As they set out their picnics on blankets and fiddled with digital cameras, many Dianaphiles were becoming restless in the hot July sunshine. "So where is Diana's fountain," groused Sarah Poarch, standing on her toes, trying to see over the rows of people in front.
"You're looking at it, honey," said her sister, Cindy Smith of Alexandria, Va., on vacation from her job as a librarian. "It's the thing that looks like a lazy river."
It's true that the memorial fountain for the late Princess Diana in London's Hyde Park doesn't look much like a fountain, but landscape architecture wasn't the big draw today. "I think Princess Diana was the loveliest woman ever, but I'm not here to see the fountain," said Seat Tyrell, who came from Kent to attend its dedication ceremony. "I am here to see whether the queen and the Spencers can ever make up."
The last time the royal family -- the Windsors -- and Diana's blue-blood clan -- the Spencers -- were seen in public together was seven years ago on the day of Diana's funeral. The Windsors had faced a week of public wrath for their stoicism at Diana's death, and to rectify things Queen Elizabeth had made a rare live broadcast telling her subjects of the "admiration and respect" she felt for her. But then Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, made a blistering funeral oration offering pointed and unsolicited advice on how the Windsors should raise Diana's sons, William and Harry. The battle lines were drawn.
So no wonder there were about 4,000 pairs of eyes keenly trained on the royal dais Tuesday as the queen, resplendent in royal purple, rose to speak, Charles Windsor (the Prince of Wales) one seat to her left, Charles Spencer one to her right.
In front of her was the fountain, an oval trough made up of 545 stones winding through the lush grass of Hyde Park. When the U.S. architect Kathryn Gustafson won the commission in 2002 she said that creating a water feature that was tranquil at some points and effervescent at others would symbolize the different aspects of the princess's life.
Its supporters immediately praised the fountain as sleek, unstuffy and original, rather like the princess herself.
But since it was unveiled last week it's been compared to a skateboard park, an open sewer and a puddle. The princess's mother, Frances Shand Kydd, complained before she died that the design "lacked grandeur," while British style commentator A.A. Gill wrote a lacerating piece in this week's London Sunday Times deriding it as "symbol-lite . . . like a blond Etonian, it couldn't possibly offend anyone."
Added to that, squabbling among the memorial committee members delayed the project and meant that the British government had to choose the final design. The government also had to pick up the check when the fountain went $1 million over budget.
Certainly reaction from the crowd was mixed: "Beautiful and serene," said Alice Wilson, 34, of Yorkshire. "Nothing more than a spit and a trickle," said Michael O'Donnell, a banker from Cape Town, South Africa. "This is just an excuse for this lot to save face and patch it all up."
The queen seemed keen to be conciliatory, including the memorable understatement that there had been "difficult times, but memories mellow with the passing of the years."
She used the word "extraordinary" several times, a conscious or unconscious echo of Spencer's famous oration description of his sister as the "extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana."
And she praised Diana's "drive to empathize with those in difficulty, hardship and distress, her willingness to embrace a new cause, her shrewd ability to size up all those she met, [which] allowed her not only to touch people's lives but change them." While Earl Spencer and Prince Charles listened intently, at times the young princes William and Harry seemed lost in their thoughts as they heard their mother praised.
Addressing criticism of the fountain, the queen said a "highly original" memorial had been created. "I think Diana would have enjoyed it and I believe she would want all of us to do so too."
And to the disappointment of those who were hoping for a Windsor-Spencer spat, the families kissed and greeted each other warmly as they arrived. And according to the Associated Press pool reporter, a smiling queen said to the earl before she left, "I hope you feel satisfied by that." Diana's brother replied, "Yes ma'am, more than satisfied."
He later added: "The rift thing has been very much overplayed."
Cindy Smith, the librarian from Alexandria, said she thought the queen had spoken well, "but what was Prince Charles doing here? Guess at least he didn't bring his girlfriend."
(Charles's longtime paramour Camilla Parker Bowles, who has been playing an increasingly important part in his public life, was conspicuously absent.)
In the end it was the late Diana's day, a triumph for her sons and for the informal royal style she pioneered.
When the queen and Prince Philip, perspiring under his Panama hat, embarked on a "walkabout" there was polite applause, but when William and Harry appeared there were teenage shrieks and cries of "WILL-YUM!" and the whirs of dozens of cameras.
After the Windsors departed, the atmosphere changed. First small children jumped into the fountain and splashed around, then the formally dressed guests kicked off their stilettos and cooled their aching feet. The royal dais was forgotten in the fun of a hot summer afternoon in the park. No doubt the People's Princess would have approved.
Prince William greets well-wishers at the opening of his mother's fountain.