Diana's butler, her 'rock', is appointed trustee of memorial fund

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The Independent Online
PAUL BURRELL, the butler who became one of the most trusted confidants of Princess Diana, is to be appointed a trustee of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, Downing Street sources revealed last night.

The Coal Board lorry driver's son from Grassmore, near Chesterfield, will join the Fund's existing trustees, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's sister; Anthony Julius, Diana's lawyer; and Michael Gibbins, Diana's former private secretary, in administering the fund, which is nearing pounds 30m following record sales of Elton John's hit Candle In The Wind.

Last week, Mr Burrell, aged 39, who Diana called "my rock", received the Royal Victorian Medal, given to those who have served the Crown with distinction, from the Queen in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. He was awarded the medal 11 weeks before Diana's death.

He had remained loyal to the Princess over nine years of service, despite the legendary high turnover in staff at Kensington Palace. Their friendship survived difficult relations between his wife, Maria, a former maid to the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Princess after the couple and their two sons, Alexander, 12, and Nicky, nine, moved into a three-bedroom grace- and- favour apartment at Kensington Palace. At times he was her only ally in a system where Diana feared no one was to be trusted.

When Diana died, Prince William asked his father to contact her butler urgently with the news, but Mr Burrell had already flown to Paris. He kept a vigil beside her body until the Prince of Wales arrived and supervised the return to England of the body of the woman he affectionately called The Boss. He was the only non-relative to attend the Princess's private burial at Althorp. Since the funeral Mr Burrell has been inundated with offers of work from celebrities including Tom Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson and Mohamed al-Fayed, but he has preferred to remain at Kensington Palace putting the Princess's possessions in order. Friends say he has been distraught since her death and have worried that he has been unable to grieve properly because of the responsibilities he has had in the weeks following the accident. Palace insiders say he has also taken on an unofficial role as a censor of the legacy of documents left by his former employer, shredding any letters and papers that might emerge to damage her memory. During her lifetime he was the only member of staff Diana trusted with handling the details of her divorce and he was frequently the only person allowed to watch her fax machine and open her mail. Mr Burrell also often accompanied Diana on her secret visits to the sick, dying or troubled. It was on one of these visits that he first met the entertainer, Michael Barrymore, who was then battling alcohol and drug addiction and had recently been outed as gay by the tabloids. Friends of Barrymore and his wife, Cheryl, say the couple were helped enormously by the visits. It was the start of an unlikely friendship. Last month, the two men, both left distraught by the death of their friend, turned to each other for support.

Mr Burrell first declared that he would work for the Royal Family when he was 12 years old. As he watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace on a day trip to London, he told his bewildered parents "I want to work here one day."

His journey from a Derbyshire mining town where he grew up to Kensington Palace began with a catering course where his tutors remember him being intent on a career with the Royal Family. His first job was in a Bournemouth hotel, but he was quickly accepted by the Palace where he rose to become the Queen's personal footman.

It was at Balmoral that Mr Burrell fell in love with Maria Cosgrove, the daughter of an electrician, who he married in 1984. The Queen and Prince Philip sent wedding presents.

He first worked for Diana at Highgrove, leaving with her when her marriage to Prince Charles foundered. The perfect antidote to the "stuffed shirts" at the Palace who Diana so despised, he steadily became her most trusted servant.

In a recent interview, Mr Burrell's brother, Graham, said that no one would ever know how close Diana was to her butler. "But the bond they had in life will remain just as strong and safe in death," he said. "Paul was the keeper of her secrets - that's all he is left with now."