With thousands of pearls, silken layers and a 25ft train, it is arguably the most famous wedding dress in the world.

But for much of the past decade, Diana, Princess of Wales's stunning gown has been lost to the nation - instead travelling the globe on a lucrative tour.

Today, exactly 17 years after her death, it can be revealed that the heirloom is finally returning home to her sons, William and Harry.

Until now, the dress has been in the possession of Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, who placed it at the centre of an exhibition called Diana: A Celebration.


For two months every year it was held at Althorp, the family's Northamptonshire estate. For the rest of the year the exhibition moved from country to country.

Most recently, it has been at the Cincinnati Museum Center in America, where visitors were charged £15 to see the gown, along with 28 other dresses and other personal artefacts. The exhibition closed two weeks ago after six months there.

Lord Spencer says Diana's will stated that her belongings were to be 'looked after' by him until both of her sons turned 30, at which point they would transfer into their possession. Prince Harry will be 30 in two weeks' time.

Over the years, proceeds from the exhibition have generated more than £1?million for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, but it is thought this represents only a small margin of revenue.

And it has been reported that Princes William and Harry have been unhappy over what has been viewed as the commercialisation of their mother's death.

Visitors to the exhibition are invited to buy an array of Althorp-related souvenirs, including a £25 silk-bound copy of the address her brother gave at her funeral.

Buckingham Palace confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that the dress and some of Diana's other cherished personal possessions were 'being returned to the Princes'.

There have been calls for the items to be put on display at Kensington Palace, where William and Kate have their official London home, but no decision has yet been made.

Last night, Alan Berry of the Diana Appreciation Society said: 'We think it a good suggestion that the dress be put on display along with other artefacts in Kensington Palace. If part of the takings were to go to one of Diana's charities, that would be a bonus.'

Diana's dress was created by designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Mr Emanuel told The Mail on Sunday: 'That wedding gown has certainly earned its keep - it has been around the globe many, many times.

'I think more people abroad have seen this wedding gown than British people. Princes William and Harry will have to think long and hard about it, but it would be the perfect vehicle to earn money for their charities to show it over here.

'What's extraordinary is that after so many years people are still talking about this gown.'

Today, the flag will be flown at half mast at the Althorp Estate, with the family marking the anniversary privately.

- Mail on Sunday