Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Viewpoint: Diana memories and charities live on

Relief is the only word to describe the reaction to the late withdrawal of the Duchess of Cornwall from Friday's 10th anniversary memorial service for Princess Diana. Now the world-wide TV audience can concentrate on its memories of the life and works of the "people's princess" rather than wondering how Camilla was standing up to scrutiny, as the other woman in the Royal marriage.

The Queen reportedly advised against her attendance, but surely she would have needed little persuasion. Although the Princes, William and Harry, had invited their step-mother to the service, she would have known they were obeying their father's wishes. He wanted her support, at a difficult time, but her presence would have hi-jacked the whole occasion.

That the Royals were prepared to take this risk, until five days before the service, shows how insensitive they still are to public opinion. Camilla has won admiration for the way she has fitted into the Royal routine, taking a background role, but she will always be associated with the break-up of Charles's marriage - and her attendance at a memorial service to her predecessor was always going to be unpopular.

Yet it was only when Rosa Monckton, a friend of Diana's, wrote that Camilla's presence would be " deeply inappropriate" that the full implication dawned. Ten years ago the Queen had to be persuaded by Tony Blair to involve herself in the nation's mourning, and it seems that some of the lessons from that period have yet to be learned. The public's feelings have to be respected, or the whole institution of the monarchy will suffer.

The right decision has been taken, belatedly, but it is part of Diana's legacy to be a constant challenge to the way the Royal family operates, both as individuals and representatives of the nation. She became Royalty's first celebrity, because of her charm and informality, and it found the media attention she attracted difficult to handle. Even now, the Royal family's ability to adapt to modern life, as most people know it, has yet to be proven.

The Queen still commands enormous respect, as someone with a profound sense of duty and head of a diverse and, sometimes, difficult extended family. She has successfully weathered all the ups and downs, by force of her considerable personality, but there is no certainty that her son or grandson can follow her in footsteps with nearly as much popular support.

The relief that the public feels, now that Camilla has opted out, will be reflected in Royal circles when the Diana commemorations are finished. She was always the odd one out, but she brought a breath of fresh air and a popular touch that every family, set in its ways, should appreciate and embrace. Her memory and her charities live on.

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