THE DEATH OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
(August 31, 1997 — Paris, France)
(Round Oval Lake, Althorp)
The Official Story
BURIAL OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
(Round Oval Lake, Althorp)
In a private ceremony, Diana was buried on an island in the middle of a lake called The Oval, which is part of the Pleasure Garden at Althorp. In her coffin, she wears a black Catherine Walker dress and black tights, and is holding a rosary in her hands. The rosary had been a gift from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a confidante of Diana, who had died the day before her funeral. A visitors’ centre is open during summer months, with an exhibition about Diana and a walk around the lake. All profits were donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Diana grave, memorial, and exhibition
Diana, Princess of Wales was interred on a small island in the middle of the ornamental Round Oval lake, which was created by Teulon in 1868. The island was decided as the best place to lay her to rest because the water would, according to Spencer, “act as a buffer against the interventions of the insane and ghoulish, the thick mud presenting a further line of defence. We all agreed that, with its beauty and tranquillity, this was the place for Diana to be”. The ground was consecrated by the Bishop of Peterborough prior to the burial. Her burial place is marked with a white memorial plinth and urn.
A Doric-style temple with Diana’s name inscribed on top is situated across from the lake, as a place where visitors can lay down their floral tributes to the princess. It contains a black silhouette of her in the middle, set in white marble, evocative of the Henry Holland’s material preference, with a tablet on either side. One tablet displays a quote from Diana about her love of charitable work, and the other holds Charles Spencer’s concluding tribute given at her funeral in Westminster Abbey.
Following the death of Diana on 31 August 1997 and the subsequent decision to create a memorial and open the house and estate to the public, the garden designer Dan Pearson was commissioned to update the park and gardens, to accommodate for visitors. A series of 36 oak trees was planted along the access road, symbolic of the years of Diana’s life. Thousands of plants were planted, including 100 white rambling roses on the island and 1000 white water lilies, donated by Stowe School, in the water around it.
The estate stable block was converted into a public exhibition devoted to the memory of Diana, and open between 1998 and 2013, It was designed by Rasshied Ali Din, who had to seek approval from English Heritage due to it being a Grade II listed building. Din said of the result, “You have a contrast of the modern and the new with the old and the established, which is basically a metaphor for Diana. She was a very modern woman within an established environment.” He created six rooms out of the former carriage houses and stabling areas, and the old tea room was transformed into a restaurant, and toilets installed for visitors.
The first room was called “Spencer Women”, placing Diana in context to the women of her family, with paintings and jewellery of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and portraits of Georgiana Spencer etc. The next room contained four minutes of edited video footage of Diana as a child to show to the world that she did not simply come into being in 1980 when she became the girlfriend of Prince Charles. It featured footage of Diana at her christening, her first winter, her first birthday, her first steps, and footage displaying her affection for animals, swimming, and leaving for boarding school. The room also contained her tuck-box, toy typewriter, ballet shoes, and a childhood photo album.
A third room documented the Royal Wedding and its “glamour and excitement”, with a display of the David Emanuel wedding dress she wore on 29 July 1981. A fourth room documented her extensive charitable and humanitarian work through video footage edited by Tim Ashton, and a fifth, known as the “Tribute Room”, was an “evocation of those doom-laden days between Diana’s death and burial, when the public were reduced to shocked silence in their attempt to digest the death of a much-loved icon”.
The sixth room was the Exhibition, which was a celebration of her life, and contained large glass cases at the sides with dummies of Diana wearing her notable suits and dresses, with the occasions documented on cards on the floor in front of them. A great glass case at the end underneath a stylish black and white photograph contained a selected few hundred of the thousands of condolence books the Spencers received from around the world, designed to give a “final sense of scale to the impact of Diana’s life and of her death”. A sleek, silk-bound copy of the incendiary address that her brother Charles delivered at Diana’s funeral was available for £25.
The estate and house are open to the public during the summer months (1 July to 30 August), although the exhibition centre in the stable block was closed in August 2013. It was believed to be due to concern about the commercial exploitation of Diana’s name, and the desire to “squash the cult of Diana”. The items on display have been packed up, with the intention to give them to her sons William and Harry. All profits made were donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which closed in 2012.