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Birthday opening for Diana museum

GREAT BRINGTON, England -- An exhibition dedicated to Princess Diana has reopened on what would have been her 40th birthday.

Her brother, Earl Spencer, opened three new rooms at the family's Althorp ancestral estate dedicated to the memorial fund set up in his sister's name.

Visitors to the estate in Great Brington, a village 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of London, can also see the island where the Princess's remains lie and tour a museum about her brief but glamorous life.

"I do find the anniversaries particularly difficult, as do all our family," Spencer told the Associated Press as he prepared to open the attraction on Sunday.

"The fact that she would have been 40 has added to the poignancy this year and I just hope we are doing the best we can for her without having her around any more."

To mark her birthday, children from London's Brompton Hospital lay flowers at the gates of Kensington Palace, the royal mansion where Diana used to live.

After Diana's death in a Paris car crash in 1997, Earl Spencer converted an 18th-century stable block at Althorp -- home to Diana's family since 1508 -- into a museum.

It remains open each year for a two month season until Aug. 30, the day before the anniversary of her death.

On display is a wide and personal range of artifacts, including the Spencer family tiara, the frothy silk dress Diana wore for her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles -- complete with 25-foot train -- and the musical score for "Candle in the Wind," which Sir Elton John rewrote and performed at her funeral.

The latest addition is an exhibition about the work of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which has given $56 million to 250 charities in the last four years.

Spencer paid a glowing tribute to Princes William and Harry and said they had grown to be young men of whom their mother would be extremely proud.

"They are coping very well. I think everyone can see that," he said.

"I was just hoping they would turn out as their mother would have wanted them to turn out. They have certainly done that.

"Over the last four years they have shown no sign of self pity." Althorp, home to Diana's family since 1508 -- and where she is now buried, on an island in the middle of an ornamental lake -- is set amid manicured lawns and ancient oaks.

Since the museum opened in 1998, Spencer has rebuffed suggestions that by admitting the public at $7 to $15 a head, he is profiting from his sister's tragic death.

He stresses that proceeds from ticket sales at Althorp -- $112,000 so far -- are donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which in turn has given $56 million to charity in the last four years.

Althorp, "must never become Britain's answer to Graceland," he has said, referring to Elvis Presley's home-cum-shrine. "Whilst I live, it will never do so."

Last year 120,000 people made the pilgrimage to Althorp in the two months the exhibition was open, and the estate has applied for permission to open 120 days a year.

The displays at the Althorp exhibit, arranged over six rooms, include childhood pictures and home movies showing Diana smiling coyly at the camera, the eight-year-old's school report card ("Diana's written work is more factual and accurate," it notes approvingly) and a Christmas card sent by Prince Charles in 1980, the year before they married.

• Althorp

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