Britons just can't let go of her memory Suitable memorial is debated as money pours in, flowers wilt

September 10, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- How to honor Princess Diana?

And how to move on?

Those are the questions that loom over Great Britain after the death, funeral and unprecedented outpouring of emotion for Diana, Princess of Wales, overshadowing all other events -- even some of great and enduring historical significance.

Many Britons cannot let go of Diana's memory. They still show up outside her former home at Kensington Palace, bearing flowers and cards, adding them to a 4-foot-high pile of dying roses and lilies that extends 80 yards from the palace gates.

Volunteers will begin clearing the pile tomorrow. The job will take three weeks, for these particular flowers can't just be hurled into a trash truck.

"Diana would have been terribly touched that everyone felt so much love and affection for her, but these flowers are such a waste of money," says Janice Reece of London.

People talk of renaming Heathrow Airport the Princess Diana Airport. Others suggest building schools, hospitals and gardens in her memory. The British government has established a panel to research the issue.

Meanwhile, money pours into the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. It will eventually find its way to the more than 100 charities that Diana supported.

Not since the deaths of Prince Albert and later Queen Victoria has Britain seemed prepared to go on a building frenzy to honor royal memories.

Albert and Victoria defined the 19th-century age of empire, and in death they were honored with monuments and bridges, a fine-arts treasure named the Victoria & Albert Museum, and a concert stage named the Royal Albert Hall.

"Victoria and Albert represented the pinnacle of treating the royal family in an imperial way," says Roger Bowdler, the historian for English Heritage, a group that preserves some of the country's finer landmarks.

"In their time, people were obsessed with putting up monuments. World War I was the last big boom in monuments. Now, we're pretty shy about it. But that seems to be changing."

The sense of national loss remains palpable, even as people begin to come to terms with Diana's death after the Aug. 31 car accident in Paris that also killed her companion Dodi Al Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul.

The English soccer team will play a World Cup qualifying match tonight against Moldova at Wembley Stadium, and memories of Diana will be all around during the country's first national event since Diana's funeral.

The English team will wear black arm bands. Elton John's funeral song, "Goodbye England's Rose," will be played. There will be a minute of silence.

"Everyone was surprised by the intensity and the outpouring of grief," Douglas Hurd, Britain's former foreign secretary, said in an interview.

"Three things all piled on top of each other. You had a natural star. She was a princess. And people discovered that she was doing a lot of good, that she had the power of compassion and she used it."

The attention to Diana has obscured the reality that one of the more tumultuous weeks in Britain's political history is at hand.

The new Labor government is creating governing bodies in the United Kingdom, which comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tomorrow, after a campaign that lasted only about 100 hours because the country was shut down in mourning, Scots go to the polls to vote on having their own parliament with tax-raising powers. If approved by the voters -- and the House of Commons -- it would give Scots a parliament for the first time since the 1707 Act of Union with England.

On Sept 18, Wales votes on creating an assembly.

And in potentially the most important turn of all, Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, joins all-party peace talks for the first time Monday.

Compared with these events, discussions of modernizing a monarchy that didn't grieve properly over Diana seem more of a footnote. Still, the symbolic importance of the monarchy resonates with Britons.

"We're talking about making the most radical constitutional changes in Britain since 1922 when the Irish Free State was created," said Rodney Barker, a historian at the London School of Economics.

"We are in a period of great change, in how we see ourselves as a people and how we see ourselves represented by our political institutions," he said.

"There are two sorts of history -- academic history and the stories we tell ourselves that give us meaning to our collective identity," he said. "The death of Princess Diana and the extraordinary public reaction to it somehow tells us that things will never be the same here again."

Barker admits, though, that Diana's death damaged the monarchy -- at least temporarily -- as the public demanded that the royals bow to her memory.

In the long term, Barker said, the monarchy is secure. Seventy-three percent of Britons polled say the country should remain a monarchy, according to a MORI survey published yesterday in the Sun of London. Only 18 percent favor a change to a republic.

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