The Queen Of Hearts Memorial Gravel Warpath

By london_will Last edited 165 months ago
The Queen Of Hearts Memorial Gravel Warpath

Nothing quite says "tragic beauty" like a spot of aggregate, and no colour is quite so regal as "greygreen". Yes folks, the Princess Diana Memorial Storm Sewer is in the headlines again.

You may remember the fountain; it's been "troubled", as sub-editors say when asked to euphemise around the word "a relentless disaster". It was criticised from the start by royalists and polo-necked Clerkenwell types alike for being, basically, a circular ditch.

However, it proved to be very popular. Too popular. It had, for some reason, not occured to the planners and designers that people, especially children, might want to paddle in it. Three people slipped and hurt themselves.

This is, of course, a health and safety society. We don't want to sound all Daily Mail and start using phrases like "Nanny State", but we do live in the time of the no-win-no-fee ambulance-chasers and cash-strapped public bodies don't want to be pursued by endless compensation claims because little Timmy bumped his head after running about on a slippery stone surface covered with water. Heaven forbid that the parents should take any responsibility, the expenses must be borne by the public purse.

(Incidentally, I'm on a roll here, having now mentioned both the Royal Family and the Daily Mail. If I can squeeze Doctor Who, Pete Doherty and the Pope into this post, I will have won at Londonist Bingo and I get a magic hat.)

Anyway, then the fountain broke. The drains got clogged with leaves.

A reminder - this benighted thing is in Hyde Park. Hyde Park does suffer from the occasional tree. Indeed, in some circles (but clearely not in any circular ditches) it is noted for them. Trees do occasionally shed leaves. They don't like having this pointed out, but it has been commented on. This shedding is, though, a little-known fact, as it seems to have come as a complete surprise to both British Rail and the designers of the Princes Diana of Wales Queen of Hearts England's Rose Memorial Fountain.


Anyway, its days of woe may soon be over! However, this resolution would be not worthy of the People's Princess unless it was accompanied by an ugly row. And thus it is. The Royal Parks Agency is to circle the fountain with a "greygreen" gravel path, thus stopping the grass becoming a quagmire when mixed with water and children. "Harder-wearing" grass will be planted, and two "hardstanding areas" will be installed. While this might sound eminently sensible compared with the mudbath, it has put Westminster council and the Hyde Park Estate Association on the warpath.

"This particular scheme has been a disaster and reflects badly on the judgement of those who were responsible for making the decision," Simon Davies of the Hyde Park Estate Association told the Evening Standard. "It's become a bit of a laughing stock. Would it not be better for them to grass it over and leave it at that?"

"A bit" of a laughing stock? Say it straight, Simon. It's a total laughing stock. We're laughing like drains.

In the midst of all this acrimony and ill-feeling, at least we can respect the fact that it's What She Would Have Wanted. Well, no, clearly it isn't. From the beginning of this sorry fiasco, it has been precisely Not What She Would Have Wanted. This is exactly because it has nothing to do with What She Wanted, and an awful lot to do with what a horrible coalition of The Public, the tabloid press, and a bunch of blazer-wearers want - in the name of What She Would Have Wanted.

This is what doomed anything connected to her name from the start. All projects related to Diana are caught in precisely the same trap that she was - between anachronistic notions of decorum and intense public feeling. So Franklin Mint produces a series of Diana-linked objects such as dolls and plates in the entirely realistic belief that it will make a mint. Diana's estate sues them because ... well, it's kitsch and tacky and maudlin and icky, isn't it? They lose and Franklin Mint countersues. The entire thing collapses into an ugly legal battle. The same applies to the margarine row. And the scratchcards.

The plain fact is that in its headlong rush to raise/make money out of Diana's "legacy", her estate and the blizzard of private enterprise that surrounds it has killed its golden goose and collapsed in expensive antipathy. Diana's "legacy", if such a thing existed, was to inspire in some people a belief that they, as an individual, was part of a greater whole and that they could make a difference to it. First, this manifested itself into one of the most bizarre and fascinating displays of collective sentimentality the capital, and the country, has ever seen - the mountains of flowers, the memorial books, the flag at full, then half, mast. This was a public theatre of death, a carnival of mourning and tribute - pre-Reformation stuff.

Then, for some people, it became a literally golden opportunity to extract cash from the public. Lots of cash. Thus amply demonstrating exactly what Martin Luther was going on about. He meant the sale of indulgences, the Diana estate meant margarine, the Franklin Mint meant dolls.

And so the carnival of recriminations and money carries on, and with every step the entire "legacy" business seems more poisoned. Who could have imagined that that would be the result of mixing a lot of public feeling with a lot of money?

Last Updated 13 April 2005