Diana's Legacy | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Diana's Legacy

He has her look, the one that gave her so vulnerable an air, that slow, shy upturned glance from a downturned head. He has her eyes, too, blue as an English summer sky. The blond hair is the same, as is the quiet smile, the fluid walk, the long, lean figure.

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on August 31, 1998

Diana's Legacy

He has her look, the one that gave her so vulnerable an air, that slow, shy upturned glance from a downturned head. He has her eyes, too, blue as an English summer sky. The blond hair is the same, as is the quiet smile, the fluid walk, the long, lean figure. The resemblance is so startling, in fact, that it is sometimes a little eerie, as if Diana had not really died a year ago after a crash beneath the Pont de l'Alma in Paris. The son she left behind inherited much from his mother. And for supporters of British royalty, Prince William of Wales may become Diana's greatest legacy. Now 16, William is destined to ascend the throne one day, probably far in the future. But with the plentiful gifts bestowed upon him by his celebrated mother, William may soon have it in his power to sweep the cobwebs from Britain's monarchy, rescuing an old and creaking institution that not long ago was sliding towards oblivion.

There are already telltale signs of resurrection. The House of Windsor still has some way to go before it recovers from the years of scandal, the public feuding between Diana and Prince Charles, and, especially, the Royal Family's initial cool and aloof reaction to the death of the Princess of Wales. But in the months since Diana met her ghastly end, the royals have been rebounding, pushed and prodded by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's determination to "modernize" the monarchy. "A year ago, I would have rated the monarchy's chances of survival at no better than 50-50," says Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burke's Peerage, the authoritative guide to Britain's aristocracy. "Now, I'm convinced that there is a 70- to 80-per-cent chance the monarchy will be with us for many, many generations. And by that, I mean not only Charles and William, but their children and their grandchildren."

If the judgment is accurate - and recent public opinion surveys support it - the turnaround has been remarkable. Only a year ago, the Royal Family's claim on the hearts and minds of Britain's people had plummeted to a low ebb, with poll after poll indicating that, for the first time ever, a majority - albeit a bare 52 per cent - had tired of the unending regal soap opera, concluding that the country would be better off with no monarch at all. As notable as the change itself are the forces driving it. Many, if not most, can be traced directly back to the late Princess of Wales. "The irony," argues Brooks-Baker, "is that Diana, in life, nearly destroyed the monarchy. In death, she may have saved it."

Her influence, despite her passing, remains pervasive. It is the prime motivation, as even Buckingham Palace officials privately concede, behind the Royal Family's current campaign to broaden its public appeal. The effort is largely cosmetic, designed to shed the Windsors' image, acquired primarily at the time of Diana's death, as an uncaring, haughty coterie of overprivileged blue bloods, out of touch with the concerns of ordinary folk. The Union Jack now permanently fixed above Buckingham Palace is one example, a direct result of the ferocious criticism the absent royals received for flying no flag at half-mast when Diana died (due to the tradition of raising a flag only when they are in residence). Another manifestation is the Queen's recent, surprising fondness for quick, heavily photographed visits to such places as a pub in Devon and a McDonald's fast-food outlet in Cheshire. "Diana is the catalyst behind all of this," confides one royal courtier. "The aim is to appear more modern, more accessible, more like everybody else."

In short, more like Diana. One leading member of the Royal Family is certainly benefiting from the princess's example. Prince Charles, after suffering years of opprobrium as a result of his fraught relationship with his former wife, is slowly working his way back into the British public's affections. That was confirmed last week by an opinion poll published in The Guardian daily. For the first time in four years of similar monthly surveys, The Guardian uncovered a majority - 54 per cent - of those polled reporting that Charles would make a good king. Last October, the best the heir to the throne could manage was a 40-per-cent approval rating, fuelling widespread speculation that removing Charles from the line of succession might be the best way to ensure the monarchy's survival.

