Diana extolled 10 years after violent death
LONDON – It was not the vision of Princess Diana gliding across a ballroom nor that of the compassionate royal consoling AIDS victims that her son remembered.
Rather, it was an image of Diana at her most intimate and unguarded – the princess as a doting mother of William and Harry.
“She kissed us last thing at night. Her beaming smile greeted us from school. She laughed hysterically and uncontrollably when sharing something silly she might have said or done that day,” Harry said with a mixture of princely composure and deep feeling.
The memorial service Friday organized by Prince William and Prince Harry climaxed a week of recalling her life and reviving old battles, albeit in a far lower key than the emotional tidal wave that swept over Britain following her death 10 years ago.
In his eulogy, Harry said it was important “that we remember our mother as she would wish to be remembered, as she was: fun-loving, generous, down-to-earth and entirely genuine.”
The service went off with customary royal dignity, just days after published criticism from one of Diana’s friends that persuaded Prince Charles’ second wife, Camilla, to abandon plans of attending. To the princess, her close friends and legions of Dianaphiles, Camilla was the other woman who destroyed the marriage.
Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, called for an end to the sniping.
“Still 10 years after her tragic death there are regular reports of ‘fury’ at this or that incident and the princess’ memory is used for scoring points. Let it end here,” Chartres said. “Let this service mark the point at which we let her rest in peace and dwell on her memory with thanksgiving and compassion.”
That may be wishful thinking.
Diana’s face still sells magazines and newspapers, and her story inspires an unending stream of books.
A formal inquest into her death opens later this year. Mohamed al Fayed, whose son died with Diana in the car crash in Paris, has hired a high-paid legal team to argue that the couple were the victims of an Establishment conspiracy led by the queen’s husband, Prince Philip.
A poll commissioned by Channel 4 television suggested that one in four Britons believe Diana was murdered. The telephone survey of 1,016 adults conducted this week had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Diana’s admirers, many of them suspicious of the cause of her death and resentful of Charles, tied bouquets, poems and portraits to the gates of Kensington Palace, her former home.
For Harry and his older brother, William, it was a simple tribute to an adored mother.
“To us, just two loving children, she was quite simply the best mother in the world,” the 22-year-old Harry said.
“When she was alive, we completely took for granted her unrivaled love of life, laughter, fun and folly,” he said. “She was our guardian, friend and protector. She never once allowed her unfaltering love us to go unspoken or undemonstrated.”
Harry, who was 12 when Diana died, said losing a parent at such a tender age “is indescribably shocking and sad.”
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Guards’ Chapel near Buckingham Palace – a smaller crowd than the masses that lined the route of Diana’s funeral procession to Westminster Abbey.
“She reached our lives deeply, even in America. She brought life to the palace and warmth, and that’s what the monarchy needed,” said Arlene Fitch, 54, of Boston.
Diana “got married the same year as me, she had children the same year as me and, as her boys have grown up, they have done just the same kind of things as our boys would do,” said Fitch’s sister, Marie Schofield, 46, from Florida.
Many Britons recalled her compassion.
Eileen Neathey, 56, of London, recounted a chance encounter with Diana at a hospital, where Neathey’s mother was a patient. “I had been up all night and was very upset, and when I bumped into Diana, I burst into tears,” Neathey said outside Kensington Palace. “She put her arm round me and comforted me – that’s the way she was.”
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were among the 500 people in the chapel. Prince Edward, Charles’ younger brother, and his sister, Princess Anne, also were there, as were Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair, and representatives of 110 charities Diana supported.
Al Fayed observed his own two minutes of silence at Harrods, his department store, an hour before the memorial service. His daughter, Camilla al Fayed, attended the royal memorial.
In the past, the royal family had refrained from any public remembrance of the anniversary of the princess’ death.
This year, however, William and Harry took the lead in organizing the memorial service, as well as a rock concert on Diana’s birthday, July 1, which drew 70,000 paying fans.
The Rev. Frank Gelli, who has led an informal service outside Kensington Palace every year, said Friday’s probably would be the last.
“It would be good if the princess was allowed to rest,” he said.
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