Royal butler Paul Burrell, 45, spent 10 tumultuous years by Princess Diana’s side. He packed her bags, cleaned up after her rows with Prince Charles, helped choose her wardrobe and sneak her lovers into Kensington Palace. His devotion came at a price: Last year, Burrell was tried on charges of stealing keepsakes and sensitive documents from Di (charges were dropped after the Queen intervened), an ordeal, he says, that nearly drove him to suicide. In his intimate memoir A Royal Duty, Burrell gives an unprecedented account of life with the loving, infuriating, unique woman he called the Boss.
In 1987, my switch from working for the monarch to the heir to the throne brought a £10,000 increase, taking my salary from around £8,000 a year to £18,000 [about $30,000]. For that hike, the treadmill went faster. At Charles’s country home, Highgrove, there was no wine butler to decant the claret, no one to wash dishes, no footmen to greet guests. It was all up to me.
Working 16-hour days, Burrell saw his own family (wife Maria, a former royal maid, and sons Alexander, now 18, and Nicholas, 15) only when Charles and Diana could spare him—a situation that put his own marriage to the test. In his long hours there, he began to see Highgrove as a thicket of intrigue.
When the prince was alone midweek, the usual dinner time of 8:30 p.m. was brought forward. “I’ll have dinner early tonight, Paul, and then retire,” he said. The prince’s dinners at these times were rushed. No sooner had I returned with the empty tray to the pantry than I heard car wheels crunching across the gravel of the driveway.
I never thought anything more of these drives until one day I visited the police lodge where a team of officers were stationed. A well-kept secret within police circles spilled out. It was said that Prince Charles, on his mystery drives, consistently performed a 22-mile journey, 11 miles there, 11 miles back. Middlewich House was exactly 11 miles away. Home of Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles.
Before long, Diana caught wind of Charles’s excursions and became suspicious about his phone calls.
One day Diana called the house and I answered. “I don’t suppose the hubby’s around, is he?” she said. It was the first time she had rung when he was away “privately.” What did I say? “I’m sorry, Your Royal Highness, he’s not. He’s gone out.”
Out. It was past 8:00 in the evening. Damn. Shouldn’t have said that.
“Well, where’s he gone?”
Trapped between duty and loyalty to both parties, I pleaded, “Please don’t ask me, Your Royal Highness.”
The next morning the prince’s valet came into the pantry. “He wants to see you and he isn’t happy,” he said.
Prince Charles was standing near his round table. “Have you spoken to Her Royal Highness recently, Paul?” I told him I had the previous evening.
“And what exactly did you say to her?” His short fuse was burning out.
“That you were out, Your Royal Highness.”
The prince was incredulous. “Why on earth couldn’t you have simply said that you couldn’t find me?”
“Are you asking me to lie, Your Royal Highness?”
He exploded: “Yes! YES!” In a flash, he picked up a book and hurled it in my direction. I don’t think it was intended to hit me, and it didn’t. Prince Charles ranted: “I am the Prince of Wales,” and stamped a foot, “and I will be king! So yes. YES!”
Diana had secrets as well. When Charles was away in the summer of 1989, she sent Paul on a clandestine mission: to pick up a “special friend” at the nearby rail station. When he returned with his passenger, Maj. James Hewitt, the princess embraced her lover. “She was glowing,” writes Burrell.
The breakdown of the marriage seemed inevitable after Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story was published on June 16, 1992. There was a hastily arranged summit where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh sat down with the Prince and Princess of Wales. Prince Philip made it clear that everyone was upset by the biased account in the Morton book and suspicious of her involvement. The princess, by then in denial, insisted that she had not assisted the author. I believe that she was taken aback by what she had unleashed: Deep down, she knew she had been rash, impulsive, and confused in cooperating with Morton.
The Queen and Prince Philip had decided that a delicate, volatile situation required a wise head. Oddly, that head was deemed to be Prince Philip’s. In a bombardment of correspondence, he upset and infuriated the princess with comments she described as brutal.
Raising the thorny issue of her husband’s mistress, he wrote that she should have been grateful that Charles had initially cut himself off from Camilla Parker Bowles. Charles felt he had made “a considerable sacrifice” and that she had “not appreciated what he had done.”
At the same time, Philip confided that he and the Queen had long been worried about their son’s friendship with a married woman. He wrote: “We do not approve of either of you having lovers. Charles was silly to risk everything with Camilla for a man in his position. We never dreamed he might feel like leaving you for her. I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla.”
Along with her anger, Burrell writes, Diana felt grateful that Philip—who signed his missives “Fondest Love—Pa,” felt some sympathy for her. Her own family, by contrast, offered little support during those difficult years.
