Year in Review: 1997


Re-rank the list of top news stories of 1997


Find out more about:

Princess Diana's death stuns the world

Weld steps out -
Cellucci steps forward

Mother Teresa is laid
to rest at age 87

Chinese rule returns
to Hong Kong

Supreme Court strikes
down 'Net decency act

UPS strike disrupts thousands of firms

Heaven's Gate cult commits mass suicide

Mars Pathfinder explores Red Planet

Ellen comes out, marking a first in TV

For the first time, a mammal is cloned

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Palace might take -- or leave -- her populism

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 09/02/97

LONDON - With close-cropped hair, an earring in each lobe, and a tattoo of the late race car driver Davey Allison on his left calf, Steve Curtis doesn't look like your average royalist.

But the 40-year-old train driver is a staunch defender of the monarchy, especially because of his admiration for its most famous ex- and now late member, Diana, Princess of Wales. He is teaching his 10-year-old son about the royal family, something he would not have done had Diana not come along.

"She made the royal family mean something to people like me,' said Curtis, as he stood yesterday near the line of people waiting up to five hours to sign a book of condolences in St. James's Palace, where her body will rest until her funeral Saturday. "Instead of being locked up with her own, Diana went out and met all kinds of people. Diana brought the royal family into the 20th century. And she was going to bring them into the 21st century.'

But now she is dead, apparently the victim of relentless paparazzi and, according to officials in Paris, a drunk chauffeur. So now the question is whether the royal family will, in her memory and in its own self-interest, begin to emulate her nontraditional populism or revert to its old-fashioned, aloof devotion to duty and historical precedent. In the wake of Diana's death, many in Britain wonder whether Buckingham Palace will be guided by her instincts, or dismiss them as an aberration, a blip in the royalty's long, illustrious history.

Already, there is evidence that the palace is reacting to Diana's enormous popularity.

On Sunday, Queen Elizabeth forbade any mention of Diana at a church service attended by the royal family near Balmoral, the family castle in Scotland -- the reasoning being that, despite the understandable emotions evoked by Diana's death, when she divorced Prince Charles, Diana resigned from the royal family.

Yesterday, however, Buckingham Palace announced plans for an elaborate funeral, with a procession from St. James's to Westminster Abbey, where she will be eulogized at a service befitting a princess.

Ironically, it will be the biggest event London has seen since 1981, when she and Charles were married at St. Paul's Cathedral in a ceremony that seemed lifted from the pages of a storybook, at the time considered the monarchy's finest hour.

It is far too early to say whether Diana's funeral will mark a real change in the way the palace conducts its affairs, or whether this is merely a respectful dispatch of the biggest thorn ever in the monarchy's side.

Diana was a paradox, both the monarchy's bane and its bridge to the next millennium. As the royal family began to collapse under the weight of its own history and familial scandal, along came Diana in 1980 to inject a sense of innocence, glamour, and, most importantly, the common touch. She chafed under the restraint inherent in royal life. When she complained, the palace chastised her, and the public took her side.

Prime Minister Tony Blair created "new' Labor, ending 18 years of Tory rule by getting his party to jettison its left-wing dogma for a more centrist position that in May returned the biggest parliamentary majority in nearly two centuries. Diana created a "new' monarchy, one that was hip, glamorous and, perhaps most poignantly, human and fallible.

Her battles with depression, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies, and a loveless marriage were waged vicariously by a British public whose sympathies are manifesting themselves today in a remarkable outpouring of grief and affection.

"I looked at Diana and saw myself, or some of my friends,' said Sandra Baker, a secretary who waited outside St. James's yesterday. "I went through a divorce. I have a friend who was bulimic. I know people with AIDS.'

Anthony Holden, the royal biographer, said Diana reinvented the monarchy. He believes the monarchy cannot and will not go back to its stiff-upper-lip aloofness.

"Her legacy,' Holden suggested, "is her son William.'

At 15, Prince William is the older of her two sons and the heir to the throne that his father will one day inherit. The young man is said to have inherited his mother's sensitivity and dislike of intense formality.

Few ordinary Britons believe Charles is willing or able to follow in the footsteps of his former wife, and wonder whether William and his 12-year-old brother, Harry, will be allowed to continue to pursue a more "normal' life, as their mother wanted, or will be drawn back into the more cloistered surroundings of palace life. Many people here suggest that when the boys were with their mother, they dressed and acted more casually, but were formal and distant when with their father.

Charles was said to have greatly resented the way his bride dominated media attention early in their marriage. He was said instinctively to dislike the common touch she brought to royalty, feeling it sometimes mawkish and beneath the court's dignity. As the debate over how to properly memorialize Diana goes on, her friends say she would be embarrassed by all the pomp and circumstance that will attend her funeral. She was known to hate the ceremonial side of her job, preferring instead to pick up AIDS-infected babies, knowing her embrace could do more to lessen the stigma of AIDS than any erudite speech on the subject. The most photographed woman in the world, her favorite picture was of her cradling a Pakistani child dying of cancer. She said it was those images, not ones of her cavorting in the Alps or at the Mediterranean, that should have been shown around the world.

The royal family, royal watchers say, must tread cautiously in the coming months. Dying young, beautiful, and tragically, Diana has been elevated to icon status here. Many Britons hold the queen responsible for the divorce, believing Diana wanted a reconciliation, and believing Charles incapable of making a decision. Charles now faces the prospect of having been married to a legend.

As a senior police source at Scotland Yard remarked yesterday, police were frustrated that Diana resisted their efforts to provide her with government bodyguards. She went along with it when with her sons, but when running out to the gym or to the store by herself, she wanted to go alone.

"She was a wonderful person, but sometimes she was too impulsive,' the policeman concluded ruefully. "It's like anything in life. You need to find the right balance.'

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