BBC Online Network BBC Homepage BBC News BBC Education BBC World Service
Diana - one year on Home Sights and Sounds Your thoughts Q & A Reporter's reflections Visit Althorp Contribute
at home
Royal Family's changing guard

BBC's Paul Reynolds
The crisis of confidence in the Royal Family was thrown into dramatic focus after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Many people were saddened or even offended by what was seen to be the family's slow response to the public mood.

In a broadcast on the eve of Diana's funeral, the Queen said "lessons would be learned". A senior Palace source confided to me later: "We nearly lost it."

They have not lost it. But keeping it has required much soul-searching and hard work by the Royal Family.

To be fair, the Royal Family's quest to change began long before Diana's death.

Several years ago, the Royal Family set up a discussion procedure known as the Way Ahead Group made up of senior members of the family, with the Queen herself in the chair.

One of the first decisions was that the Queen should pay tax. In 1992, after the fire at Windsor Castle, it was agreed that the taxpayers should not pick up the bill. Buckingham Palace, they decided, would be open to the public in the summer to raise money for the restoration.

The Way Ahead Group also examined whether the Royal Family was casting its net wide enough in its visits. Were there sections of society being "left out"?

There was a brisk spring cleaning of royal finances headed by a hot-shot City accountant, Michael Peat.

The Civil List was cut. (Today only the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother are supported by the taxpayer.) Even royal travel was changed. The Royal Yacht Britannia was scrapped. The Queen did not press for a replacement. The budget is now set each year and flights for visits abroad even put out to tender.

In sum, a great deal was done long before Diana's death. Indeed some at the Palace felt that the worst was over. Then came the events of August 31, 1997.

The sudden outpouring of public emotion took royal officials by surprise. It quickly became apparent that the changes simply were not enough.

"Touchy feely" future?

What the public appeared to want was a more "caring" monarchy - one fashioned after Diana herself.

Trained from infancy to hide emotion and to present the traditional stiff upper lip, suddenly they were being asked to become more "touchy feely".

The response has been swift but not overt. The Windsors have tried to react without throwing over the old virtues.

Prince Charles is a prime example. The Prince, who has a fine record of work among the young unemployed with his Prince's Trust, is now talking more easily with the media.

Two years ago, he managed to go on a trip round Central Asia for nine days without saying hello once to the small press party with him. On a recent visit to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, in contrast, he chatted away quite easily.

Clearly though, there is a way to go. Focus groups discussions show that the public is still not convinced.

The Royal Family is felt to be an important part of British public life but is seen as too remote. Change, however, will not be easy. The royal ship of state can only change direction slowly.