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DIANA IS STILL A POWERFUL PRESENCE A YEAR AFTER HER TRAGIC DEATH

A year after Princess Diana's death, thousands today commemorated one of the most public lives of modern times, while those who knew her best marked the anniversary in the seclusion of their Scottish castle.

Prince William, 16, and Prince Harry, 13, prayed for their mother at a private service near Balmoral Castle, where their father woke them last Aug. 31 to tell them of her fatal car crash in Paris.

The pile of flowers at the gates of the princess' former home at Kensington Palace in London grew to about 1,000 bouquets today.

Messages in many languages, photographs from newspapers and paper hearts adorned the black and gold palace gates. Public memorial services were planned at the city's great cathedrals.

The national flag flew at half staff on government buildings and royal residences. Queen Elizabeth II was criticized after the princess' death for not lowering the royal standard at Buckingham Palace in her memory.

The queen today thanked people who have sent messages of sympathy, through the royal Web site as well as in the mail.

"The queen and the royal family, particularly the Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry, would like to thank people for their messages and kind gestures of sympathy at this sad time and for sharing their remembrance of the Princess of Wales," the queen said.

Crowds and congregations in London, Paris and Balmoral remembered Diana on Sunday and again today with tears, flowers and prayers.

A small crowd kept an all-night candlelight vigil at an eternal flame above the Paris tunnel where the car carrying Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed crashed.

Two 8-foot bronze sculptures of Diana and Fayed were unveiled today at Harrods, the London store owned by Fayed's father, Mohamed Al Fayed.

Fayed marked the anniversary of the death of his eldest son with a private memorial service at his son's tomb on the family estate at Oxted in Surrey, 20 miles south of London.

"I pray my beloved son and his dearest Diana have found peace and comfort in heaven. I am sure they are happy together," Al Fayed said.

There was no repetition of last year's massive outpouring of grief and huge crowds -- just a constant stream of people visiting Kensington Palace, Diana's family estate at Althorp and the crash site.

When the royal party left for Crathie church today, there were only 20 spectators and half a dozen bouquets against the wall.

"I feel disappointed for the royal family that more people aren't here," said Tim Bunday, 31. "Maybe people think it's more respectful not to be here today."

The private service at Crathie church lasted about 15 minutes and was attended by the young princes, 11 other members of the royal family, and Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie. There was no singing or hymns, just prayers and four Bible readings.

"Hear our prayers for those grieving the loss of a loved one in circumstances known to the world but only experienced by a few," said the Rev. Robert Sloan, as William and Harry sat on either side of Prince Charles in the front pew.

At Diana's ancestral home in Althorp, 75 miles north of London, Diana's brother, Earl Spencer and her sisters, Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Lady Jane Fellowes, planned a service overlooking her burial site on an island in an ornamental lake.

The burial ground's isolation enabled Diana's family to mourn privately. But Elton John, who sang a reworked version of his hit "Candle in the Wind" at Diana's funeral in September, said she should not have been buried so far away from her sons and adoring public.

"I just feel it's sad that she's on that island; it's as if she's all alone again," he was quoted as saying in The Sunday Telegraph.

Diana's face appeared on front pages of most of the national newspapers in the past two days and half a dozen television programs focused on her life.

For those unwilling or unable to let her go, the last year has found the spirit of the world's most photographed woman very much alive and moving with an otherworldly power to shape events among the living.

In England, she has conferred new luster upon Britain's tainted royal family. Since her death, her former husband, Charles, has appeared more majestic in mourning than he ever did in marriage, and Queen Elizabeth has learned to more closely monitor her subjects' attitudes toward the royal family.

In France, she has compelled authorities to investigate -- with uncommon diligence -- the causes of the Paris car crash that killed the princess, 36; her boyfriend, Fayed, 41; and their driver, Henri Paul, 41, who was drunk at the time of the crash and widely held to be responsible for the tragedy. Bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, 29, survived the crash, but was seriously injured.

Around London, Diana's story has taken the reins of Britain's gossip-hungry press, forced it to respect the privacy of her two young princes, William and Harry, and to back away from its alliance with the paparazzi, whose pursuit of Dodi and Diana's Mercedes 600 is widely believed to have contributed to the crash.

For her brother, the unpredictable Earl Spencer, the spirit of Diana has proven both balm and bombast, the restorative icon of his family's tarnished fortunes.

And to the people of the world, who have deified their "people's princess" with a rare outpouring of grief and commercial interest, Diana's spirit has offered an ironic hope that, all evidence to the contrary, there is such a thing as earthly perfection.

"By her passing, the world was jarred into an understanding of her importance to millions and millions of people," said Michael Levin, author of "The Princess and the Package," a new book about Diana's impact on the public. "Diana was the right person at the right place at the right time."

Mohamed al Fayed has also spent a considerable amount of time during the last year questioning the investigation into the crash, publicly insisting that it was no accident and suggesting that hostile forces within the British government had orchestrated the tragedy. Why? Out of racist fear that the princess and his son, Dodi, whose family is from Egypt, would marry, raising the possibility that the crown prince of England would eventually have mixed-blood half-siblings.

In a Time magazine article last week, al Fayed was also reported to have laid much of the blame for the crash on Harrods' security officers Trevor Rees-Jones and Alexander Wingfield. According to Time, al Fayed faults Rees-Jones for failing to make Diana and Dodi Fayed wear their seat belts, even though he strapped on his own.

A Harrods spokesman, who asked not to be identified, downplayed Mohamed al Fayed's theories about a plot, saying that the retail magnate simply wanted investigators to "keep their minds open."

In an exhaustive examination of the investigation, Time reported last week that French officials are now questioning whether the Mercedes that carried Diana and Fayed to their doom suffered from serious mechanical problems.

They also want to know why tests on the body of driver Henri Paul showed that his blood contained an unusually high concentration of carbon monoxide. Paul was legally drunk at the time of the crash, his blood alcohol level three times the limit in France.

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