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More wistful smiles than tears for Diana

At two tributes to the British princess killed 10 years ago, the message is to let go of the discord that followed her death.

September 01, 2007|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — There were the familiar clusters of wilting flowers propped against the fence, the poems, the sniffles, yet another replaying of Elton John's reworked "Candle in the Wind." But in the end, a nation still fractured by 10 years of grief and accusations over a dead princess showed signs Friday of moving on.

There were two memorial tributes to commemorate the death of Princess Diana in a car crash a decade ago. One, at the Guards Chapel near Buckingham Palace, was for the upper crust: the royals, the prime ministers, the rock stars and film directors, and the various lords and baronesses -- women in intimidating hats.

The other, outside Kensington Palace, was for those in the wider public whose sharp grief had turned Diana's death into a referendum on Britain's distant, chilly royal family.

At both events, there were more wistful smiles than tears.

An initial, embarrassing dust-up over whether Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the fabled other woman who went on to marry the Prince of Wales, would attend faded when she demurred at the last minute amid a hiss of public disapproval. The message at both commemorations was one of letting bygones finally be bygones.

"Ten years after her tragic death, there are still regular reports of fury . . . at this or that incident, and the princess' memory is used for scoring points. Let it end here," the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, told almost 500 family members, friends and dignitaries gathered at the home of the royal guardsmen, filled for the occasion with sweet-voiced choirs, fresh roses and rosemary.

"Let this service mark the point at which we let her rest in peace, and dwell on her memory with thanksgiving and compassion," he entreated.

Outside Diana's former residence at Kensington Palace a decade ago, mourners for a week filed in grief past a redolently decaying mass of floral tributes. This time, there were fewer flowers, along with a few dozen letters, poems and photos of Diana, sometimes smiling enigmatically, at times giggling with her boys.

Here, at the informal service, the Rev. Frank Julian Gelli, former curate of the neighborhood church Diana occasionally attended, also called for an end to a decade of recriminations.

"You cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless you forgive. And so, we must forgive," he said.

A tousle-haired Prince Harry was the one who most poignantly set the tone at the Guards Chapel ceremony, when he drew a personal portrait not of a nation's icon, but the mother of two sons.

"When she was alive, we completely took for granted her unrivaled love of life, laughter, fun and folly. . . . She never once allowed her unfaltering love for us to go unspoken or undemonstrated," he said.

"She kissed us last thing at night. Her beaming smile greeted us from school. She laughed hysterically and uncontrollably when sharing something silly she might have said or done that day.

"Put simply, she made us, and so many other people, happy. May this be the way that she is remembered."

Throughout the last weeks, many in Britain have attempted to assess what Diana meant for those who weren't her sons. Some have suggested that the low-key nature of Friday's observances meant that she is less needed now as a catalyst of national sentiment.

"Would we, had Diana not died violently in 1997, have remained a less hugging and huggable nation?" Guardian columnist Catherine Bennett wondered this week.

"I think I'm going to throw up," a reader wrote back.

The Economist equated all "the weeping and hugging in the Mall" after Diana's death 10 years ago with Britain's rejection of the Conservative government and the nation's hopes for then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and his promise of a "New Labor." The general enthusiasm and communal grief, it suggested, "have been seen as evidence of a general longing to be part of something bigger: a rejection of social atomization, an embrace of compassion and communitarianism."

But "like the fervent hopes Mr. Blair aroused," the newsmagazine pronounced, "that longing, if it existed, seems to have faded. . . . [Diana was] a carnival queen: monarch of a temporary disorder that, when it passed, left the old order intact, or stronger."

Outside Kensington Palace, it was clear Friday that Diana's pull as an icon has been little diminished over time.

"I loved Princess Diana the moment I saw her, all those years ago," someone wrote in a tribute taped to the fence. "She is a part of my youth and my adulthood. Her death has left a void and opened a realization of how much she did mean to me, a coming of age, an awakening of mind."

As the prayer service began, a middle-aged man with the word "Diana" painted on his forehead in blue, and a red rose on his cheek, clutched a bouquet of roses and shuddered visibly with grief. Women wiped away tears and clutched hands. They sang along to the song John rewrote for Diana's funeral, which begins, "Goodbye, England's rose," as it played on a small CD player resting in the center of the crowd.

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