Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

Princess Diana fountain

Photograph by Wolf Savard

The Diana Princess of Wales memorial fountain

Hyde Park, London

Going to see water coming out of a pipe makes for a low-thrills day out wherever you are, but a trip to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is truly a dull exercise worthy of a princess.

This unique memorial to Diana, Princess of Hearts, ‘aims to reflect Diana’s life’ and ‘symbolises Diana’s quality and openness’ by being a fountain.  All in all, it’s just perfect for the family with a spare day and nothing else to do.

As Diana would have wanted – presuming she wanted to be remembered as a water feature – it was designed by American landscape artist Kathryn Gustafson and contains 545 pieces of Cornish granite lovingly shaped by the latest computer-controlled machinery in a factory somewhere.

‘Water flows from the highest point as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom,’ the Royal Parks authority guide informs would-be visitors. ‘The water is constantly being refreshed, and is drawn from London’s water table.’ Unlike other London fountains, presumably, which are known to spit out weekly spouts of water drawn from a giant bottle of Perrier. And, just to point out the obvious, water always flows from the highest point to the bottom. That’s just what it does whether or not you think you have trained it to do so.

The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain was turned on in July 2004. It was turned off again in July 2004, which is actually the same month. Things didn’t get off to a great start when Elton John, one of the chief priests in Britain’s Diana sinister death cult, described the fountain as ‘hideous’ and said it reminded him of a sewer. In the sense that both have water flowing through them and you wouldn’t want to spend a day beside either, you can’t fault his accuracy. However the real problems began 24 hours later, when the fountain became blocked with leaves, which organisers discovered are quite common in London parks, apparently having something to do with trees.

Although the leaf problem was soon dealt with, using no more than a large team of people, by the end of July the fountain was closed again for safety reasons after three mourners managed to fall over in it and hurt themselves. This news left many wondering: How do you fall into a fountain? Are you walking towards it and forget to stop? Are you looking into it and miscalculate your angle of ascent? Are you in a black and white slapstick comedy and just couldn’t help yourself?

Gustafson said she wanted the fountain to be accessible and to reflect Diana’s ‘inclusive’ personality – words she must have regretted when the fountain was re-opened in August surrounded by a fence and six aggressive full-time security guards employed to stop the public from entering the water.

The problems continued. Although the weather was not particularly wet that month, seemingly the water in the fountain itself was just as wet as it had been, and the grass next to it was swamped, meaning it turned into a memorial less of Britain’s queen of hearts, more of its First World War dead.

To get around this, in December another alteration project was started involving removing the grass and replacing most of it with concrete. If the fountain could possibly have become less welcoming, it just had.

In all the project has cost £3.6m, which is arguably quite a lot for a fountain – B&Q is widely rumoured to do them for 50 quid – and it costs well over £100,000 a year to maintain. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is money well spent on an upside-down tap surrounded by concrete, metal fences and guard dogs.