In 1993, Diana asked her brother, Earl Spencer, to offer her a “bolthole” on the Althorp estate. He replied: “I am happy to help. The Garden House seems to suit your needs.” Fifteen days later, her brother withdrew his offer. He wrote: “There are many reasons, most of which include the police and press interference which would follow.” Later, he dealt her another blow by demanding the return of the Spencer family tiara.
The tension between the two grew worse. In letters to her, Spencer wrote of their estrangement and her bulimia:
“Our relationship is the weakest I have with any of my sisters…. I fear for you. I know how manipulation and deceit are part of the illness. I pray that you are getting appropriate treatment for your mental problems.”
The princess felt she was over her bulimia, but what upset her most was the suggestion that she was mentally ill.
On Dec. 9, 1993, the Waleses’ separation was announced. After her affair with Hewitt, Diana found a soulmate—a mystery suitor “whose name was never known to the world,” according to Burrell. But the thrill of a new man did little to temper her jealousy. She began to regard Tiggy Legge-Bourke, Charles’s assistant and sometime nanny to their sons, as more of a threat than Parker Bowles. Diana went on the offensive at a party for the prince’s staff.
We entered the room and heads turned to the princess. “Keep standing by me and just watch,” she said, through her smile. She was making a beeline for Legge-Bourke.
“Hello, Tiggy. How are you?” said the princess, smiling. Before she could answer, the princess adopted an air of mock sympathy: “So sorry to hear about the baby.”
Tears welled in Tiggy’s eyes and she left the room.
The Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes, telephoned the princess—[who was] also his sister-in-law—to get to the bottom of whatever she had been alluding to. She reported her allegations that Tiggy had been having an affair with Prince Charles, and she had undergone an abortion. She even furnished the Queen’s office with a precise date. [A discreet Palace investigation found that the allegations were untrue.] Prince Charles’s assistant demanded an apology, but the princess refused to back down.
By July 1997, Diana and Dodi Fayed, son of the Egyptian-born multimillionaire who owned Harrods, were an item, despite the fact that her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, had phoned to criticize her taste in men. Diana had invited Burrell to listen to the call.
I detected the slurring voice of Mrs. Shand Kydd. The princess was shaking her head in disbelief. She was absorbing a volley of verbal abuse from her mother, who was making it quite clear what she thought of her daughter going on dates with Muslim men. “You are nothing but a…” She used words no mother should say to a daughter.
The princess slammed down the telephone and wept. “I am never going to speak to my mother again, Paul, never,” she vowed. She never did.
By Burrell’s account, Diana’s relationship with Dodi was just a fling. Though Fayed was smitten, “her heart was in London” with the mystery lover whom she called “the One,” he writes, when she flew to Athens to join Dodi in August, 1997.
Diana had not intended to spend that final week of August with Dodi. But when a holiday with a friend was canceled, the princess accepted Dodi’s offer to spend time on his yacht cruising around the French Riviera.
I spoke to the princess nearly every day; from her first call, I knew she was getting restless. “It’s roasting on the deck, it’s like a fridge downstairs. I’m crawling the walls here!” she said.
Dodi had given her a silver photo frame, inscribed with a poem. He had also given her a necklace and a pair of earrings. “He’s got it bad, hasn’t he?” She giggled.
I could see what was happening. The Boss had enjoyed the new liaison, but the novelty was wearing thin. She knew Dodi had fallen in love—he had told her so. But she hadn’t reciprocated.
In another call, she speculated about whether the next gift would be a ring. She was excited at the prospect but becoming increasingly worried about what it all meant. “What do I do, Paul, if it’s a ring?” she said.
“You accept it and slip it on the ring finger of your right hand. Don’t put it on the wrong finger if you don’t want to send the wrong signals!”
Ring finger. Right hand. We kept saying it.
There was another nagging doubt in the princess’s mind about Dodi. “He keeps going into the bathroom and locking the door behind him. He keeps sniffing, blaming the air conditioning system, and it disturbs me.” Then the conversation switched to how much she was looking forward to spending time with William and Harry. “I’m just ready to come home now,” she said.
Days later, Diana was dead. Burrell stayed by her side until the end: After the funeral service at Westminster Abbey, he accompanied Charles and the boys to Althorp, where Diana was buried.
Afterwards, we all reconvened in the drawing room for tea. Then Earl Spencer approached the television and switched it on. The highlights of the funeral were being shown. Prince Charles and his sons stood in silence.
Then Earl Spencer’s voice came out from the television. His echoing voice from Westminster Abbey. His speech from the pulpit [delivering a scathing attack on the royal family for its treatment of Diana]. I have never been caught in such an awkward moment. Prince Charles was clearly not standing for a repeat performance of the humiliation. He put down his cup and saucer and said to William and Harry, “I think it’s about time we were leaving.” As the earl’s speech carried on in the background, the Windsors politely shook hands and said goodbye.