Diana, Princess of Wales, was a commodity and she had a pretty shrewd idea of her own value. "You see yourself as a good product that sits on a shelf and sells well," she said in a famous confessional BBC TV interview in 1995. "And people make a lot of money out of you."
They still do. When she was alive, everyone wanted a piece of Diana. Photographers chased after her smile, newspapers hung on her words, her fans bought anything that would get them that little bit closer to the fairy tale. And when she died, the outpouring of grief was accompanied by the urge to spend as if millions of mourners thought that if they could only collect enough commemorative plates, or read enough biographies, maybe together they could hold on to the woman they had lost too soon.
The mania surrounding Princess Diana has calmed since she died. The industry that was built from it, though, is still going strong a steady heartbeat of Dianabilia that keeps the princess's memory alive as long as people keep reaching into their pockets. The queen of cultural icons, Diana is one of a handful of superstars who can still shift the merchandise long after they're gone. Like Elvis, Diana has a loyal army of fans for whom every commemorative coin, plate and velvet portrait is a must-have. Like Marilyn Monroe (another tragic blond who died young and beautiful), Diana left behind a string of conspiracy theories that make people want to know more.
But Elvis and Marilyn were entertainers. Their legacies are stored in back catalogs, albums and movies that fans can dip into again and again. Diana was different. People knew her as a royal, a mother, a humanitarian and many thought a saint. You can pay your respects to the King for the price of a ticket to Graceland. But to honor Diana might mean trying to change the world by supporting the causes she championed when she was alive. Any icon can be used to make people part with their money for something commemorative, but Diana can make them give it away to a good cause. That makes her legacy unusual.
With the 10th anniversary of Diana's death on Aug. 31, a host of companies are hoping to separate consumers from their cash. This year sees the publication in the U.S. and Britain of at least 15 Diana-related books. The biography Diana: The Portrait, by Rosalind Coward, has an official nod of approval from Diana's estate. Christopher Andersen's After Diana looks at the royal family since her death. And A Dress for Diana is a $2,000 limited-edition coffee-table book about the princess's wedding dress containing a swatch from the leftover silk. Diana the angel, Diana the manipulator, Diana the maker of Kings, Diana the destroyer of the monarchy: all will soon be jostling for attention at a major bookstore near you.
Peter Saxton, biography buyer at British bookseller Waterstone's, thinks there's a limit to the Diana publishing phenomenon. "I can’t see that there’s enough of a market for all 15 books to do spectacularly well," he says. Saxton does, however, think one book could break away from the pack The Diana Chronicles, by Tina Brown, published in both the U.S. and the U.K. this month. Brown, the former editor of the Tatler, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, follows the princess as she goes from shy newlywed to "trapped bird in a cage" to a confident woman whose new start in life was tragically cut short. Brown stitched together two years of research with her own experiences of Diana, whom she met several times in the 1980s. "I ended up really liking Diana," says Brown. "She was a complicated girl with deep wounds and could be very vindictive when she was crossed. But she was also authentically compassionate and caring." Diana's "rare combination of great beauty and intense unhappiness," says Brown, "made her a figure that everyone wanted to protect and love. We miss her."
Royal watchers in the media certainly do so much so, indeed, that a lot of coverage of the British royals still turns on the dead princess. "Most of the royal stories we do refer back to Diana in some way," says Simon Perry, London bureau chief for PEOPLE magazine (a sister publication of TIME). "Now when we look at Diana, it's through the eyes of the people she left behind, and that's the Princes, William and Harry." Iconic pictures of her are still worth a tidy sum for those photographers lucky enough to have taken them, whether they’re grainy paparazzi snaps of Diana on holiday or intimate portraits like those shot by Mario Testino for Vanity Fair five months before she died. Every year around this time, he says, Testino is inundated with requests for his photos of a smiling, serene Diana. "The pictures were important to me from the very beginning because she was a magical person," he says. "But I don't feel comfortable releasing them everywhere. I prefer they remain something special and precious."