Although it was the 16th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana in a Paris car crash on Saturday, British newspapers are still filled with conspiracy yarns and debate about the cult she left behind. Meanwhile, she rests in her island grave on the Round Oval lake on the 15,000 acre Spencer family estate, Althorp, in Northamptonshire, presided over by her brother Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer. Since her death, droves of Diana fans have queued every summer to pay homage near her grave and at a five-room exhibit at Althorp, known as “Diana: A Celebration”. This includes her 1981 Emmanuel wedding dress, other designer frocks, schoolbooks, tuck-box, toy typewriter, ballet shoes, numerous personal bits and pieces and books of tributes. These are housed in a stable block, complete with café and shop. You’d think all this is a bit Elvis Presley and Gracelands for a British aristocrat who was neither a Hollywood star nor a pop singer, but Diana’s brother is a thoroughly modern toff. He has attended to the commercial side of his sister’s affairs with as much gusto as he defended her in his famous funeral speech. Althorp visitors, by the way, can buy the book of that speech, in which he lambasted the royal family, for £25 (HK$301).
Tours of America but never Britain
The Diana road show has never toured Britain, but “Diana: A Celebration” has been trucked around the United States for years, appearing at venues ranging from a shopping mall in Edmonton, Alberta, to an old railway station in Kansas, and a native Indian casino and resort in Connecticut.
By the end of this month (September), the Telegraph said “A Celebration” will be back in the US again – this time in the Putnam Museum in Davenport, Iowa (population 100,000), welcomed to town by events such as ''A Royal Affair’’ and ''A Toast to Diana’’, sponsored by the Bling Bling Sisters, a local jewellery store. I kid you not.
Defenders of Earl Spencer might argue this gives Americans the chance to view the dear departed one’s stuff, despite the irony of it never having toured the UK.
Tills to stop ringing
The Telegraph said industry insiders conservatively put the box-office grossed by “A Celebration" over the years at £25 million (HK$301 million). It adds that the fact that only a relatively small percentage of the profits have gone to Diana’s charities may have angered some – including her sons, Princes William and Harry. Last week at Althorp it was business as usual. Earl Spencer was signing copies of his several books and trade in mementos was brisk. There was no hint that Althorp’s Diana industry was about to shut. But in what the Telegraph concluded was a hasty turn, Althorp staff privately confirmed that plans for opening in 2014 do not include the Diana exhibit. So, did William and Harry suddenly call time? And if so, why? Apparently the boxes of Diana relics will now be packed up and returned to her sons, after one last detour to America to “earn their keep”.
Sudden closure raises questions
This news has raised eyebrows, coming a year earlier than expected. In May Earl Spencer announced that the Althorp Diana exhibit “would close worldwide in August 2014”, explaining that under the terms of Diana’s will her possessions must be returned to her sons when the youngest, Harry, turns 30 in September next year.
This sounds rather odd. At the time of her death, Diana was only in her thirties. Does it ring true that at such a young age, she anticipated that her things would become a traveling circus and that she should make provision in her will for them to be returned to her kids when they hit 30? Maybe she did, but it seems unlikely. John Norman, then president of A&E, the Ohio-based business partner of Lord Spencer, made it clear in 2011 that he believed his prestigious money-spinner would continue indefinitely, the Telegraph said. “As demonstrated from exhibition attendance, the public continues to embrace Diana’s legacy,” he said. “We hope to continue touring the exhibition for as long as possible.”
It was even stated that though the Princess Diana Memorial Fund stopped fundraising in 2012, her charities would continue to benefit from a sliver of the box-office gross. Plans to close it down don’t seem to have been on the cards. But it’s all change now, and after one last trip to America, Diana’s possessions will head back to Kensington Palace, unlikely to be seen in public again. We can only hope that Prince William doesn’t think his wife Kate should wear his mother’s vintage frocks, the way he did with her engagement ring.