- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

LONDON When the nation's leading broadcaster ran a poll to determine history's greatest Briton, perhaps it was no surprise that wartime leader Winston Churchill came out on top. But it looked for a time like he might lose out to the late Princess Diana.

In fact, Prince Charles' ex-wife won the third-highest number of votes in the 1.2 million cast in the British Broadcasting Corp. survey: good enough to put Princess Diana two notches ahead of William Shakespeare.

Five years after her death in a high-speed car crash in Paris, Princess Diana still stirs passions, both for her and against, in the hearts of Britons.

Her fans won this round, but others will question whether she really is greater than Shakespeare or Isaac Newton, who finished sixth.

She wasn't the only surprise. Voters who called in their choice by telephone thought the late Beatle John Lennon, at No. 7, was greater than Queen Elizabeth I (No. 8), and Battle of Trafalgar hero Adm. Horatio Nelson and 17th-century republican leader Oliver Cromwell (ninth and 10th, respectively).

At one point in the voting, which went on for several weeks while the British Broadcasting Corp. aired biographies of the leading candidates, Diana led the field, prompting the Daily Telegraph newspaper to comment that "as a historical exercise, the worth of the poll is doubtful."

In the end, Churchill won with 447,423 votes from those who felt his leadership during World War II made him the nation's greatest person in history. His nearest rival, 56,000 votes behind, was Victorian Age engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a key player in the birth of the Industrial Age. Evolutionist Charles Darwin was fourth.

Further down the list, as the BBC rounded up the leading 100, some of the choices were even quirkier. In 47th spot, for instance, was rock singer Boy George.

And fans of punk musician Johnny Rotten were delighted that their hero was voted the 87th greatest Briton in history. The likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, King Henry VIII and William the Conqueror didn't get anywhere near him.


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