Diana fan guards 'shrine' to her memory

31st August 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 31, 2007 (AFP) - Pavel Nowak travelled overland from Poland to Paris out of devotion to Diana and on Friday morning he kept solemn watch over a makeshift shrine made of flowers and newspaper clippings above the underpass where the princess was killed 10 years ago.

PARIS, Aug 31, 2007 (AFP) - Pavel Nowak travelled overland from Poland to Paris out of devotion to Diana and on Friday morning he kept solemn watch over a makeshift shrine made of flowers and newspaper clippings above the underpass where the princess was killed 10 years ago.

Traffic rushed into the mouth of the tunnel under the Alma bridge spanning the Seine River, past the dozens of bouquets, candles, coins and cut-out magazine pictures left by Diana's admirers on the anniversary of her death.

"This place is like a little chapel for Diana," said Nowak, a car mechanic from the region of Krakow, as he knelt hands clasped before the local monument -- a replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty -- adopted by Diana fans as an ad-hoc shrine after her death.

"She is like Elvis Presley, she lives on," said the fresh-faced 37-year-old.

From the slate-grey base of the golden sculpture, Diana's face beamed out from a collage of papier-mache hearts, surrounded by a scrawl of multi-lingual graffiti and poems.

Other images showed the Princess of Wales as blushing bride, young mother, and later as humanitarian campaigner, in Red Cross attire or wearing anti-landmine protection during a field trip to Africa.

Dozens of tourists snapped photographs or peered into the dim underpass before climbing back into their coaches, while a foreign radio and television crews jostled around the site.

"All I can say is she's the queen of people's hearts," said Karen Sendler, 34, a visiting administrator from Columbia University, New York.

"We don't have royalty in the United States and my family was always fascinated with the British royals -- my mother got up in the middle of the night just to watch Elizabeth II get married."

For Judi Jenkin, a 61-year-old Australian woman posing for a picture before the flame with her husband David, Diana "lives on in everybody's mind like a vibrant generous young woman."

"She was in search of love, she was hungry for people to love her and now she's managed that."

But Sendler also said she was "surprised there aren't more people, more flowers -- given how much she is still in the news."

No official events were planned in Paris to mark the day, although French television has packed its schedule with half a dozen prime-time Diana specials -- culminating with Friday's royal memorial service broadcast live from London.

But at the Pont de l'Alma, to one side of the flame of liberty, a tireless Diana fan handed out flyers calling for her to be honoured with a dedicated memorial. It was a sentiment echoed by many visitors.

"I walk or drive past this spot every day, and for years I've been amazed there is no kind of official memorial, or plaque, for a woman who is one of the world's most popular figures," said Dominique de Fontenay, a Parisian events organiser who launched his one-man campaign six months ago.

"The day she died, I was overcome with a powerful emotion. It made me pull out my old magazine copies and start reading up on the princess, to find out who she really was beyond the pretty pictures.

"She had an extraordinary charisma. She used power to change things -- and someone who gets in the way of the monarchy is always interesting."

Caroline Theron, 43, a visiting sales rep from northern France, also said she "thought Diana would have something of her own -- a place you can visit like the grave of a rock star."

Fontenay has teamed up with a Paris sculptor to design a bronze statue to Diana's memory. A sketch of the project shows a smiling Diana, her outstretched hand on the head of a little girl handing her a bunch of flowers.

Together, they have raised 7,000 euros (9,500 dollars) of the estimated 150,000-euro budget, although their letters to Diana's family, Paris city hall and President Nicolas Sarkozy have so far remained without reply.

AFP

Subject: French news

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