That idea may now be laid to rest, particularly if Charles's popularity continues to rise. But the thought might never have surfaced if the individual next in line behind Charles was not a tall, attractive youngster on the cusp of manhood, who instantly summons memories of Diana. Beyond his good looks, Prince William has also inherited his mother's magic with a crowd. Any doubts on that score vanished last March, when William joined his father and his 13-year-old brother, Prince Harry, to ski the slopes at Whistler, B.C., and pay a two-day visit to Vancouver - his first official royal tour since his mother's death. Throughout the visit, William enchanted adoring crowds, especially the young girls. Thousands of adolescent females, many carrying flowers, turned up at every stop in an often desperate attempt to catch his eye, shake his hand, toss him bouquets. William, as he later confessed, found the adulation a little unsettling. But he had better get used to it. For it offered a glimpse into the future, towards the moment that is fast approaching when he will be asked to don his mother's public mantle.

That day has not yet arrived, however. And until it does, William, like his brother, Harry, remains largely screened from public view. Even London's eagle-eyed tabloids, always on the hunt for royal gossip, have kept their distance, in itself something of a precedent. In the wake of Diana's death, Britain's newspaper editors reached an agreement with St. James Palace, the London residence of Prince Charles and his sons, aimed at sheltering the two boys from the unrelenting glare that dogged their mother's existence. With a few exceptions, the agreement has been respected. "There's a quid pro quo at work here," says Sandy Henney, Charles's principal press secretary. "If the media show some respect for the princes' privacy, they can expect our co-operation in a lot of other ways."

To date, that co-operation has been rather meagre, consisting principally of written answers by William on the eve of his 16th birthday last June 21 to questions submitted by the Press Association, a domestic wire service. Still, there were some intriguing, if innocuous, hints about the character of the future King of England. "He comes across quite sympathetically," wrote the Press Association's Peter Archer, "as thoughtful, sensitive, with an artistic flair."

Not surprisingly, William said he wants to maintain the curtain of privacy that has so far shielded him from the full media spotlight. His tastes are typically adolescent. He loves fast food. He listens to techno-music, especially bands like Prodigy and Radiohead, and enjoys computer games, even though he does not possess a computer of his own. While he liked The Full Monty, his preference in movies and books tends towards action-oriented adventures. Unlike his father, who has never had to even carry money, William buys his own everyday clothes. But he does share with Charles, and most of the rest of the Royal Family, a love of horses and what the English gentry are fond of describing as "field sports" - hunting and fishing. He confessed to being particularly envious of brother Harry, who got to go on a safari last year when he accompanied his father during an official visit to southern Africa.

On one enticing subject, of concern to most 16-year-old boys, William remained stubbornly mute. He refused to discuss girls, not even the claim that there is a poster of model Christie Brinkley on the wall of his room at Highgrove, Prince Charles's country residence in Gloucestershire. He is uncomfortable with the kind of adoration Canadian teenagers showered on him. While there have been unsubstantiated reports that William has been glimpsed at least twice on dates, neither the prince nor his entourage are about to confirm the gossip. In fact, St. James Palace was quick to react this summer when London's Mail on Sunday reported that a female who happened to catch William's eye was invited to tea - but only after first being carefully vetted by the family. The palace appealed to Britain's Press Complaints Commission, describing the report as not only "totally inaccurate" but also "grossly intrusive." The commission agreed, and the Mail on Sunday apologized.

William may only be 16, but he clearly has some clout. By all reports, he both loathes and fears the media, subscribing to the view that the press played a significant role in his mother's death. Certainly, the past year cannot have been easy for him as he struggled to come to terms with his grief. In public, however, he has never betrayed any sign of undue distress. On the contrary, he often exhibits a maturity beyond his years. It is, no doubt, partly the result of the trauma he has experienced. But, according to one friend of the family who has encountered him on several occasions, it is also due to traits he has inherited from Charles. "He may look a lot like his mother," says the family friend, "but don't forget that he's a Windsor, too. And that clan knows a thing or two about duty and discipline."

