Monday, September 3, 2007

Princess Diana's Last Resting Place

A Trip to Althorp…

In many ways, Althorp looks like any other old English estate. As is common, the expansive grounds surround the home so completely that the building cannot be seen from the road. Sheep graze serenely in adjacent fields, part of a 13,000-acre estate. Twin gate houses flank a long alley leading to the weathered stone 131-room mansion. A field facing the gates is set aside for visitors. Cars are parked in muddy, unpaved spaces interrupted by struggling tufts of grass. The day I visited with my friend Venetta the sky was streaked with dark swaths of moody blue, threatening rain.

Signs directed us up the drive, around the side of the house, and into a brick-paved courtyard surrounded by converted stables. One had been turned into a small shop with a big display window. Front and center were leather bound copies of Diana’s eulogy written by her brother.

Venetta and I walked over for a closer look. To our amazement, inside the store stood Diana’s brother, Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer.

Why Prince Charles Married Diana and Not Camilla…

A lot has been said about why Prince Charles was discouraged from marrying Camilla and encouraged to marry Diana. The young woman’s suitability has been much touted: she was a virgin, young, biddable and of good family. But the reason that strikes me as most likely—and I saw proof with my own eyes—was the Spencer family’s good looks.

Diana’s brother took my breath away. All I can compare him to is a model on the cover of a romance novel.

The images of him at Diana’s funeral do not do him justice. Her brother’s features are not perfect, but his coloring is gorgeous and his physicality, well, he’s tall, lithe and well-built. His eyes are an unusual blue, and his every movement is graceful, poetic even. If his sister was anything like him—and I’m sure she was—I can see why the royal family was excited about bringing into “the firm” a beautiful, fairytale princess.

By the way, this idea isn’t original: an article in a UK magazine posited that Diana was selected expressly to bring height and attractive features to the royal bloodline. And that she did. According to the magazine writer, Camilla simply wasn’t good-looking enough for the job.

A Line Omitted from the Eulogy…

Inside the converted stables was a display of Diana’s personal artifacts. Some of her designer dresses and jewels, family photos, her childhood scrapbook and toys, dried petals from tribute flowers, and so on, were arranged in floor to ceiling glass cases. One item of particular interest: her brother’s original draft of the eulogy. (See In the movie The Queen, Charles, the Earl Spencer, is shown speaking at the funeral with these very papers in hand. His remarks were typewritten--except for a few words inserted by hand and later crossed out right after the part about "thanking God." In that added and omitted phrase, he also thanked Dodi Fayed for making the last months of his sister’s life happy ones.

The Island…

Behind the main house, Diana is buried on a tiny man-made island in the midst of a tiny pond. I suspect her brother gave thought to the thousands of visitors and decided it was best to control the crowds by making his sister’s resting place inaccessible. (The tiny white "spot" in the photo on my scrapbook page is the urn atop her plinth on the island.)

Facing the island is a white stone structure, two stories high, with simple columns and “DIANA” centered under the eaves. Sheltered by the overhang is a large cameo portrait of Diana and a severe black bench.

How isolated Diana is! She’s not spending eternity near her sons. Nor is she buried near anyone who loved her. She’s by herself on the island. Even in death, Diana is alone, a curiosity, a photo opportunity, an outsider, and a spectacle.

Saving Althorp…

A portion of the family home is open to visitors for a fee. Charles, Earl Spencer, lives in the rest of the building part of the year. Venetta and I paid to be herded by docents through a mainly unremarkable old house. Like other old English manors, it must cost a fortune to maintain. Most memorable were the twin staircases mirroring each other and leading from the main floor to the second. At the top of one is a life-sized portrait of Charles, Earl Spencer. The rolled scroll in his hand is Diana’s eulogy. Facing him at the top of the other staircase is a life-sized portrait of his sister.

Shortly before she died, Diana had asked her brother if she could come live in a small cottage on the estate. He told her, “No.”

But Diana has come home. Not to live. Certainly forever. In death she generates the money necessary to keep Althorp in the family for generations to come.


Camille Minichino said...

Wow, so interesting Joanna!
Along with an earlier post of yours on royalty, this one moved me to look at why I was so fascinated by Diana. Your point on her bringing beauty to the royal gene pool makes so much sense. Yet when she walked among "the people" of many countries, she seemed one of them.
I've been to England only once, a year after her death. I went to Harrah's, owned at that time by Dodi's family. There was a shrine to the two of them at a landing in one part of the store, with portraits and flowers at a little altar. It was the ONLY time I ever saw an unattractive photo of Diana. Dodi's photo was partly in front of Diana's, and had more light. Her expression was bland. I thought it was an extremely interesting presentation.

Kathryn Lilley said...

I remember being glued to the TV to watch the wedding of Diana and Prince Charles. Back then, it really did seem like a fairy tale come true. Sigh...

Camille Minichino said...

Right Kathryn, but now it seems it was more like a movie with everyone playing a part ...
It's almost more reality than I want!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Did you know that "shrine" is the only spot you can take a photo at Harrod's? I was nearly booted out of the store for taking shots. So I took one in the john (loo) as a petty form of rebellion. And I agree with you...the picture of Diana isn't great, but the one of Dodi was more dramatic.

Why did she appeal to us? We were raised on fairytales. She had all the ingredients of a book heroine: she was shy and humble, she was thrust into a difficult situation she didn't understand, she was beautiful, and she seemed like us.

I think I'll write something sometime on why the Brits liked's not for the same reasons we did!

Kathryn, I think we were all swept up in the romanticism of the event. After all, he was in a "uniform," and she in a designer but virginal gown...and every fantasy was fulfilled! Everyone except for his and Camilla's.

Sadly, when you think about her being examined for being a virgin and about observers watching her sons being born, added to why the royal family was so thrilled with her, images of breeding horses come to mind!

Camille Minichino said...

First I can't believe I wrote Harrah's instead of Harrod's .. but it's a holiday, right? Thanks for not laughing!
I didn't know that shrine would still be there. Very interesting.
Picturing you with your camera all over the place ... lol.
Looking forward to haring your take on why the Brits loved her.

Deb Baker said...

We hooked up a television at work to watch the wedding. I can even remember where I was the night I heard she had died. What a sad and terrible loss.