Princess Di: A Dimming Legacy?

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CBS
The dazzling image of Princess Diana, once the British royal family's brightest star, has begun to dim just five years after her death.

Diana was one of the most famous women in the world before the Aug. 31, 1997, car crash in Paris that took her life at age 36. As the anniversary of her death approaches, signs and memories of the fabled princess are dwindling.

The official memorial for her in London still has not been built. The plans for the memorial, a water feature in Hyde Park, were only agreed upon in July after years of debate.

The latest plan, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth, has been likened to a drainage ditch and called a "national nothing."

Since controversy was always a component of Diana's celebrity in life - the princess who outshined the palace – it's no surprise that five years after her death, the controversy still hasn't been put to rest.

"She was the most celebrated Briton of the last quarter century," says Vivienne Parry, who worked with Diana on several charities. "We've come up with a children's playground so far, what I can see is a sort of circular puddle, and there isn't anything that reflects her national importance."

A playground that carries her name was opened two years ago, but it's tucked away in a far corner of Kensington Gardens in central London. "It's not obvious," said Arthur Edwards, veteran royal photographer for the Sun newspaper. "I think people stumble across it."

Parry says some people feel cheated. "We're shrugging now and saying, 'Well, I suppose its better than nothing.' But I guess we feel cheated somehow that her memory to us hasn't been adequately honored."

Yet she's clearly not been forgotten, least of all by those who seemed to like her least.

Royal watchers say Diana's imprint is all over the House of Windsor, from the queen's more open style to the modern way in which her ex-husband, Prince Charles, is raising their children.

Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine, told The Early Show that many changes in the queen herself, including her longer walkabouts, can be attributed to what she calls "the Diana effect."

"She is much more open, more smiley, more casual," Seward said of Queen Elizabeth. "Now she is able to engage herself in funny chitchat. She is trying to be more modern."

Ten years ago, she said, "such behavior would have been unthinkable."

"You've seen Prince Charles adopting some of the causes that were Diana's thing," author Anthony Holden told CBS News. "And simply the style in which he appears in public less formally these days with the boys is very much in the mold cast by Diana."

In the media, the anniversary has brought a modest flurry of coverage and a new tell-all book by former police bodyguard Ken Wharfe.

But the newspapers that never missed an opportunity to carry pictures of the princess on the front page now relegate her to occasional reports tucked well inside their pages.

"I think the obsession with her is over," said Penny Junor, royalty journalist and author. "I think people look back on her now with affection, with admiration, some with adoration. But it's a much more balanced view."

"Time heals and changes," said Morris Bierbraer of Debrett's Peerage. "There is - I wouldn't say a backlash - but a general acceptance that the chapter is closed and we must move on."

Diana's ex-husband, Prince Charles, has done so.

Once pilloried as a bad husband and an absentee father, Charles now "is going from strength to strength" in public esteem, Junor notes.

"I think one of the main factors in his rehabilitation ... is that demonstrably, his sons adore him," said Bierbraer.

And Camilla Parker Bowles, the woman Diana apparently blamed for the breakdown of her marriage, now seems to be accepted by much of the public as Charles' companion.

"I see Prince Charles with Camilla, and I see how happy he is now," said Edwards, who has photographed the royals for years. "He's relaxed, he's carefree, he's enjoying life to the full."

The one place to find a lavish memorial to Diana in London is at Harrods, the regal department store.

Dodi Fayed, son of the store's owner Mohammed al Fayed, and Diana's companion, also died in the crash. His father has constructed a monument that includes large pictures of the two edged in gold, mounted over a fountain and a pyramid that contains the glass Diana and Dodi drank wine from during their last meal at the Paris Ritz hotel.

Al Fayed continues to dispute the official finding that the Paris crash was an accident.

His spokesman, Chester Stern, said al Fayed is joining the legal action in France, mounted by the parents of chauffeur Henri Paul, disputing results of the blood test that determined Paul was drunk behind the wheel.

Al Fayed has filed suit in the United States to get access to materials from the CIA and other national security agencies that he claims may contain important information. He released a video in the United States on Thursday to appeal to the American people for help.

"I believe the evidence shows that Dodi and Diana were murdered. They were murdered because they were going to get married. A marriage between the mother of the future King of England and the Muslim son of an Egyptian was totally unacceptable to the ruling British establishment," al Fayed said in the video.

Outside of London, attendance has dropped at the Diana exhibition at her family home, Althorp.

The Diana Memorial Fund no longer actively solicits public donations, although it still works to set up corporate licensing deals and still has $91.8 million, said chief executive Andrew Purkis.

But for Edwards, the biggest reminder of Diana is a living one: her sons, William and Harry.

"I saw them both together recently," he said. "They're both fine young men, and I thought, 'God, she would be so proud of these boys, the way they've turned out.'"

The photographer, who spent nearly two decades snapping pictures of Diana, said her eldest son's resemblance to her is remarkable.

"He's got the same mannerisms," said Edwards. "I think William, forever, will remind the world of his mother."