If his academic record is any measure, William is more his father's son than his mother's. He may, in fact, be the brainiest royal in centuries. "He's deep," as his mother once said. At Eton, the upper-crust private school outside London, William is regarded as an excellent student, particularly strong in English, and a skilled athlete, especially in the swimming pool. He sailed through examinations last spring, and this fall will commence pre-university studies in geography, biology and art history. As yet, William has not decided what university he will attend. Harvard, his mother's choice, is a possibility. But most royal watchers expect that he will follow in his father's footsteps and attend Cambridge.

William is now far more a part of his father's world than he was when his mother was alive. He and Harry moved out of London's Kensington Palace after Diana's death and now live with their father, in the country at Highgrove or in London at York House, immediately adjacent to the maze of rooms occupied by Charles at St. James Palace. Along with the move, William and his brother have been inexorably drawn into the orbit of Charles's circle of relatives, friends and employees. William has struck up a close personal relationship with Princess Anne's two children - Peter Phillips, 20, and his 17-year-old sister, Zara. Tiggy Legge-Bourke, the boisterous 33-year-old nanny whom Diana so disliked, is back. And, more delicately, another old enemy of Diana's - Charles's mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles - is beginning to edge into the picture.

The 51-year-old Parker Bowles, famously described by Diana as "the Rottweiler," who was largely responsible for wrecking her marriage to Charles, turned up at Highgrove on July 31. She took centre stage among 100 guests, including comedian Rowan Atkinson, actors Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, ex-king Constantine of Greece and a parcel of senior British royals. All had been invited by William and Harry for an early celebration of Charles's 50th birthday, held months before the actual event in November to avoid conflicts with various royal schedules. Originally, the party was to have been a surprise. William and Harry had enlisted Atkinson, Fry and Thompson to write and act in a comedy spoof in which the princes would also play roles. News of their plans leaked in advance, spoiling the surprise, but ensuring maximum publicity in what is clearly an unfolding campaign to show a relationship between Diana's two sons and the woman their mother detested.

In the end, the effort may well succeed. Significantly, it was William and Harry who chose to invite Parker Bowles to the surprise party for their father. The event followed a much-publicized meeting in June between Parker Bowles and William at his father's home, confirmed by Buckingham Palace and billed in the media as their first. "If we're hearing about one or two meetings now," remarks Burke's Peerage publishing director Brooks-Baker, "you can be sure that there have been plenty of others we are not hearing about." Precisely how William feels about it all remains a mystery. But veteran royal watcher and longtime Diana confidant Richard Kay provides a clue in the newly published book Diana: The Untold Story, co-authored with colleague Geoffrey Levy. By this account, when Charles recently raised the touchy subject of his mistress with his eldest son, William replied: "Whatever makes you happy, Papa."

Inevitably, the memory of Diana is bound to fade - but not anytime soon. Kay's book is merely one of several slated for publication on the anniversary of her death, attacking the subject from almost every conceivable angle, from sexual politics to Jungian analysis. Dozens of films and television programs - both documentaries and semi-fictional dramatizations - are scheduled to appear. A musical, Queen of Hearts, will soon debut off-Broadway. There is even a 30-minute cartoon in the works, portraying Diana as a kind of Cinderella princess who, after bad treatment by a prince and his cold family, strolls off into heaven with little children.

When that kind of fanfare dies, more concrete manifestations will remain. Chief among these is the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund, the trust established in the wake of her death to collect contributions and distribute money to her favorite charities. The fund has been purring along recently, ever since the appointment as executive director four months ago of Andrew Purkis, previously press secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially, however, there were problems, especially the much-criticized decision to allow the princess's signature to appear on plastic tubs of Flora margarine. Unauthorized exploitation of Diana's name remains a difficulty. The fund is currently taking legal action against the Franklin Mint, a U.S.-based souvenir manufacturer, for peddling unlicensed Diana items.

So far, the fund has collected roughly $200 million. Last March, the first disbursements were made, consisting primarily of $2.4-million donations each to eight of Diana's preferred charitable causes, including the National AIDS Trust and the Leprosy Mission. In October, the fund will start considering all charitable organizations.

