Royal `goddess' has failed to develop a cult following


It was the writer, Julie Burchill, who said three years ago that Britain could never live without Diana, Princess of Wales. The "Age of Diana" had not ended with her in the Place de l'Alma underpass in Paris, Ms Burchill wrote. Far from it, the cult of Diana was just beginning.

"Forever frozen at the height of her beauty and power by death", Diana would be the mourner at every royal wedding and the blushing bride at every coronation.

Three years ago the cult of Diana held Britain and it appeared, the world, in its grasp. Hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the route of her funeral procession through London; thousands upon thousands of flowers were placed at the gates of Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace. People knew exactly where they were when they heard she had died, just like the popular icons, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy.

Many people thought Britain would never be the same and, crucially, that Diana's cult following would be sustained. Yet looking around today, there are very few signs that the third anniversary of Diana's death will be remembered.

There are no official events planned where people can remember Diana together. Her burial place at the Spencer family seat, Althorp House in Northamptonshire, is expected to record falling attendances when it publishes its figures this year.

And apart from a memorial walk and a children's playground in Kensington, London does not have an official monument to commemorate its favourite adopted daughter.

Mr Ian Vine, a research fellow in psychology at the University of Bradford, said he was surprised at the lack of national mourning for Diana, which he suggests at the time of her death was an extreme reaction to the passing of a fairytale princess.

"I thought there would be some kind of lasting monument to come out of it," Mr Vine said. "I had envisaged there might be some religious cult that developed a la Elvis Presley because certainly some of the coverage of those who camped out in the streets when she died showed people were expressing attitudes which had a strong religious feeling to them."

The gradual decline in the volume of articles written about Diana and the lack of an annual memorial event show that Diana has slipped to the back of our minds, said Mr Vine.

Furthermore, it is possible that Diana's death prevented her from making a more lasting impression on the world, beyond the fact that she was beautiful with a huge amount of empathy for the sick and the bereaved.

"Clearly there was a sense in which the tabloids went completely over the top when she died and that had to reduce.

"Some fairly powerful media pundits were putting the boot in [to Diana] fairly quickly. This was part of the decline, but I was genuinely puzzled because I thought there was a potentially subversive element there - that she was anti-establishment, although she was part of it, and that the monarchy had to get back in touch with the people," added Mr Vine.

The decline in Diana's public popularity has also affected donations to the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which have fallen from the £20 million high watermark in the months after her death to less than £500,000 last year.

Many people cannot name a single charity or event that has received money from the fund, even though it has distributed £28 million to charitable causes since 1997. Indeed most people just grimace at the £1.7 million spent on legal fees by the fund to defend Diana's copyright against a US manufacturing company that makes Diana dolls.

For those who still can't get enough of Diana, however, the Internet provides all the information they need. Diana obsessives visiting the home page for the English stately home, Hammer wood House, can read an article by Diane Tessman, with a personal "message" from Diana.

It surely requires a level of devotion beyond normal to fall for Diana/Diane's assurance that "I have rejoined my higher `home vibration'. This is a difficult reality to explain in current Earth language, but I shall try".

The editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine and author of the recently published The Queen and Di, observed earlier this week that the Diana bubble had burst. Her memory was still alive, but people looked at her differently.

"I think they just see her as a person with all her faults, rather than as a goddess. I don't think people any longer feel the compulsion to mourn her."

In fact the Diana cult has turned full circle. Her good works are remembered, but it looks as if Mother Teresa will be made a saint and not Diana. Meanwhile, the British monarchy has moved on to promote its latest star, Diana's son, Prince William.