People have differing opinions on this exhibit. Many people may feel that her brother is trying to cash in on her memory. Some may think this exhibit doesn't do her justice. After all how can you really condense the life of someone who had such a global impact into four or five rooms? But her brother doesn't try to. Instead he shows us where Diana came from, and then takes us on a journey of her remarkable life.
The exhibit begins with some short, edited home movies of Diana, showing her through various stages of her childhood, until the age of seven. Seeing her as an infant on her christening day, her first birthday, taking her first tentative steps, and at the age of seven dancing with the wild abandon of the young and carefree. Watching this five minute film was an emotional experience for me. It gave me a strong sense of loss I really didn't have at the time of her death. Seeing her, so young and full of promise, and knowing the terrible ending to her story, made me realize how tragic her death truly was.
The exhibit continues on to showing where Diana came from with a brief history of the Spencer family, portraits and beautiful heirloom jewels. Then on to her childhood belongings - her favorite stuffed animals, ballet slippers, letters she wrote home, typewriter, her first passport, private photo albums, and school tuck box; to name but a few of the items. These belongings would be no more remarkable were it not for its owner. But there's a sense of charm in her letters, report cards and toys stitched with her name, which if nothing else, show us that she was like us, albeit raised in better surroundings.
The next part of the exhibit moves on to her wedding day. To give us a true sense of the occasion, footage of her wedding day, her arrival at St. Paul's Cathedral, walking up the aisle and later on the balcony waving to the crowds, is shown. But this is just a mere accompaniment to 'The Dress'. If nothing else, the view of her historic wedding dress is worth the price of admission, which is the reason I came to see the exhibit. Displayed in a case long enough to show the length of her 25 foot train, the Spencer tiara, the embroidery on the dress, including the panel of Queen Mary lace on the bodice is truly a stunning combination. I had a hard time moving on to the next room.
A large part of the exhibit focuses on Diana's glamour, and in the beginning this was really her claim to fame. But as Diana moved through her royal life, the exhibit shows the evolution from glamorous fashion icon to the serious side to her work in letters to her various charity heads, and briefs for foreign visits. Also included is a short display for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial foundation, and the work it continues to do in her memory.
While I have seen this exhibit before, I didn't expect to be pulled in emotionally on such a profound level. The most touching display was the wall of at least two-hundred condolence books - a fraction of the amount on display at Althorp, which lead into the final room. As Elton John's famous ode to Diana 'Goodbye England's Rose' plays in the background, a video is shown of her cortage as it makes its way to Westminster Abbey, the emotion of the crowds, her funeral, and then our last view of her as the coffin arrives at the gates of Althorp. Below the screen is a small carpet of flowers. As with the display at Althorp, it honestly brought tears to my eyes.
Visiting the exhibit in Cleveland wasn't quite the same as seeing it at Althorp, where you can get a better sense of her family from a historical standpoint and pay your respects to her grave, I still recommend it, whether you are a Diana fan or not. It is a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.
© Marilyn Braun 2007
Exhibit photos courtesy of the Althorp website.