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DIANA MAGICALLY GROWS INTO HER CROWN

It has been 10 years since Lady Diana Spencer, shy, sheltered and barely 20, married Prince Charles with much of the world watching.

The bashful kindergarten teacher has emerged, at 30, as a self-assured future queen, an international celebrity and the royal family's most visible asset.Her touch has become sure, and personal.

"Her availability to anyone, her openness to other people, her acceptance of others" are part of her appeal, said Janet Laithwaite, training director of the Relate marriage counseling centers, which Diana supports.

Diana appears more down-to-earth than her husband, and more approachable than tradition would allow for her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II.

When 67-year-old Alice Frazier threw her arms around the queen in Washington last May, the queen smiled pleasantly but was clearly happy to disengage.

In Budapest a year earlier, Zsuzsa Goncz, the obviously nervous wife of Hungary's interim president, slipped her hand into Diana's during a state visit, apparently for a little guidance and moral support. Diana took hold.

During her visits to AIDS wards in Britain and New York she made a point of shaking hands.

"She shook my hand without wearing gloves, and that meant more to me than anything," said AIDS sufferer Shane Snape after her 1987 visit to a London hospital.

"HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug: heaven knows they need it," Diana said in London in April.

Her support has been welcomed.

"Because she is a popular figure who takes an active and positive interest in it, she's making it more normal," said Ben McKnight of The London Lighthouse, an AIDS and HIV support center. "Other people see her and realize it can be dealt with rationally."

The British seem to enjoy photos of the Princess of Wales sprinting barefoot down a field, skirts and elbows flying, at her son's school games.

They wouldn't want the queen to do it, and a picture of Charles shedding his dignity in the three-legged race would only provoke embarrassed laughter.

"She has a tremendous sense of fun," said Olivia Hughes of the London City Ballet, one of the organizations of which the princess is patron.

Daily Mail society columnist Nigel Dempster calls her "a stunning success."

"She has this extraordinary natural talent" for the role of Princess of Wales. "She stumbled onto it, it stumbled onto her. It is a perfect case of a round peg finding a round hole."

In February, when The Sunday Times accused the royal family of behaving self-indulgently during the gulf war, it excluded the queen and the Princess of Wales.

Criticism of Diana generally concerns her intellectual powers - along the lines of Denis Judd's comment in the left-leaning New Statesman Society magazine that Diana was "embarrassingly lightweight."

A lot has been written about Prince Charles' university education and Diana's minimal secondary school credits; his interest in high art, serious music and "green" farming; her rock 'n' roll and her giggling.

But Simon Hoggart, a columnist in the liberal Observer newspaper, thinks she's a great deal smarter than she appears.

"The idea of this deep-thinking sage married to this ditsy, bebopping bubblehead is wrong," he said. "They are much closer in brain power than people think."

Diana married Charles July 29, 1981, four weeks after her 20th birthday July 1, and had her first child, William, within a year. A second boy, Harry, followed in 1984.

Tall and slender, she became a clothes horse for British fashion and was a celebrity in no time. Her blond, blue-eyed image smiled out from newsstands around the world.

Suddenly, she had to live down her image as a roller-skating pop fan whose youthful vitality was making Charles look prematurely middle-aged.

The marriage is regularly picked apart in magazines and newspapers, most of which see the couple's different interests and their 13-year age difference as a source of disenchantment.

But the media have only public appearances and gossip to go by, and appear to base their dire assessments on the number of days - sometimes weeks - that the two spend apart.

Diana reassuringly fills the role of doting mother in a society that still eyes the working mother with suspicion. But she is a working mother, and spends more time at her job than a lot of non-royal mothers do.

Last year she undertook 323 public engagements to Charles's 389.

The royalty-hungry tabloids were in hot pursuit of Diana from the start. Paparazzi feed an apparently insatiable appetite for pictures of her.

As London's Sunday Times said in 1983, she didn't just marry Charles, "she married us too."

Dempster sees Diana as a ray of hope for the monarchy: "She has projected them into the 20th century, and she might just have saved the royal family's future standing as constitutional monarchs of this country."