Of all Diana's legacies, however, the most enduring is likely to be the future King she bequeathed her nation. William, by near universal agreement, remains the last, best hope for the British monarchy. Despite the rehabilitation process that has been under way for the past several months, it remains an institution in some peril. The same Guardian poll that uncovered Prince Charles's rising popularity also detected a solid minority of Britons implacably opposed to the monarchy - 28 per cent. Another 20 per cent are either skeptical or uncertain on the issue. Ominously, hostility to the Royal Family is swelling among 18- to 24-year-olds, rising to 49 per cent at the moment from 36 per cent last August.

"The problem with the monarchy in this country," maintains Alan Beattie, senior lecturer in political science at the London School of Economics, "is that it is essentially a 19th-century institution on the eve of the 21st century." Pointing to the European continent, home to seven reasonably stable monarchies, he adds: "In Spain or Scandinavia, kings and queens actually go shopping. Some of them even have proper jobs. Until we have someone on the throne like that, our monarchy is going to remain in trouble." Diana might have agreed. Perhaps William, the son cast so uncannily in her image, will feel the same.

The Supporting Cast

In the year since Diana died, some of the people associated with her have gone through big changes in their lives, or attracted new notoriety. An update:

Charles Spencer: Diana's 34-year-old younger brother and the ninth Earl Spencer, who delivered a moving speech at her funeral, has endured bad press since. His marriage fell apart last fall amid accusations of infidelity. He has been criticized for the way he has turned the family estate, Althorp, into a Diana memorial museum, and a documentary about his sister, produced by a friend and aired on the BBC in late June, was seen as an attempt to promote the museum.

Mohamed al Fayed: The Egyptian-born father of Diana's companion Dodi Fayed, who died with her, has dedicated himself to honoring his son's memory, often controversially. He attacked Earl Spencer for not including any reference to Dodi at the Diana memorial at the Spencer family's Althorp estate, and he made claims that the British Establishment was behind the accident until the French investigating judge told him to desist. He plans to build a memorial to the couple, encasing their images in a dove symbol, at his flagship department store, Harrods.

Trevor Rees-Jones: The former paratrooper and ex-employee of Al Fayed was Diana's bodyguard. He survived the crash, but has undergone several operations to rebuild his shattered face. Rees-Jones, 29, works part time in a sports shop in his home town of Oswestry in northwest England. He told the French inquiry that a conscious Diana called for Dodi after the impact.

Tiggy Legge-Bourke: The 33-year-old former royal nanny, whose close relationship with Princes William and Harry irked Diana, remains an employee of the family and an influence in the lives of the boys. She helped them organize their father's 50th birthday party in July, but irritated Prince Charles in mid-August when she allowed the boys to try shinnying down a steep rock face on a rope without proper protective equipment.

Paul Burrell: Diana's former butler and the man she called "my rock," has become events and fund-raising manager of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund, set up to raise money for the charities she supported. Burrell, 39, has antagonized fellow employees with his highhandedness; many of them also worked for Diana. His wife, Maria, has left him and the Queen ordered him to vacate his home on the grounds of Kensington Palace.

Frances Shand Kydd: Diana's 62-year-old mother told an American television interviewer in July that she mingled anonymously with mourners outside Kensington Palace for three nights after her daughter's death. Royal watchers say Diana and her mother were not close, but the princess's will stipulated that Shand Kydd be consulted over Diana's sons' "education and welfare." Al Fayed branded her an "English snob" for failing to acknowledge him at a Paris inquiry appearance.

Sarah Ferguson: The Duchess of York, Prince Andrew's 38-year-old ex-wife, was a close friend of Diana and fellow exile from the Royal Family. Now, nearly solvent again after paying off $10 million in debts, she is chief spokesman for Weight Watchers, and in October will begin hosting a morning talk show called Surviving Life, which will air on a British network owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. She also authored a cookbook, although she freely admits she can't cook.

Maclean's August 31, 1998