Britons Begin to Ponder How Best To Remember the 'People's Princess'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Britain has not seen anything like this outpouring of emotion since the funeral of wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

Outside London's St James's Palace, thousands of people waited through the night in a vigil remembering Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in an auto crash in Paris Aug. 31. The crowds were so great that officials had to triple the number of books of condolences from five to 15.

In Scotland, campaigning for the Sept. 11 referendum on a separate parliament was put on hold until after the Sept. 6 funeral in Westminster Abbey. The world-famous Braemar Gathering highland games, held annually near Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth's Scottish home, were canceled for the first time in 180 years.

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Meanwhile, from his office in Downing Street, Prime Minister Tony Blair encouraged moves to devise a fitting memorial for the woman who, in life, captured the imagination of the world, and whose passing is evoking a floodtide of sadness and sorrow.

In the past, tributes to Britain's "great and good" have usually taken the form of statues, monuments, or plaques on walls. A marble image of Queen Victoria looms near the gates of Buckingham Palace. A statue of Lord Nelson, victor over the French and Spanish in a famous sea battle, perches high above Trafalgar Square.

But judging by the ideas streaming from those who loved her and admired her work, such memorials would be neither fitting nor popular.

"She was incredibly active and had enormous goodness. Anything done in her memory must reflect those qualities," says Louise Casey, director of Shelter, a housing charity that Diana supported. "A statue or other monument would be staid, stagnant. What is needed is something dynamic that will help the kinds of people Diana helped."

A similar theme was taken up by Nicholas Partridge, head of the Terence Higgins Trust, another of the princess's many charitable enterprises. "We need something long-lasting that continues to affect people's lives."

Blair is clearly determined that tributes to Diana will reflect the enormous public affection she enjoyed until the end. On Sept. 1 he came close to taking charge of the funeral arrangements, which would normally be directed by Buckingham Palace. Blair wanted a funeral that would reflect the life of "a people's princess," and Diana's "modernity" says a Downing Street spokesman.

Palace officials said it was unprecedented for a prime minister to play an active part in such matters. Blair, however, has been quick to sense that, despite the royal family's misgivings about Diana and her failed marriage to Prince Charles, the British public has few, if any, reservations about the need to honor the princess.

Richard Branson, millionaire chairman of Virgin Airlines and a friend of both Diana and the prime minister, on Sept. 1 supported the creation of a "super-charity" to continue the work Diana had begun. He wrote to Diana's mother suggesting that she head such a charity until Prince William, heir to the throne, comes of age in three years' time.

In an initial move, Buckingham Palace announced Sept. 2 that a special fund would be created to oversee charity donations from the public.

While discussion of a fitting memorial continued, it became clear that virtually the whole of Britain will fall silent Sept. 6 to honor Diana. Shops and banks will close, airports and railway stations will observe two minutes of silence, and sports events will be postponed.

The urge to remember Diana with something other than stone or bronze extended to France. French politician Jack Lang recalled her campaign against land mines (Travels With Diana, Page 19.) and urged that when the international agreement is completed, it should be called the "Princess Diana Treaty."

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