Diana’s brother Charles, the Earl Spencer. He will host an exhibition called Walking in her Shoes at his family seat, Althorp, to showcase the achievements of the Award recipients, to be followed by a fundraising gala in June.
On the other side of the pond, ABC and People magazine are producing a two-part Diana documentary to air in August. Prepare for an onslaught of similar-themed news specials, docudramas, biopics and anniversary editions. Can commemorative mugs and tea towels be far behind?
Since the shocking car crash in Paris’s Alma Tunnel claimed the life of the world’s most photographed woman on Aug. 31, 1997, and unleashed an unprecedented outpouring of grief, fascination with Diana has not abated; if anything, it has grown. Her luminous face and emotional complexity remain an irresistible package, and she continues to command the headlines. This month she is on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar UK. Twenty years later, shrines and memorials to the late princess are still found in pubs and cafés around the world. The least mawkish and certainly most discreet tribute (visitors easily miss it) is at the Museo Mario Testino in the bohemian Barranco neighbourhood of Lima, where six of the photos the Peruvian Testino took of Diana for Vanity Fair in what was her final photo shoot are on display.
The absence of a public event to mark the 20th anniversary is small if not awkward consolation for the Windsors: in life Diana eclipsed every cause they embraced, every ribbon they cut; in death she does likewise. At least Camilla will be spared a repeat of the embarrassment a decade ago when the Duchess of Cornwall was forced by public outcry to absent herself from a public memorial service to Diana. Time has not salved Diana’s remark about the “third person” in the Wales’ marriage.
Nor has time diminished her legion of fans, who cut across socio-economic, cultural and racial divides. Woe to anyone, royal or commoner, caught disrespecting the memory of the People’s Princess. When Diana’s former chef tweeted about the overgrown state of her burial site at Althorp, condemnation was swift. Earl Spencer responded with a multi-million-pound revamp of the estate grounds to be completed by summer, in time for the thousands of day trippers who descend each year to breathe Diana’s air. Should they care to linger, Althorp now offers B & B accommodation.
Change is afoot, not least at Althorp. All trace of Diana has been expunged from the Althorp website. The popular Diana exhibition that displayed her childhood belongings and frothy wedding dress closed four years ago, and nothing has replaced it. This has nothing to do with Spencerian restraint: under the terms of Diana’s will, all her possessions reverted to her children once Prince Harry turned 30.
Since Althorp does not (or perhaps legally cannot) offer a place of pilgrimage for Diana devotees, Kensington Palace is filling the breach. Prince Harry has spoken publicly about wanting “to make sure there’s something that she’s remembered by, and there’s certainly not enough on the right scale in London or anywhere in the U.K. … And I think myself, William and a few other people, we all agree on that.”
Which leaves little doubt about who is firmly controlling Diana’s legacy and keeping her flame alight. Twenty years after their mother’s tragic death, her sons have now fully and finally reclaimed her.