Britons flocked to the newly opened Princess Diana memorial fountain in London's Hyde Park on Friday, hoping to cool off in the cascading water while remembering their beloved "People's Princess."
But, after combing the sun-drenched park for signs of the promised oasis, visitors stumbled upon a high fence blocking them from their destination. Just weeks after its royal unveiling, the memorial had been closed indefinitely.
"I’d expected fountains, and walking down to this I thought it was a skate park or something," said Sara Stothert, who came to the park with her mother and two small children.
"It doesn’t look like a fountain without any water in it, and I don’t know if it’d look like a fountain with water in it," she said.
After years of wrangling over the design, the ring-shaped water sculpture, which doubles as a children's wading pool, became the first permanent memorial dedicated to the late princess, who was killed in a car crash in 1997.
While Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Princes William and Harry lauded the tribute at its opening July 6, headlines ridiculed it as a "waterslide" and "puddle," and Diana's late mother, Frances Shand Kydd, said the design "lacked grandeur."
Now it even lacks water.
Fountain’s woes take grave turn
A day after the public opening, a heavy storm swept across England, clogging the fountain with leaves and causing it to flood. A week later, it was closed for repairs due to a blocked pump. And on Thursday, the fountain's woes took a grave turn when three people — including a child — slipped and injured themselves, prompting the Royal Parks to stop the flow of water and investigate the matter.
"I think it’s very very sad," said Pat Lloyd, Stothert's mother.
"They spent so much time trying to find the right thing and they still can’t get it right," she said, adding that she had hoped to enjoy the summer's day watching her grandchildren splash in the tide.
"They needed to have done something for Diana, and this would’ve been nice if it worked," she said.
"But, as it is, it’s nothing, is it? It’s just a concrete park, which is sad — it's disappointing."
When the fountain is working, water flows from the sculpture's apex, parts into two separate streams, and comes back together after traveling 630 feet.
"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," said the sculpture's American designer, Kathryn Gustafson.
Parts of the stream are calm and serene, and others are bumpy, which Gustafson says mirrors Diana's life.
Some visitors said they thought the fountain would fit Diana's personality, if it were working.
"It's circular and ongoing, and that's how it'll always be," said 15-year-old Leigh Frichol, who was on vacation with her family from Minnesota.
Another visitor, Ann Coales, 62, said, "The idea was that people could go and dabble in it, and really enjoy it, like she enjoyed life." Her brother, John Redfern, added that it was "lovely anyway."
While adults pondered the architect's design, children, many of whom were born after Diana's death, just wanted to play in the fountain.
Watching her 5-year-old daughter sulk, Sorina Dunn said, "It should've been posted on the entrance (to the park) that it's closed."
“I wanted to paddle or swim in it,” said Ellie Keen, 11.
“We walked about three miles just to get here,” her 8-year-old brother, Matthew, added, saying, “It’d be much much better with water in it; I want to come back, but when there’s water in it.”
Seeing it high and dry, some adults complained that it wouldn't be much better if were functioning.
"You wouldn't see so much of the water ’cause the edge of the concrete's so high it'd hide the water," said James Fraser.
"It's flat, it's listless, there's no life about it — I think it's a very disappointing memorial for anybody," he said.
A German tourist, Heidi Bauer, went so far as to wonder if there were a conspiracy behind what she saw as its lack of magnificence.
"Maybe this is a sign of the royal family, or of the people," said Bauer.
"Or maybe it's just modern architecture — I don't know."
Reuters contributed to this report.