Royal role of Princess Diana as icon fades into history
A RESPECTFUL shadow is falling over the myth of Princess Diana as souvenirs struggle to find buyers and memorial exhibitions are scaled down.
Diana pictured at a ball in aid of landmine victims
Almost 16 years after her tragic death, there are clear signs that the commercialism that latched on to her image is ending.
The reason for this is the pivotal shift in the monarchy. The coming of age of sons William and Harry on the international stage has recalibrated the public’s focal point for the House of Windsor.
The relaxed grace exhibited by William and Kate and charm of Prince Harry on his American tour encapsulate the personal and public touch that made Diana into an icon.
They are the living legacy and the dismantling of elements of the Diana Dynasty will not be seen as a betrayal but more as an acceptance that a new generation of Royals has tuned in with the public.
Next year the acclaimed Diana Exhibition at her family home, Althorp House, in Northamptonshire, which housed exhibits ranging from her wedding gown to 150 personal items, will shut.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which started a few days after her death in 1997 and raised £138 million, closed last December and the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry was established to carry on the good works.
Sales of plates, mugs, dolls, T-shirts and art work have ceased to be a prime attraction on internet auction sites and on eBay, that barometer of a certain popularity, doll dresses are being offered at £35 when once they commanded five times that value.
A book on the life of the Princess has a listing of £3.91 as new and a single penny for a used copy.
The Franklin Mint, which launched thousands of souvenirs and became embroiled in an image rights legal action that cost the Memorial Fund £13.5million, now has only one framed print of Diana for sale on the same page as commemorative coins for a native Indian princess.
“The fading of Princess Diana is a natural progression. She is not in the front of the public’s minds,” says Roger Mortimere, Professor of Public Opinion and Political Analysis at King’s College London. “We are talking about something that was a long time ago and public opinion is driven by what is in front of them every day.
“It doesn’t mean that anyone has lost respect, but time has moved on. A lot of the public have no memory of her or weren’t even born when she died so they are more enthusiastic for William and Harry whom they grew up with.”
Psychotherapist Nicole Gehl believes there are distinct elements to Diana’s memory; the schmaltzy commercialism is fading while admiration for her humanitarian works continues to endure.
Diana grew up at Althorp House where there is now a monument to her
HIV does not make people dangerous to know so you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it
“Her impact on the world has a lot to do with how people identified with her. They saw her as a rebel and a victim at the same time, and she shook up the monarchy,” says Dr Gehl, who practises at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, in London.
“In her fragility there was a lot of strength; qualities we can all clearly identify with. Her death heightened those feelings. It was sudden and she was an icon, and icons are immortal.
“For her to be taken highlighted the fact that we are all vulnerable.”
The national outpouring of grief after her death on August 31, 1997, broke the dam of British emotional restraint, adds Dr Gehl.
“She was a great humanitarian, no matter what happened in her very public private life. It is the Diana industry that is receding, not her good works. The new monarchy is capturing consumer interest and there is a new generation of tourists. We hope she will be remembered for the humanitarian works she performed.”
A strand of that legacy is the Diana Awards, which celebrate the achievements of young people around the country.
“Lots of people who get the award were born after she died but it is still valuable and precious,” says Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the awards, which have a nomination deadline of May 24.
“A lot of them say they don’t really know about the Princess but when they tell their gran about it the connection is immediate and that is important.
“The awards are not essentially about the princess herself. They are about giving back, getting off your backside, and the focus of young people doing something that she did so many years ago, and it is good that it continues across generations.”
Diana’s contribution to the fight against HIV was groundbreaking. She became the first high-profile personality to be publicly photographed touching a patient with the virus in 1987.
Her caring words, which helped to overturn stigma and boost the medical advances that have saved countless lives, epitomised her direct approach: “HIV does not make people dangerous to know so you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it,” she said at a time when the world was turning its back on them.
Her bravery in tackling the landmines issue swayed obdurate governments and resulted in one million lethal devices being removed.
She was an ambassador for the forgotten and downtrodden and her tireless agenda stretched across 200 charities with an influence that switched on the caring gene in a generation.
The closing of the Althorp Exhibition, which raised £1.2million for charity, will not dim that work but simply mark a move towards a different kind of memory.
Princess Diana will never disappear from Britain’s cultural landscape but she is moving towards venerable status as an historical figure rather than a trademarked icon.