After penning two books about his 10 years in Princess Diana’s service, former butler Paul Burrell can hardly be accused of an excess of discretion. But even Burrell squirmed on Jan. 14 as he reluctantly testified about the reaction of Diana’s mum to her daughter’s two-year relationship with Dr. Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani heart surgeon who was, by many accounts, the love of Diana’s life. Speaking at the British inquest into her death, Burrell said that at Diana’s request, he listened in on a phone call in which the princess’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, called Diana a “whore” and “disgraceful” for “messing around with f——Muslim men.” (Shand Kydd died in 2004.) Speaking to PEOPLE, several members of Diana’s inner circle were divided over whether Shand Kydd would use such language, but all agreed the mother-daughter bond was strained. “She would ring up and be verbally abusive to the princess,” says Diana’s former personal chef Darren McGrady.
Diana’s relationship with Khan was something else entirely. Her attachment to the doctor was so intense that, according to Burrell, Diana asked the butler to explore arrangements for a “private marriage” to the man she called “Mr. Wonderful.” Last week from his home in Pakistan, Khan, 48, acknowledged the relationship publicly for the first time ever—but revealed little as he countered news reports that he would appear at the inquest, now in its fourth month. “I found her a very normal person with great qualities,” he told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph.
In court, Burrell spoke of two people deeply in love—but unable to navigate the chasm between her public calling and his private nature. Burrell said Princes William and Harry knew Khan well and that plans were underway for the doctor “to have his own apartment” at Kensington Palace. The affair, he said, came to an “abrupt halt” in July ’97 after Diana failed to persuade Khan to “become a public name.” As for her romance with Dodi Al Fayed, who died beside her in a Paris car crash in August 1997, Burrell dismissed claims by Dodi’s father that the two were about to announce their engagement. Instead, he focused on photos of the pair. “That,” said Burrell, “was her message, I believe, to Dr. Khan to say, ‘Look at me now.'”