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PRINCESS DIANA: 1961-1997

Tragedy Unleashes Outpouring of Donations to Charity

Aftermath: Memorial fund may have received as much as $160 million in its first three days of operation.

September 06, 1997|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — As hundreds of thousands of Britons have queued up with flowers and condolences in memory of Princess Diana, her office in Kensington Palace has been overwhelmed by a less visible flood of charity donations that come in each day's mail.

"There are sacks full of money pouring in," said a member of the palace's four-person staff, which is working 15 hours a day sorting the donations. "It's mind-blowing. Most of it is 5-, 10- and 20-pound checks. Once in a while you get a big one, or an even mega-big one."

The mailbags are just the beginning of what may become the most successful charity organization in Britain's history--The Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund.

No one has made a precise count, but British newspapers reported Friday that fund officials believe that it has received as much as $160 million in its first three days of operation--about 10 times the estimated figure Diana raised for charity in a good year.

If accurate, this estimate means that Diana, who promoted more than 100 charities in 16 years as Princess of Wales, could soon become a bigger benefactor in death in the fights against AIDS, leprosy, land mines, cancer and homelessness than she was during her lifetime.

The fund was set up Tuesday, two days after Diana's death, to coordinate an outpouring of offers to six individual charities formally associated with her after her divorce from Prince Charles. It will be managed by two trustees--Michael Gibbons, her personal secretary, and Anthony Julius, her lawyer.

The trustees set up a hotline for donations by credit card. Callers to the number are asked by a recording to give their name, credit card number and amount to be contributed.

The hotline has been so swamped that British Telecom increased its capacity Thursday from 3,600 lines to 10,000.

In addition to the hotline and the mail, donors are going to 14,000 bank branches across Britain to make payments to the Diana fund. Fund officials say they will also post an Internet address.

The six charities expected to benefit most are the National AIDS Foundation, the Leprosy Mission, the English National Ballet, the Centrepoint organization for the homeless, the Royal Marsden NHS Trust cancer treatment center and the Great Ormond Street Hospital Fund.

But a spokeswoman for the Diana fund said it will be open to other causes the princess favored, including a worldwide campaign to ban the use of land mines.

The fund is expected to announce on Sunday, the day after Diana's funeral, how much money has come in. But a spokeswoman said: "This is so overwhelming. It's just the start."

Institutions across Britain have pledged long-term support for the fund, and the National Lottery is planning a special autumn drawing to participate. The Times of London contributed 10 pence of the 35-pence newsstand price of each paper sold Friday--an estimated $160,000.

Mohammed Fayed, the billionaire Egyptian father of Diana's companion Dodi Fayed, who died with her and their driver in Sunday's car crash, offered Friday to donate $8 million toward the cost of a hospital if British authorities agree to build one that would be accessible to children from anywhere in the world.

The hospital would carry Diana's name--an idea that is catching on across Britain. Local officials have renamed streets, bridges, day-care centers and other hospitals in honor of the princess.

And the Times of London reported that the British colony of Montserrat wants Buckingham Palace's permission to name a new capital Port Diana; the present one, Plymouth, was destroyed by the Caribbean island's volcano.

Contributions to "The Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fund" can be sent to Kensington Palace, London, W8 4PU, United Kingdom. Messages of condolence can be sent to the same address. Donations to the fund can also be sent to: P.O. Box 1, London, WC1B 5HW, United Kingdom. Or donations may be made over the telephone with a credit card by calling (from the U.S.) 011-44-990-664422.

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