Britain unveiled the first permanent memorial to the late Princess Diana on Tuesday, a full seven years after her death in a Paris car crash.
Bureaucratic wrangling and squabbling between design modernists and traditionalists repeatedly delayed the project, to the point where the government was at one stage forced to intervene to keep it on track.
The memorial takes the form of a 688-foot-long water sculpture — essentially a circular trough of moving water — set in London’s Hyde Park. It will double as a children’s water park.
Diana died in August 1997 and a decision to build the memorial was first announced two years later.
Her late mother Frances Shand Kydd was among the design’s critics, saying it “lacked grandeur.”
But on Tuesday, Rosa Monckton, a friend of the late princess who chaired the Memorial Fountain Committee said of Diana, “She was not grand. She was one of the most unstuffy people I’ve known.”
Water emerges at the sculpture’s apex, parting and flowing in two separate streams complete with anti-slip surface to stop it sweeping away small children.
American designer Kathryn Gustafson said it aimed to mirror Diana’s character.
“It was her ability to reach out and help and her ability to be inclusive as a person — the design reflects those concepts of reaching out and letting in.
“On one side, the water rocks and rolls from side to side very sensuously,” said Gustafson, “and on the other side it’s like an effervescent brook: very bubbly, very alive.”
Immediately after her death, thousands of people flocked to lay flowers at the doors of Kensington Palace, the London home of the Princess who was by then divorced from heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles amid revelations that both had had extra-marital affairs.
Reaction to the memorial was mixed on Tuesday, as the $6.5 million sculpture was unveiled ahead of its official opening by Queen Elizabeth on July 6. “Waterslide” and “open sewer” were some of the comments from the pack of photographers.
Monckton said the committee had rejected designs that would become “a spectacle, or something to stare at,” as that is what Diana became in later life, constantly harassed by the media.