What's the Diana memorial doing at Althorp?

The estate here was the home of Diana's father. She rarely lived at Althorp, spending most of her childhood at boarding schools or other family homes. When her parents divorced and she had to move here, she described the experience as "a terrible wrench."Many years later, though, after her divorce, Diana decided to move back to Althorp, thinking it would provide isolation from a prying world. She asked her brother Charles, the 9th Earl Spencer, to let her live in one of the many houses on the grounds.

But Spencer, who had inherited the $240 million property from the 8th earl, refused. He felt having the famously photogenic princess around would destroy his privacy. Diana was crushed and rarely spoke to her brother thereafter.

Why, then, has Spencer brought her back home in death?

One reason, the British observers all agree, is money. The trouble with inheriting a stately home, with its huge staff and grounds and heating bills, is that you have to pay for the thing somehow. Few of the Spencer earls have held jobs.

For generations now, they have been selling paintings, furniture and other items from the family collection to stay afloat.

Like other baronial scions, the 9th earl had opened Althorp to tourists two months each year. But this did not begin to pay the freight. Only 10,000 people annually bought the $9 tickets.

But now, with Diana present, Althorp is the hottest tourist attraction in the British Isles. This summer 152,000 tickets will be sold at $16 each. Nearly all of the visitors can be expected to stop for tea and scones in the restaurant and to order from the souvenir catalog, titled "Althorp Product Guide."

Spencer says he will donate "a substantial portion" of the earnings from all this to Diana's memorial charity. In an indignant television interview last month, he said he "would never profit" from his sister's memory. But then, he does not need to profit. He already has a home and a lifestyle that Bill Gates might envy. All he has to do is pay the costs of it. And the new memorial seems likely to do so.

Another theory about the 9th earl's new memorial is that "Dianaland" marks the boldest assault yet in his campaign to "de-Windsorize" his late sister - break her ties with Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family.

Discussing his plans for Althorp in May, Spencer was scathing on one point.

"It must never become," he said, in a voice laced with scorn, "Britain's answer to Graceland."