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'Diana Museum' Opens at Family Estate

By T. R. Reid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 1 1998; Page A30

A nation still infatuated with Princess Diana will immerse itself in a flood of new memories Wednesday when the "Diana Museum" opens to the public at the lavish country mansion where she grew up.

The late princess's two teenage sons were expected to visit the memorial, and the nearby island grave where their mother rests, before the public opening Wednesday morning. Thereafter, the museum -- in a converted stable on the grounds of Althorp, the Spencer family estate -- will be open to the public daily for two months.

Visitors reportedly will see memorabilia ranging from a toy car Diana played with as an infant to the letters of regret that poured in from around the world after the Princess of Wales was killed in a Paris automobile accident last August.

The public will be allowed only a distant view of the small island on the grounds of the estate where Diana is buried in rural Northamptonshire, north of London.

Althorp officials say that virtually all the 157,000 tickets for this summer's visits have been sold, at a price close to $16 apiece. The 2,500 tickets for the opening day were bought within hours of going on sale six months ago.

The ticket price -- like almost everything else surrounding the growing "Diana industry" here -- has been the subject of angry debate as Britons continue to argue over the best way to remember a woman who has been raised to the status of a demigod in the popular culture.

Critics complain that Diana's younger brother, Charles Spencer, 34, is cashing in on his sister's memory to pay the bills on the giant family home. Spencer -- who uses the family title, the ninth Earl of Spencer -- says that most of the ticket money will go to charities. But he has declined to provide an accounting.

Last weekend, Spencer sponsored a rock concert at Althorp -- also described as a memorial to Diana -- with tickets priced at $67.50. About a third of the earnings from that event went to charity, the earl said.

The British media, with an unquenchable thirst for anything vaguely related to the late princess, also have made much of a reported feud between the Spencers, Diana's family, and the Windsors, the royal family she married into. In recent days, Spencer has been striving to ease these tensions.

In an interview with the BBC, Spencer seemed to take back the jabs he made at the royal family during Diana's funeral last September. "I wasn't taking swipes at anyone," he said. "I respect their position and everything." And he personally invited Diana's son's, Princes William and Harry, to visit the new memorial before it opens to the public.

All this to-and-fro, however, probably will be lost for the next few weeks amid a new public outpouring of affection and grief for the "People's Princess," who would have celebrated her 37th birthday on Wednesday.

The new museum, with samples of Diana's wardrobe and jewelry, videos of her global travels, and life-size pictures of her wedding, almost certainly will trigger a new round of recollections. And there is already extensive debate going on here as to how this Diana-mad country will commemorate the first anniversary of her death on Aug. 31.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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