Lessons from the Planned 2012 Shutdown of the Princess Diana Memorial Fund

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July 21, 2011; Source: Daily Express | It won’t require Rupert Murdoch and the News of the World to hack into telephone records to dig up controversy about the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund’s plan to shut down operations by the end of 2012.  Although originally set up in 1997 after Diana’s death in a car accident in Paris to exist in perpetuity, the fund is now spending down the remaining £13 million in assets. Here is what we can glean about some of the controversy, though more will undoubtedly arise:

The fund raised £72.2million in donations and earned another £42.2million from commercial licensing and sponsorship activities and gave out over £100 million to some 350 charities for many good causes, but many of the causes weren’t necessarily those associated with Princess Di. 

Led by the fund’s chairperson, Diana’s eldest sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, the fund filed suit in 1998 to prevent the owners of the Franklin Mint in the U.S. from selling a Diana bridal doll and commemorative plates. The fund lost the case and ended up shelling out £5 million in legal fees and paying the Mint’s owners $25 million for malicious prosecution. Lady Sarah ceased grantmaking for a time as a result of these costs, leaving many of the fund’s regular grant recipients in some financial peril.

The activities of the fund outside of grantmaking for Diana’s or other charities were also controversial.  The fund created a £5 million memorial fountain dedicated to Princess Diana in Hyde Park, except that the fountain ran  £2 million over budget, and the maintenance and security of the pool costs British taxpayers £250,000 a year.

The fund devoted a lot of resources and energies to sponsorship and licensing deals, such as licensing the use of Diana’s image on margarine cartons in the UK. But a big part of the commercial program was earning money from exhibits of Diana memorabilia. Even as the fund is closing, the Diana industry continues. For example, the fund is sponsoring an exhibition starting in September at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino (in Connecticut) of 150 objects including Diana’s royal wedding gown, 28 of her designer dresses,  two diamond tiaras, and books of condolences.

Like anything associated with Princess Diana, it is inevitable that someone will try to uncover something to keep this unusual celebrity-worshipping industry alive.—Rick Cohen