They are a motley gathering made up of normal folk, compulsive obsessives, publicity seekers, conspiracy theorists, even an octogenarian code-breaker from WW2 and the odd nutter, all united in a common purpose. To keep the memory of late Diana, Princess of Wales alive. They see themselves as the self-appointed custodians of her legacy. Fighting for her rights, correcting every percieved slight, rewriting every bit of misinformation. But even the staunchest in this group of Diana loyalists admit this can’t go on forever.
On another anniversary of her tragic death in a Paris underpass, the number of bouquet, posters, mementoes, dolls, candles, press cuttings and cards have dwindled. Even though KP’s iconic gilded gates, has once more been transformed into a giant pinboard, festooned with all shades of opinion and invectives, there is less room to tack such items to since the facade was scaled back and redesigned in a recent refurbishment. There is now less photo opportunities for agitators and tourists.
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he band of loyal fans who make the annual pilgrimage to Kensington Palace to honour her memory at every anniversary of her death seem to have accepted the innevitable and have reasoned they cannot keep this public display of loyalty going forever. Vic Fennel from Brighton, husband of the founder of the Diana Circle – a group of Diana fans who met outside KP to mourn her death and then banded together to celebrate her memory – says ruefully, “As we get older, it gets harder.”
In 2012 they managed to make a fist of things even staging a memorial service in front of the palace gates, the scene of unprecedented national deluge of sorrow, soul-searching and recriminations after the princess’ death in 1997. Father Robert Chavner, vicar of St Nicholas Church who met the late princess twice, came down from Brighton to administer prayers. But they are preparing to wind things down at Diana’s final resting place in Althorp where the cash-tills have been ringing since her brother, Charles, the ninth Earl Spencer created an exhibit of her life, “Diana, A Celebration”.
Every summer Americans and hard-core Diana fans have made the journey in their thousands to the shrine, an island in the Round Oval lake in the 15,000-acre grounds of her ancestral home which contains thousands of bound volumes of condolence registers and personal ephemera – toys, couture gowns, hand-written notes and school textbooks – belonging to the princess. Her brother announced the Diana temple would shut in August 2014 after an agreement that the princess’s possessions would pass on to her children when Prince Harry reached his 30th birthday in September of that year.
ary Radcliffe, 87, a former code-breaker in World War II, is a sprightly lady who has certainly not been deterred by her advancing years. She declares proudly that she has made the pilgrimage to London from her Swindon home for every one of Diana’s memorial anniversary for the past 15 years. She says it really was time for the state to honour Diana. She argues: “She has got to be restored to her royal place as her highness. A statue will be befitting of her memory.” She was confident a “King William’ (referring to Prince William) will do exactly that. She adds: “Her love had such strenght and what she gave to the world. They shouldn’t keep putting it off.”
THE DIANA CIRCLE
Margaret Fennel has made the journey from Brighton dressed all in black and carries a walking stick. She is credited with founding the Diana Circle, which started life with about four members. Fennel says it started with their dislike of Prince Charles’ women. “We don’t want him,” she announces hinting at the first-in-line becoming the next British monarch. She declares: “Charles and his lady friend (whom she calls ‘Cruella’) should give up the throne and let William be king.” She wants the anniversary of Diana’s death to be reported in the media more widely. She strongly feels “there must be something special about that Diana Spencer”.
She says of the annual pilgrimage to the gates of Kensington Palace, “This was her home.” She supports the erection of a statue in her honour. She says of Diana, “She’s not been forgotten, she still arouses a lot of curiosity. She’d have been a great ambassador.” Vic, her husband who has accompanied her every year on the visit says his wife is very devoted to the late princess.
THE LOYALIST ROYALIST
argaret Tyler, 68, is popularly known as Britain’s loyalist royalist with a treasure trove of royal memorabilia that leave her allegiance to the monarchy mind-boggling. Her home is groaning with items ranging from press cuttings, photo albums, clothing, tupperware, beddings to chinaware, dolls and mannequin of different proportions. The avuncular woman with the unsatiable appetite for all collectibles royal believes 15 years is a long time for people to bring poems, photographs and flowers. She puts it all down to the enduring legacy of Diana. She doesn’t consider her devotion to Diana as unhealthy, “A lot of people stop me and say it’s nice what you do,” she says matter-of-factly. She had worked for 20 years with children with Down Syndrome before retiring eight years ago to devote all her time to Diana. “I’m busy as ever,” she says smiling.
She met Diana six weeks before she died at a charity event held at the Northwick Park hospital. When the princess saw her clad in her royal-inspired regalia, she threw her head back and said: “You’ve got it bad.” A compliment she will cherish forever.
- This feature was first published in 2013