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Sad End of Diana Exhibit at Althorp: Packing for America

After 15 years, visitors to Althorp Estate in Northamptonshire are no longer able to view the award-winning and immensely popular exhibition chronicling the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales in her iconic 1981 Wedding Dress

Diana, Princess of Wales in her iconic 1981 Wedding Dress

Diana: A Celebration opened in 1998 at Althorp Estate, the centuries-old ancestral home of the late princess. With her childhood setting providing a personal backdrop to the museum, guests were able to view a collection of 150 artifacts from Diana’s life. The display included tiaras, designer gowns and suits, family heirlooms, letters, paintings, and videos giving a look inside the late princess’ life. Perhaps the biggest draw of the exhibit is the Emanuel wedding gown made instantly iconic at the then Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding to the Prince of Wales in 1981.

Those visiting the estate have found moving displays as well. After Diana’s tragic death on August 31, 1997, mourners left thousands of flowers and notes outside of places close to the princess’ life. Popular locations to leave these condolences included Althorp, Kensington Palace, Pont de l’Alma tunnel, as well as Balmoral where her sons were staying at the time. Though the flowers have died, the messages of grief and love left in her memory were collected and placed into hundreds of volumes, making an entire library of condolences part of the exhibit.

Althorp House has belonged to the Spencer family since the 1500's

Althorp House has belonged to the Spencer family since the 1500’s

Outside of the house and the exhibition, guests can take a walk through the garden and down to the Oval Lake. There, a temple exists as a shrine to Diana, where flowers can be placed in her memory. In the center of the lake lies an island inaccessible to the public where Diana was laid to rest. A memorial urn can be seen on the island from the shore of the lake.

From now on, the Oval Lake will be the only remaining Diana-related sight at her childhood home. This past week, Diana: A Celebration was packed up and removed from Althorp for the last time. As per Diana’s will, her belongings were to remain in the possession of her brother, the current Earl Spencer, until both her sons reached 30 years of age. Her youngest son, Prince Harry, will turn 30 in September of 2014. The exhibit is set to open next week in the United States for nearly four months. Her possessions are then planned to be brought to Kensington Palace by Harry’s 30th birthday. Kensington Palace was Diana’s home before her death, and is now the new residence of her sons Princes William and Harry.

Currently, the exhibition is on route to Iowa in the United States for a temporary display. It is unclear where, or if, “A Celebration” will be on display after leaving the US but before being returned to the princes. While the current exhibit is set to end just after the New Year, the official statement is that the exhibit “will close worldwide in August 2014.” This leaves enough time for a tour or even one last exhibit at Althorp before officially closing, but it is unlikely. Althorp staff has stated that there are no plans for the possessions to go back on display next summer. Also the days open to the public will be cut down from daily, to weekends only during the summer months.

Thousands of visitors travel to Althorp each summer to pay their respects to the late princess.

Thousands of visitors travel to Althorp each summer to pay their respects to the late princess.

This marks a sad ending for a beloved exhibition, where people from the United Kingdom and all over the world flocked to pay their respects to ‘England’s Rose’ and honour her memory by viewing mementos from her life and her work.

The change also shuts down what is informally known as the ‘Diana Industry’. Although the exhibition is only open at Althorp during July and August of each year, the official website for “A Celebration” boasts raising over a million pounds for charity. However, according to The Telegraph, “industry insiders put the box-office gross over the years conservatively at £25 million.” Earl Spencer stands by his assertion that all proceeds made by the exhibition have gone towards the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which raised funds for charities supported by Diana during her life. The fund closed in 2012.

Princes William and Harry have apparently been disappointed with the evidence that only a fraction of the profit has actually gone to Diana’s charities. It seems the immediacy of closing the exhibition in proximity to Harry’s 30th birthday shows that the princes are eager to gain control over how Diana’s possessions are presented, and whether they are presented at all.

For now it seems the items are destined to be shut away from public eye, at least for some time. Diana admirers are still holding on to the hope that her sons will develop their own way of displaying the collection. Time will tell.

photo credits: Spinstah via photopin cc, JMarler via photopin cc, thefoxling via photopin cc


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