Fountain honors the life of a princess

Tribute to Diana opens in London's Hyde Park

July 07, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Prince Charles was in Hyde Park yesterday, and so was Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Princes William and Harry.

And though Princess Diana -- the woman whose life they came to honor -- has been dead seven years, all the intrigue, controversy and admiration that marked her life and has continued in her death were also present in the park.

On a sunny London afternoon, the queen yesterday dedicated Diana's memorial, an unremarkable but elegant oval stream of water -- bubbling, turbulent, flowing and resting -- meant to acknowledge the stages of life and the sudden death of the kindergarten teacher-turned-princess, remembered fondly here as bringing the monarchy to the people.

She, after all, wore her moniker of "Princess Di" as comfortably as she slipped into a silk dress. It is hard to imagine how the future king would react if addressed as "Prince Chuck."

That her kingdom felt comfortable bestowing on her the honor of a friendly nickname was a sign of the mutual affection she shared in Britain and much of the world. The affection did not end with her death. The dedication of the memorial was televised live here, and newspapers dedicated pages of stories to it days in advance.

The dedication marked the first time since her funeral in 1997 that her family, the Spencers, appeared publicly with the royal family. At her funeral, Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, criticized the royals for their treatment of her, and many Britons who agreed have yet to forgive them.

Acknowledging the difficulties, the queen said Diana's marriage to her son, Charles, had its difficult moments, but "memories mellow with the passing of years."

"Central to this," said the queen, acknowledging the worldwide mourning at Diana's death, "remains the extraordinary effect Diana had on those around her. Her drive to empathize with those in difficulty, hardship or distress, her willingness to embrace a new cause, her shrewd ability to size up all those she met, allowed her not only to touch people's lives but to change them."

Diana's divorce in 1996 created a backlash against Charles, who is often portrayed as an out-of-touch prince of privilege, his standoffish demeanor in sharp contrast to Diana, whose softer public image endeared her around the world.

The memorial, south of the Serpentine, has been controversial since before its conception.

The memorial committee was divided over the designs but finally settled on the circular stream, designed by Kathryn Gustafson, an American landscape architect.

Water travels in both directions through channel-carved stones of Cornish granite, laid as a giant necklace. At some points, the water bounces down steps, at others it rocks gently before picking up momentum, propelled by jets.

Water flowing in the opposite direction resembles a babbling brook, and it bubbles with air before approaching a gentle waterfall.

The water from both directions then meets in a shallow reflecting pool.

"I think it's serene, as she was," said Mike DeLuca, 56, of Tauranga, New Zealand, who carved a day out of his vacation with his wife, Nolene, to attend the dedication. "She wouldn't have wanted anything too flashy."

Patrick Mulligan, who at 86 said he walks the park weekly with his wife, Betty, gave the $6.6 million memorial his approval but said there should have been more, like a statue of the princess.

"She wouldn't want anything like that," he said, pointing in the distance to the towering gilded memorial to Prince Albert. "But I think she deserved something more, well, more substantial."

In the newspapers, on television, in talk shows and in pubs, Diana remains a constant reference in the United Kingdom. Some of the attention is in the form of unsubstantiated reports about her since her death -- that she contemplated suicide, or thought the royals might have her killed.

On an episode last month of Coronation Street, the decades-old "real Britain" soap opera watched here by millions, a grandmother comforted her young granddaughter, whose newborn child had just died, by telling her she understood her sadness. She felt the same way, the grandmother said, when Princess Di was killed.

At Kensington Palace, Diana's former home, people gathered separate from the memorial, placing flowers on the gilded black fence and leaving notes and placards. One read: "Memorials Are Nice But We Could Never Forget."

"She was a commoner, as we say over here," said Berl Ginner, 56, who traveled to London from Liverpool with her friend, Anne Jones, 58. Both had received coveted invitations to the queen's tea party, scheduled for after the dedication. "It didn't matter who you were, she spoke to everyone from every walk of life."

"I think the queen being here was good for everyone," chimed in her friend. "I think she's supportive of her grandchildren. They say time heals most wounds. Maybe today will help do that, too."

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