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No longer the ‘Princess of Sales’

Stephen Beard Aug 30, 2007

No longer the ‘Princess of Sales’

Stephen Beard Aug 30, 2007


Tess Vigeland: It’s one of those events that often prompts the question: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? We’d just gotten home from a cross-country trip when my husband turned on the TV and yelped, “Diana’s dead.” From another room I retorted, “Yeah right, that’s not funny.”

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.Politicians, popstars and royalty from around the world are descending on London for memorial events. But despite the media hoopla, a decade on, interest in the Princess has waned. And along with it, the businesses that grew up around her image. Our Stephen Beard has more from London.

Stephen Beard: A handful of tourists have gathered outside the gates of Kensington Palace, Diana’s last official residence. They read the dozen or so written messages of sympathy and look at the few bunches of flowers that are pinned to the railings. Most of the visitors have clearly not come here to mark a solemn anniversary.

Woman: I didn’t even know about it. Is her birthday today?

Beard: It’s the 10th anniversary of her death.

Woman: Ah no, I didn’t know about it.

Man: Yeah, I’ll have a few moments of thinking about her. But 10 years have gone. We haven’t forgotten her but, you know, you get on with life.

Woman: I’m not really into the whole monarchy of England.

Beard: She’s not the reason you came to visit England?

Woman: No definitely not. Just by luck that we are here right now.

A hard core of Diana devotees will be in mourning tomorrow. But generally, the mood in the capital is markedly different today from what it was on August the 31st 10 years ago.

BBC Radio: This is BBC Radio from London. Buckingham Palace has announced the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The news triggered some extraordinary scenes in Britain. A country famous for its phlegmatism suddenly fell apart.

The British tabloid press was equally bereft, says author and academic Chris Horrie. Not because a secular saint had died, but because they’d lost a valuable asset.

Chris Horrie: They used to call her the “Princess of Sales.” If you put her picture of her on the front cover, you could get up to 25 percent increase. Especially in the more downmarket women’s magazines.

So great was her pulling power in the summer of ’97 that a tabloid paid more than a million dollars for a grainy, unfocused picture of her apparently embracing her beau, Dodi Fayed.

Today? How things are different.

Horrie: She’s now really a bit of a niche product. She’s not going to sell many newspapers, and even scandal and tittle-tattle about her — which comes out from time to time from her former employees — it doesn’t make anything like the impact it once did.

The waning interest is obvious here on London’s Oxford Street. Souvenir shops used to shift vast quantities of Diana cups, plates, t-shirts and fridge magnets. Now, you find hardly any. One shopkeeper told me he had a “Diana spoon,” but after rummaging through his stock, he produced a utensil carrying a picture of Camilla Parker Bowles — that’s Prince Charle’s former mistress and now wife.

The Diana Memorial Fund used to fight tooth and nail in court over the use of Diana’s image. But, says manager Astrid Bonfield, it’s now phasing out its licensing of souvenirs.

Astrid Bonfield: We’re not a fundraising organization. And in that sense, the commercial licensing program will, in fact, cease completely next year. It’s almost entirely wound down now.

Thousands of tourists flock to Britain because of Diana, according to the travel guide, The Lonely Planet. In final irony, they go to see the royal palaces because she raised the profile of the British monarchy. While at loggerheads with the House of Windsor, says Lonely Planet, Diana has ensured that thousands more paying visitors enrich the coffers at Buckingham Palace.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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