London Remembers 'the People's Princess'

Hundreds of people gathered in London today to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana's death.

While Diana's family marked the anniversary with a private service organized by her sons, William and Harry, devoted admirers of the princess turned up at the gates of Kensington Palace, her former residence, to pin posters, collages, poems and bouquets, in memory of her life.

At the upscale department store Harrods, owner Mohammed al Fayed, whose son Dodi also died in the same car accident as Diana, observed two minutes of silence this morning. Al Fayed was not invited to the official memorial service, although his daughter Camilla al Fayed, half-sister to Dodi and a friend of the two princes, was a guest there.

The other Camilla, the longtime mistress and now wife of Diana's ex-husband, Prince Charles, famously pulled out of her scheduled appearance at the service, after severe public criticism of her initial plans to attend it.

A small crowd of about 50 Diana enthusiasts began turning up at Kensington Palace on Thursday. They included visitors from foreign countries like Germany, France and Australia and from England, some traveling to London from Althorp, the site of Diana's ancestral home.

To 8-year-old Australian Stephanie Stavropoulos, who came to Kensington Palace with her parents, "Diana was kind, loving and really special. I wasn't born when she died, but my mum and dad told me all about her."

Her parents, Josie and Jim, echoed her comments. Jim Stavropoulos told ABC News, "Although we have to leave London on Friday, we wanted to come here today anyway, to pay our respects, to remember her. She mattered to a lot of people."

A lot of people from all over the world, it seems, judging from the variety of people who stopped by Thursday to place flowers at the palace gates.

German tourist Dagmar Roese told ABC News, "Although I never used to be a big royal watcher, Lady Di's death was just terrible. There was something very beautiful about her. It's hard to explain."

Looking at the other people gathered by the gates, she said, "I am deeply touched by people's emotion here, on this day."

And emotions ran high among some of Diana's admirers, who said they visited Kensington Palace every year to commemorate the anniversary of her death.

Gaynor Thomas of West Yorkshire, England, said, "I remember when she died. I was at home, had the TV on and suddenly I realized that people were talking about Diana in the past tense. I just … I couldn't stop crying."

In Thomas' eyes, "Diana was just such a breath of fresh air and a real mother to those two boys. And she was a star — so glamorous, as if she was lit from within."

For all the stardom and glamour, however, the refrain that summed up most people's impression of the princess was that "she was just like one of us," as Althorp-based sisters Audrey and Dorothy Lewin put it.

The two septuagenarians, ages 72 and 73 years old, told ABC News that "to us, she was a local girl. We think about her every day. We have all the pictures from her wedding, all the books about her. She brought a new era to the royal family."

According to Camilla Tominey, royal editor at The Sunday Express newspaper, "Diana changed people's impression of the royal family; she spoke to the common man."

"She still has a place in public consciousness," Tominey told ABC News, "because she showed the softer side of the monarchy."

Even a self-described anti-monarchist like Thomas acknowledged that "were Diana alive today, I would want her to be queen of this country."

"But," she added, "I wouldn't want to curtsy to her. Of course, the thing about Diana is that I don't think she would want me to!"

That sense of informality surrounding the princess is, according to Tominey, one of the reasons behind her popularity across the globe and particularly in the United States.

"I think that's what the Americans like about Diana — how effortlessly natural she was with people, and the genuine desire she had to help people," Tominey told ABC News.

"Those images of her visiting children with AIDS in Harlem in the 1980s will not be forgotten," she said.

Judging from the hundreds of people who turned up to pay their respects to her, outside the memorial service at Wellington Barracks in London, at the gates of Kensington Palace and at Harrods, that statement still rings true, 10 years after her untimely passing.

Like many who turned up at the princess' old home in Kensington Palace today, American tourist Tina Tomaszewski found the occasion "overwhelming."

"I saw the images from her funeral 10 years ago," Tomaszewski said, "but seeing it in person is something else."

For some of the visitors, like North Carolina's Connie Crumpler, today's anniversary was the reason for her first trip to England.

Recalling how she "saved up especially for this trip," Crumpler said that "Diana touched my life."

"I have always been interested in her," Crumpler told ABC News, "even though I didn't always like her. I realized that people aren't always perfect."

Her feelings were mirrored by the other women there.

Susan Chickowski from Saskatchewan, Canada, said, "I related to Diana through her lows — the way she just kept on plowing through."

Even the oft-cited criticism of Diana as a woman who manipulated the media with rare expertise did not faze her admirers.

"Don't most women manipulate at one time or the other?" Thomas asked. "Frankly, I think that's one of the ways in which we identify with her."

In many ways, the people who gathered outside Kensington Palace and Wellington Barracks, remember Diana for these reasons — not for being a sainted figure, but for what one onlooker described as her "down-to-earth humanity."

In an interview with ABC News, Tominey said, "It's funny — Tony Blair called Diana 'the people's princess,' and you know, she is. She was good to people and now, people are good to her."

But for many, the 10-year anniversary marks a perceptible shift in their focus on the princess.

As Chickowski put it, "It's time for me now to give up collecting the Diana memorabilia — I sold some of it to be here. I feel like it's time to move forward."

"But," she said, "I will always remember her."

The Rev. Frank Gelli, who leads an informal service outside Kensington Palace on the 31st of August every year, told the media that this year's service would probably be his last.

"It would be good if the princess was allowed to rest," he said.

But, according to Tominey, what "people would like [is] a more fitting, permanent memorial to her in London."

The Diana fountain in Hyde Park, London, was meant to be that monument, but has been plagued with concerns about its safety as well as poor management.

In the absence of a sufficiently fitting memorial, Diana's many admirers have found their own way of paying tribute to the princess whose life lacked a fairy-tale ending.