Aug. 26, 2005 -- Some call it corny. Others call it ghastly. And some will no doubt find it magnificent. But whatever it may be, the life-size statue of Princess Diana and her companion Emad "Dodi" Fayed will soon be among the pricey food and clothing displays at London's Harrods department store.
Dodi's father Mohamed al Fayed -- the multimillionaire owner of Harrods -- had tried years ago to erect a 10-foot-high memorial to the couple, but public reaction had foiled his plans.
Now, on the eighth anniversary of the tragic car crash that killed Lady Di and her boyfriend in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, al Fayed unveiled the bronze statue he had commissioned.
A Statue of Apparent Limitations
But given the Egyptian-born tycoon's wealth and power, why the heck does the bronzed rendition of the lovers look nothing like them?
Al Fayed said the statue would allow people to honor the couple's memory with "warmth and love." Noble wishes indeed, but does it really belong in a store alongside cosmetics and ties? Sounds like Dodi's dad found a novel way to drive traffic in his ritzy shopping mecca.
Diana was renowned for her style and grace, and she photographed extremely well. (And there are plenty of photos out there.) So why did sculptor Bill Mitchell -- a longtime Fayed friend -- portray the tall blonde like a desperate housewife wannabe?
Wearing a low-cut nightie, the tall, glamorous Di all of a sudden has inherited an angular nose and a boyish look. Gone is the sweet smile and the sultry, slightly drooping eyelids. All we've got is her signature short haircut.
Entitled "Innocent Victims," the bronze statue has Diana gazing into Dodi's eyes as they hold hands and release a bird. Compared to his real-life self, Dodi's bronze likeness has lost weight and gained hair. The sculptor has also reconfigured Dodi and dressed him in an unbuttoned shirt revealing his bare chest.
Have the tweed-wearing Harrods shoppers gone casual?
"Attention shoppers, crazy European weather means drought in the South, floods in the East and a "stranded on an island" look in London's poshest store."
Mitchell described his sculpture as "a tribute to what might have been if the couple's car had not crashed."
As the press snapped pictures during the unveiling, Mitchell said, "The affection in which Diana is still held is remarkable, but I knew Dodi and far from being the playboy he was portrayed as, in reality he was a charming, hard-working film producer."
Well, those may be noble sentiments, but they're hardly reflected in Mitchell's creation. He's made his good friend Dodi look like a character out of "Lost." One British tabloid called the statue a "corny classical scene," while another asked if it was "the tackiest statue ever?" Not exactly a seal of artistic approval.
Determined to Pay Homage
Regardless, al Fayed plans to install his life-size tribute in his store and maybe take it on the road in Paris. After all, he also owns the ultra posh Hotel Ritz, another terrific showcase for his pastoral oeuvre d'art.
Al Fayed, who has claimed the fatal car crash was the result of a conspiracy to assassinate his son and the princess, has long planned a Harrods tribute for the pair.
In July 1998, nearly a year after the accident, al Fayed spokeswoman Laurie Mayer said the tycoon planned a "substantial" tribute for all passers-by to view. The tycoon decided to upgrade the existing indoor shrine, which contained framed photos of the couple, with a sculpture involving doves.
The press went wild and rumors spread about supposed 10-foot-high portraits to be hung outside the front of the store, which is located in London's tony Knightsbridge neighborhood.
The public called the homage tasteless and Lady Diana's family and the royals wagged their fingers in disapproval. No mention was made of Diana's young sons at the time, Prince William and Prince Harry, but I can only imagine that using mom to peddle bonbons didn't sit well.
Al Fayed backed off plans for a permanent photo memorial by the Egyptian staircase inside Harrods. I think he probably told his sculptor friend to get working but in total secrecy.
Now, a statue has suddenly been revealed. As the saying goes, all good things come to those who wait. And in al Fayed's case, don't let anyone know what you're up to.
Thus, "England's Rose" will welcome international shoppers and gawkers alike.
The bird with a huge wingspan gives me hope that Diana and Dodi are indeed together resting in peace somewhere -- the albatross is a symbol of eternity and good fortune. Still, after years of trying to dodge paparazzi, why would al Fayed insist on keeping his beloved son and Lady Di inside a department store, never free from the public gaze or scorn?
Oh, and by the way, what aisle are those biscuits Prince Charles likes so much?