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London A life that combined all the elements of a fairy tale, a Greek tragedy and a Catherine Cookson novel could hardly fail to stir powerful emotions and passionate controversy as it becomes a modern legend.

An essentially uncomplicated girl, playing the lead role in such a confusion of genres twisted Diana's personality into an unnatural complexity which fuelled misunderstandings, both of her and by her.

Nevertheless, the warmth of her character, her exceptional beauty and her irrepressible zest for life shone through, endearing her to millions, who, without knowing her, felt their lives enriched by her glowing presence in the world.

She was, quite simply, a star.

Following her death, several profoundly patronising and insulting misrepresentations of the British public emerged and have gained credence through repetition.

First, cynics now say that the public grieving was hysterical, second that it was media-led and third that anger towards the Queen was an expression of selfishness.

I would argue that the public response was a natural, even traditional expression of mourning for a much-loved public figure. More remarkable, and utterly memorable, was the dignified silence in which people came to bear individual witness, to pay a public tribute of gratitude, respect, grief and loss.

In this context, the nation represented an extended family surrounding the Royal Family, with the Queen both Head of State and chief mourner. Far from hostile, the crowd understood her place was at Balmoral comforting her grandsons. It was, nevertheless, natural to look at her for a televised address to the nation and some sign at Buckingham Palace. Her failure to fulfil that official role was perceived not as a lack of sentiment but as a dereliction of Royal duty, a refection of public sympathy and a rebuff to Diana. As disappointment slowly turned to anger, an opportunity to consolidate the bond between the people and the monarchy was squandered.

The media, far from leading, were bewildered by the spontaneity of events and have never really understood. By confusing an icon, an object of worship in itself, with an archetype, a vehicle for connection through aspiration or recognition, Diana's detractors miss the point.

Like the spectacular comet on its brief but thrilling passage through our skies, Diana left a star-shaped gap in our lives and a deep sense of loss. It now falls to those who remain to rekindle the light that flickered out that tragic August night.

Sierra Hutton Wilson
Somerset, England



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