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Yet while the Queen and her immediate family kept their grief to themselves, there was a whiff of revolution beyond the palace gates. The U.S. academic Camille Paglia, speaking two days after the Paris car crash, foretold the fall of the house of Windsor. "With its acquisition of Diana, the monarchy had restored its modernity," she told Salon.com. "Instead its treatment its mistreatment of her ... may mean the end of the monarchy." Not so. As soon as the Queen walked among the mourners, support for ditching her plunged to historic lows. It was as if Britons had peered into the abyss of republicanism and drawn back in horror. The royals had learned a lesson too, says Robert Worcester, MORI's founder: "The monarchy realized that it stands or falls on public opinion." That realization has informed a program of stealthy reform that has made the monarchy, by almost imperceptible degrees, more professional. The Queen agreed to change the rules on primogeniture to allow her female descendants equal rights in the succession to the throne. Her children took stock and decided they had better justify their existence to the outside world.
Granted, their options for doing so are limited. In her charitable work, Diana set a standard that's hard to equal. She ignored the prevailing prejudices and fears about AIDS to clasp the hands of sufferers, and embraced leprosy patients in Indonesia. Arbiter remembers a visit to a home for the blind where Diana noticed that an old resident was crying: "She asked what was the matter and he said, 'I can't see you.' So she took his hand and put it on her face." Charles still doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but it's increasingly evident that it's in the right place. His Prince's Trust organization raises a good deal of money for charities helping young people, and he's gaining respect for his stance on environmental issues, as mainstream thought catches up with views he's propagated for years.
In other ways, too, Diana lives on in her family. Charles has visibly stepped up to the task of rearing their boys, not in the model of his own upbringing, but just as the Princess would have wanted. William and Harry see how much happier their father has become. Charles' visible contentment has also helped to turn around public opinion, once set firmly against Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, his second wife and longtime lover. Just before Diana died, MORI asked in a poll if Camilla should become Queen; only 15% supported the idea. By April of last year, that figure had grown to 38%. Voices in the British press have fulminated at plans for the Duchess to attend a memorial service for Diana later this month; there's some sympathy with this view, but little sign of a real backlash. With no small irony, the ideas the Princess popularized the pursuit of personal happiness, compassion for human weaknesses have helped the cause of a woman she detested.
Diana had been brought up in about as old-fashioned an environment as was possible in the last quarter of the 20th century, but nothing could have prepared her for the antiquity of palace life. Britain had been postimperial for more than a generation, which meant that the values associated with empire (or with its rulers) had long lost their edge. By the time she married it was already and especially in London a place less homogeneous, more multicolored than it had ever been, and far less deferential to the Victorian virtues that the royal family represented. Yet in the royal household, those virtues and that deference held sway. The new Princess could not fit in. Her rebellion, inchoate and self-destructive at first, reverberated far beyond the palace walls. Tina Brown, the latest of Diana's biographers, relates asking former Prime Minister Tony Blair if Diana had found a new way to be royal. "No," Blair replied. "Diana taught us a new way to be British."
Blair's party, New Labour, had been given power by electors who were reviewing their values. After the brash, moneymaking 1980s came the hangover of the early 1990s. Britons were searching for spiritual and emotional succor. That didn't make them deep. They set increasing store by celebrity. Success was measured by the ability to find fulfillment. It was a confessional age. Even before the country convulsed in grief for its lost Princess, Brits were eager to let it all hang out at least by comparison with their grandparents and great-grandparents. If you doubt that, consider this passage in The Ascent of Everest, the account of the first conquest of the mountain in 1953, by John Hunt, who led the expedition. Hunt is describing the return of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to camp after summiting. "Everyone was pouring out of the tents, there were shouts of exclamation and joy. The next moment I was with them: handshakes even, I blush to say, hugs for the triumphant pair."
Diana led the charge for emotion and the unembarrassed displays that now routinely go with it: from hugs and kisses to public tears. Unlike her remote royal in-laws, she touched the people she met, literally touched them, and bought their trust with a coinage she had in endless supply: her most personal thoughts and feelings. That's partly because her unhappiness drove her humanitarian impulses. Arbiter says, "She always championed the downtrodden" because she was attracted to their suffering. "She was a bit of an ambulance chaser, with the best of intentions." She also experimented with different therapies that encouraged her to unburden, if not necessarily in public. The comedian David Baddiel, whose novel Whatever Love Means begins on the day of Diana's funeral, sees her as an exponent of "a degraded version of therapy culture," a self-help addict who couldn't stop spilling her guts. She "didn't know who she was but gained an identity through her messiness, through her lack of identity, by splattering her lack of identity on the walls of our culture," he says. "People chimed with that."
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