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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2007, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
In the media limelight 10 years on
By Torin Douglas
BBC Media correspondent

Ten years after she died, Diana, Princess of Wales remains one of the world's great cover stars, selling thousands of books, newspapers and magazines.

As the anniversary of her death approaches, she's graced the covers of, among others, Time, the Spectator and of course the Daily Express, which has kept her memory alive with a loyalty bordering on obsession.

Diana on charity visit
On charity visits - as here in 1996 - Diana was surrounded by the press

Hardly a week goes by without it claiming to have uncovered a new Diana "witness" or "sensation" or "scandal" or "riddle" or "cover-up" or "whitewash". It knows that among its readers, there is still an insatiable appetite for stories and pictures about Diana and the car crash which killed her in Paris.

But not only at the Express. An analysis of articles in UK newspapers and magazines over the past 10 years shows that Diana still regularly attracts more than 8,000 mentions a year.

Already this year, with an inevitable rise to come, there have been over 7,000, echoing the boom in media coverage on the fifth anniversary of her death in 2002. 

In that year, there were more than 12,000 articles - approaching the 15,000-plus published in 1997.

Television and radio also remain fascinated with her, as a succession of programmes in recent months has demonstrated. And of course there've been more books too, with Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles blazing the anniversary trail.

"Princess Diana's media appeal has endured beyond that of any other public figure," says Fergus Hampton, managing director of Millward Brown Precis, a research company which monitors media coverage.

"It's been boosted by the continual speculation over the cause of her death, Al-Fayed's persistent pursuit through the various official inquiries, and the media profile of the two princes."

Diana before her engagement to Prince Charles
Even before her marriage, Diana made the front pages

Those stories still shift thousands of copies. The Daily Express ran an article last year saying detectives were investigating claims that British spies had pointed a laser into the eyes of the car's driver, Henri Paul. Sales that day were 30,000 up on the previous year, and 9,000 up on the following day's edition.

The editor, Peter Hill, told the Independent: "My job is to produce newspapers that people want to read and I can tell you that people want to read about the Diana conspiracy because the figures tell me that they do. People are fascinated."

It's not just the conspiracy theories. Diana's looks and personality and troubled relationship with the Royal family all helped made her an international star. Her death immortalised her, ensuring she remained in her prime in the public memory.

Sally Cartwright, director-at-large of Hello magazine, says they saw a 15-20% boost in sales of two issues this summer, when they ran a Diana supplement and a cover story on the two princes at her memorial concert.

"No-one sold magazines and newspapers like Diana," she says. "When she was alive she could comfortably boost sales by anything from 20-50%. No-one since has had the same effect, no-one has replaced her."

Those that come closest include Prince William and the Beckhams. And Cartwright thinks that if the Prince's rekindled relationship with Kate Middleton leads to marriage, she has the potential to become another Diana.

"She's beautiful, charming, and a commoner marrying into the Royal family, just as Diana was. We've already seen sales increase when she's there and if they got engaged the sales would take off."

Kate Middleton's lawyers have already stepped in several times to protect her from the media's attentions, most recently withdrawing her from a charity boat race to which she was attracting huge publicity.

Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton has been compared to Diana

The comparisons are inevitable. But one vital factor in Diana's relationship with the media was the behaviour of Diana herself.

The paparazzi were initially blamed for her death, not least in that devastating funeral address by the Princess's brother, Earl Spencer. The man then editing the News of the World, Phil Hall, recently became the first editor to acknowledge the newspapers' part.

But it must not be forgotten that Diana actively courted the media, particularly the tabloids, not least in that last frantic month before she died. She'd sometimes ring editors, alerting them to great photo-opportunities.

"It was a symbiotic relationship," says Cartwright. "She used the media to put her case across, and we used her to sell millions and millions of magazines and newspapers.

"For her, it proved a very expensive relationship."


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