On Dec. 3, when the tearful princess announced that she was greatly curtailing her public life, it appeared that the Palace had finally succeeded in reining her in. "The dream is over. The people's darling will never become queen," proclaimed columnist John Casey in the Evening Standard, urging Brits to dump Diana and rally round the "slightly absurd" Charles.
Someday, perhaps. But for now, Diana still manages to capture the public imagination as no other royal can. "The perception of her is as a beautiful, tragic figure who has been shafted by a wicked prince," says one insider. "That image also makes people immensely protective of her." A poll published in the daily tabloid Sun on Dec. 8 revealed that 63 percent of Britons surveyed blamed Charles for driving his estranged wife out of public life. And as Diana wrapped up her calendar of scheduled appearances, the people showed their support. When she turned out for the opening of a community center in South London on Dec. 10, a crowd of well-wishers thrust bouquet after bouquet into her arms, kissed her hand and serenaded her with a chorus of "We'll Meet Again." "If you carry on making noise like that," said a visibly moved Diana, "you will all be arrested."
Despite the Palace's apparent desire to make Di vanish, no one really expects her to disappear. "She won't go away," says Penny Thornton, Di's onetime astrologer. "I think she'll do a Greta Garbo for a while to keep people wondering and then make some kind of return to public life. People will always be intrigued by her. The mythology of Di is the Queen Who Never Was."