16 years after death, obsession with Princess Diana lingers

Princess Diana's life

Diana, the Princess of Wales
John Stillwell

See images from key moments in the life of Britain's Diana, the 'people's princess'.

Princess Diana has never left the hearts or minds of her ardent admirers. But today, 16 years after her death, her image is nearly as pervasive as when she was alive.

A fresh-faced Diana graces the cover of Vanity Fair’s September issue. A major Hollywood biopic about her debuts within weeks. A new book has revived conspiracy theories surrounding her tragic death, prompting separate probes by Scotland Yard and the British Army.

Courtesy of Vanity Fair Vanity Fair

But perhaps the most endearing reminder is a newborn named George.

On Saturday, the 16th anniversary of Diana's death, hundreds of flowers, notes and other mementos will swallow up the gates of Kensington Palace, former home of "the people's princess" in London — and soon, the residence of her sons, Princes William and Harry, and William’s wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. 

Visitors also will head to the Diana memorial fountain in Hyde Park, and to her family’s estate, Althorp, where she was buried.

They probably also will visit Café Diana, a London restaurant named after the princess where nearly every inch of the walls is covered with Diana photographs and memorabilia.

Cafe Diana Simon James / Getty Images file
London's Cafe Diana, named for the princess, was decorated with balloons to celebrate the royal birth on July 23.

It’s not uncommon for foreign tourists to visit the café every day they’re in town, said Fouad Fattah, café manager for the past 23 years.

“We are getting people more than ever before,” said Fattah, who met the princess numerous times when she stopped by to say hello, sometimes with her children. “We have big fans of Diana here. They ask questions about her life with her kids, what she liked to eat. Some of them bring their children — children 7 or 8 years old who have never heard about (her). They bring them here to tell them all about Princess Diana.”

The 16th anniversary may not be any more noteworthy than others, but it definitely will be more bittersweet than those observed in the past. The July 23 birth of Prince George would have made Diana a first-time grandmother at 52, although the untimely death of the princess has frozen her in the world’s mind at a young and glamorous 36.

Entrance to the Pont de l'Alma underpass in Paris where Diana died PATRICK KOVARIK / AFP - Getty Images file
On August 30, 2012, the eve of the 15th anniversary of Diana's death, people look at a makeshift memorial in front of the "Flame of Freedom" statue at the Pont de l'Alma underpass in Paris where she was fatally injured.

The British creator of Princess-Diana-Remembered.com, an online fan site devoted to Diana, said people felt an affinity with the princess because of her knack for connecting with individuals no matter their background.

“She was able to communicate with people in a special way that made that person feel important and cared for,” said Patricia, who declined to give her last name.

Unlike other members of royalty, Diana also didn’t hide her flaws from the public.

“People saw things in Diana that she saw in themselves: for example, her vulnerability, which made people love her even more,” she said.

Patricia created her first Diana website in 2005, and started the current Princess-Diana-Remembered.com version in 2010, because she wanted to share her collection of Diana articles, photos and memorabilia to provide a “reference point for all things relating to Diana and a place for people to come to learn (about) her.”

Dozens of other Diana sites can be found on the Internet. On Facebook alone, fans have created more than 1,000 pages devoted to Diana — and the social networking site wasn't even created until 2004, seven years after she died.

The passionate and fervent support Diana elicits from her admirers is not that different than fan reverence for athletes, historical figures or Hollywood celebrities.

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“People can have those strong feelings even for people they don’t know personally,” said John Grohol, a psychologist and founder of PsychCentral.com. “Go back and look at Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. You can make an impact even though you don’t have a direct connection or relationship to another person.” 

Celebrity worship has become an integral part of today’s culture, Grohol added. In Princess Diana's case, it may have been because she represented the modern British royalty. She also had an easy, natural way with commoners.

Fans who revere Diana or any other celebrity are simply honoring the individual, he said.

“It’s paying respect to what these different people mean symbolically to their lives. They don’t directly impact our own lives in significant ways, but they symbolize something that struck a chord to people,” he said. “It’s really paying honor to that symbol.”


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