AS a teenager at Salford Technical College, interior designer Rasshied Ali Din was asked to do a project on Tantric art. He made a three-dimensional piece of the lower section of the female anatomy. The piece lay covered in a box in his room, until his mother found it and called him a ''dirty little bugger''.

Din laughs at the memory.

''She said, 'So that's what I've been sending you to art school for'.''

His mother would have been justifiably proud that he has landed the plum job of designing

the Diana, Princess of Wales visitors' centre at Althorp House, Northamptonshire.

Ever since the news broke, Din has had the world's media beating a path to his office in Vauxhall, South London.

It has been an easy enough job to get. His name was suggested to Earl Spencer by a former client. The appointment was sealed after meetings with the estate manager, David Horton-Fawkes, and the conservation architect, Giles Quarme.

However, he points out that it is the most complex project he has ever handled because of the ''subject matter and structure of the building''. He also has very little time to deliver the goods.

Din's task is to convert the stable block at Althorp, formerly the home of 100 horses and 10 grooms, into a visitors' centre catering to the needs of 2500 people expected daily from July 1 and August 30.

A new cafe, information centre, shop, museum, and exhibition space chronicling the life of the Princess of Wales needs to be created.

The exhibition will comprise cine footage of her as a child, taken by her father, her memorabilia and her clothes. Din has already produced a new logo for Althorp.

The 40-year-old has been big news in the design world ever since he fitted out the Next retail empire, under George Davies, in 1986.

His company, Din Associates, was established 11 years ago and has gained much experience in commercial retail design. He gave a new look to many high street stores such as Nicole Farhi, Habitat, Fenwick, and French Connection. He has just finished revamping the luggage department of Selfridges and will move on to the basement area later this year. His impressive client list also includes the British Airports Authority, Red or Dead, Dr Marten, Ralph Lauren, and W H Smith.

It is this expertise of handling spaces for large numbers of people which attracted Earl Spencer, who is overseeing the conversion.

The main challenge is that the estate is a Grade 2 listed building and consent is required from English Heritage and the local authorities. Work can only begin after approval. The intention is not to replicate an eighteenth-century design, but to make the exhibition look like an installation within the building.

''You have a contrast of the modern and the new with the old and the established, which is basically a metaphor for Diana. She was a very modern woman within an established environment.''

The centre will have a clean look with natural materials and not too over-colourful, he says.

''It's not going to be sentimental. It's not going to be a mausoleum. It's meant to be a celebration of who she was and what she was about.''

Din never met the Princess of Wales, but came very close. She attended a dinner for Imran Khan's cancer charity held at the Dorchester Hotel in 1996; an event designed by Din.

Asked if he would like to meet Diana, Din bashfully declined, feeling embarrassed at being improperly dressed: ''I was so dirty and scruffy that I said 'No. I'm bound to meet her eventually'.''

He feels her personality still shines through: ''The thing I get from this whole event is how warm she was. The most endearing quality is how accessible she made herself.''

Din will not be drawn on the cost of the whole project. He says enigmatically that it is a lot of money. ''It's about big bucks.''

All this is a far cry from Din's early childhood in Salford. He is one of 10 children. One brother, Lee, is a celebrity hairdresser while another, Ayub Khan Din, is an actor and playwright who received great acclaim for his first play, East is East - an uproarious comedy based on their family life. Sadly, both his parents passed away before being able to enjoy the impact their children have made in Britain.

His mother, Hilda, a Lancashire lass, met her Pakistani husband Mehtab - known popularly as Charlie - while she worked as a clippie.

HIS father, an immigrant from Azad Kashmir, jumped ship to stay in England, worked through a series of casual jobs, including being an extra in an Alexander Korda film, before opening his chip shop, Charlie's Chippy.

The family lived in a traditional two-up and two-down terraced house, where he shared a bedroom with two of his brothers. Finally, Din got his own room, which he decorated in an arty way: ''I had one black table with a formica top and one chair. All the walls were white. It did not have any wallpaper.'' Din's style, a major departure in a home done up in a mixture of coloured wallpaper, fireball carpets, ethnic knick-knacks and furniture which did not match, meant that he was teased mercilessly by the family.

The fact that he was later described as the new Terence Conran, and now has been asked to write a book on retail design for the Conran-Octopus publishing company is a testimony to his discipline and focus.

Din attended the then Ordsall Secondary Modern School and was good at art. His ability was encouraged by his teachers, Mrs Stevens and Mrs Taylor, who would come home and talk to his parents.

His mother, too, nurtured her son's talents by buying him all the felt-tip pens she could lay her hands on. ''It was fine when I was at school. we used a lot of them,'' he remembers. ''Later I used watercolours and oils, but she still got me the felt-tip pens. Eventually, I had to tell her.''

The transition from felt-tip pens to interior designer began when Din went to Salford Technical College and discovered the art department. The young Din began dressing fashionably and grew his hair long. He also began to eat garlic potatoes and spaghetti.

Din did the family proud by becoming the first ever person from his school to get a degree. His BA Honours in Interior Design from Birmingham Polytechnic was a topic of never-ending conversation in the chip shop.

Although his father could never fully comprehend the ambitions of his children, Din feels, he shares a similar spirit.

One matter Din would like to put right is the spelling of his name.

On his birth certificate it is spelt RUSSHIED, because his father could not write and his mother ''made it up as she went along''. His name should really be RASHID, but he has settled for replacing the letter ''u'' with an ''a''.