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They paid for their rides and queued like everyone else; A TRIBUTE TO THE PEOPLE'S PRINCESS.

SHE WANTED to be known as the People's Princess and nowhere did she live up to the title more than on her regular trips with the young Princes to Thorpe Park on what became their favourite Easter outing.

Three years in succession they joined ordinary families having fun and getting wet on the water rides.

"Princess Diana mingled with the other mums in the park and always insisted on queueing like everybody else," says Marion Edge, who was working as the public relations officer there during all three visits. "She was just so relaxed and natural, chatting away to other mothers in the queues."

The first visit was completely out of the blue - Thorpe Park got a phone call saying Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry were planning to visit the next day. Nothing special was to be laid on, they would pay at the gate like everyone else but felt the park should be informed. They enjoyed themselves so much that the following year they were back for more.

"The pattern was exactly the same - a call on the Friday to advise of the visit and then on Easter Saturday morning they arrived at 9.45am," says Marion.

"We were all on the look-out for a chauffeur- driven car, but the Princess arrived driving herself in a blue Carlton Estate.

"They were accompanied by the children's nanny Jessie and Helena, one of her ladies-in-waiting.

"It was in 1992 and they paid pounds 26 for a family super saver ticket and really got their money's worth.

"The Princess was dressed very informally in jeans, a royal blue sweater and a white T-shirt and she accompanied her sons on almost everything. The only one she flatly refused to try was the Flying Fish Roller Coaster.

"Like most families with young children they started at the gentler end on things like the Seaweed Line, the Octopus Garden and the Tea Cup Ride before trying the more thrilling rides. They seemed to enjoy these much more and you could see the delight on all their faces as they went back for second helpings of Thunder River and Loggers Leap which has a 50-foot drop and a spectacular splash at the end.

"The royal party climbed to the top of Depth Charge, a new Water Slide. The Princess plunged 40-feet down the chutes with Prince Harry tucked firmly between her knees while Prince William shot down the next door chute with Helena."

Colin Dawson, who was then General Manager of Thorpe Park, says: "It was obvious that Princess Diana and the two princes enjoyed themselves. I think a lot of people were impressed by the fact that they queued for rides with all the others."

The third visit the following Easter confirmed Thorpe Park, near Chertsey in Surrey, as top of the Royal Pops and this time their party was even bigger.

The Princes' took a couple of friends with them, Alexander, eight, and five-year-old Nicholas. Lady-in-waiting Helena was there again and they were joined by six members of the Royal Protection Squad. "Again the Princess and her sons were dressed just like any other family on a day out," says Marion. "They made a beeline for the speedboat the park uses for parascending trips and after a trip on that William and Harry and their friends rode at the front of the Flying Fish Roller Coaster while Diana watched proudly.

"They were in their element when they discovered a new attraction, the Flying Aces Virtual Reality Centre, where the boys took part in a World War One dog fight.

"They took part in simulated car and bike racing. The Princess lost to her sons. They ended the day like many other families - going for a pizza before leaving for home."

Alan Randall, still the park's head of marketing, says: "When Princess Diana and her family visited us the day suddenly and spontaneously became very special for everyone here - particularly the children.

"I will never forget seeing Diana sitting in the theatre surrounded by wide-eyed children and their equally-astonished parents.

"She certainly was the People's Princess that day." DENIS CASSIDY
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Cassidy, Denis
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 30, 1998
Words:688
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