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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2006
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Speculation about Diana’s death will continue

By Eugene Robinson

Don’t be so naive. The blue-ribbon report released Thursday proving that Princess Diana’s death was nothing more than an accident won’t dampen speculation or cure obsession. Quite the contrary: Check the calendar and brace yourselves, because she’s back.

I’m talking Dianarama.

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the car crash in Paris that killed Diana, her swain Dodi Fayed and their driver Henri Paul. Already you can see and hear the commemorative hoopla building, and by the time we get to the actual date — Aug. 31 — the folderol will have mushroomed into full-blown extravaganza.

Followers of the cult of Diana can look forward to books, among them “The Diana Chronicles,” a splashy tome by famed trans-Atlantic editrix Tina Brown. I bravely predict that devotees will also be able to wallow in glossy magazine retrospectives, endless television specials and reams of newspaper analysis seeking to dissect what remains of the British royal family and explain why the magic is gone.

The frenzy of remembrance will reach its ultimate plateau July 1 with a London concert in Diana’s honor, organized by her sons William and Harry. Among the scheduled performers are Duran Duran — Diana’s favorite band — and of course Sir Elton John, who will sing the modified, Diana-cult version of “Candle in the Wind” with which he marked the end of Diana’s life at her funeral in 1997.

If you don’t like “Candle in the Wind,” you might want to avoid your radio.

Had she lived, by now Diana would be a figure of elegance and fading glamour, a latter-day Jackie O hiding behind big sunglasses, glimpsed episodically on a yacht or at a nightclub or in some private aerie, always on the arm of significant money. She would have the wrinkles and bulges that come with middle age. Perhaps she would be continuing her charity work. She would be the subject of enduring fascination but not of worship.

But Diana died young, which means she will forever be a princess. And she died tragically, in circumstances that were mysterious enough to fuel theories of dark conspiracy. Shakespeare, who knew that royalty sells, would have loved the Diana story.

The official report on her death, released last week with great fanfare, takes more than 800 pages to conclude that the fatal traffic accident in the Pont d’Alma tunnel in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997, was in fact a traffic accident. A former London police chief, John Stevens — he is properly called Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington — spent three years on the case, poring through documents and even interviewing members of the royal family.

There was no conspiracy to murder Diana, Stevens concludes. She was not pregnant, nor was she engaged to Fayed, although he had purchased a ring. Paul, the driver, was not deliberately blinded by a flashing light, and the paparazzi chasing the princess and her escort do not seem to have been a factor.

What happened, Stevens said, was not very mysterious at all. Paul was drunk, he was speeding to outrun the photographers and no one in the car was wearing seat belts. If any of those factors had been different, Diana probably would have lived.

Stevens’ report is definitive, but it won’t be the last word. Already, Dodi Fayed’s father, Mohammed al-Fayed — the owner of Harrods department store in London — has rejected the report as a cover-up. And there are enough loose ends in the report to intrigue those who want to keep the mystery alive.

Who was driving the white Fiat that the couple’s black Mercedes clipped just before the crash? He or she has never been found. And what sort of “communications” involving Diana does the National Security Agency — the American spy agency — hold in its vast stores of intercepted phone conversations? Why would the NSA be eavesdropping on Diana anyway? Are we really supposed to believe the NSA when it says these intercepts have nothing to do with the crash?

The truth is that nothing can ever really close the mystery, because a certain degree of ambiguity is necessary to complete Diana’s perfect narrative arc. In the end, she’s less a person than a story — a fairy tale that approaches the status of myth. There’s something about the human brain that loves a great story and wants to hear it again and again. Resistance is futile. So gather round and hear the tale once more.

Washington Post Writers Group

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