Disclosures reveal more about an obsessive butler than Royal Family

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The Independent Online

The Royal Family has been portrayed again this week as dysfunctional. What is also clear from the latest revelations of their former servant Paul Burrell is that they got the butler they deserve.

In his book A Royal Duty ­ modestly described by the Daily Mirror, which has been serialising extracts, as the "Book of the Century" ­ Burrell, 44, dishes the dirt on Earl Spencer, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and anyone else who dared to criticise his beloved former boss, Diana, Princess of Wales.

However, in doing so, Burrell reveals himself assomeone unable to let go of his former life, bitterly angry at those he feels failed to support him over his theft trial last year and obsessed with the memory of Diana.

Despite his previous assurances that he would never disclose intimate details of Diana's life, Burrell's book sails perilously close to the wind, using extracts of letters to him from her, the copyright of which lies with her estate. Buckingham Palace is studying the book to see whether the use of letters to her from Prince Philip breaks copyright law.

Burrell's motivation appears twofold. Said to be in debt and with a struggling florist business, he is clearly receiving a substantial amount of money from both Penguin Books and the Daily Mirror, which a year ago paid him £300,000 for his story after his acquittal on the charge of stealing Diana's possessions.

Second, he is getting even with those members of the Royal Family who he believes let him down by agreeing that his prosecution should continue ­ principally the Prince of Wales. Last year's revelations included the stories about Charles's valet holding a urine sample bottle for him in hospital, his profligacy and temper tantrums.

Penny Junor, royal watcher and biographer of Prince Charles, said: "My feeling is that he feels very badly let down by them. He always said that he would never sell his story. But then he was hung out to dry over the theft case and no longer feels the same loyalty. But I also think he has been egged on by the Mirror who want to get their money's worth. They would tell him that he owes it to her and to the country to get these things on the record.''

Apart from the Princess, the only member of the Royal Family that Burrell appears to admire is the Queen. This week's only other intimate moment recalls how he surprised her one evening while she was wearing her crown on her head and pink slippers on her feet. She was, apparently, getting used to the idea ahead of the State Opening of Parliament. Of course, Burrell does owe the Queen. The theft case against him collapsed a year ago after she recalled a conversation they had had.

Ms Junor said Burrell's disclosures highlighted the "very, very, very strange breed" of people who act as royal servants. "It's a viper's nest, they are all vying for favours and all madly in love with the people they work for."

Burrell, as is now well known, wanted to work for the Royal Family from the moment he was taken to watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace when he was eight years old and, in his own words, thought it "magical". The working-class boy from a Derbyshire mining village achieved his aim 10 years later. After many years at the Palace, he moved to Highgrove to work for the Prince and Princess of Wales in the late 1980s and then followed the Princess after the divorce. Reputedly, the Princess put his name at top of the list of things she wanted in the divorce agreement.

It was a relationship built on gossip in the butler's pantry ­ eating the white chocolate he kept for her in the wine store ­ during which she sneakily examined his domestic duties diary to see who had been visiting her husband.

It was about this time Burrell began to hoard some of the hundreds of items he would later be charged with stealing: dozens of photographs of William and Harry, records, tapes and clothes belonging to Diana, many of which she had asked him to send to charity shops, but which he found himself unable to part with. After her death, he was, apparently, almost overwhelmed. He flew to Paris and ensured she was dressed her in a favourite outfit, with Mother Teresa's rosary in her hand. He flew back with Prince Charles and the body and was among the small and desolate party that attended her private burial.

For a while he was one of the official keepers of her flame, sorting out her affairs and possessions at Kensington Palace and sitting on the Diane Memorial Trust as chief fund-raiser. Then suddenly he was dismissed from the trust with a £30,000 payoff amid gossip that his high profile ­ including visits to the United States ­ was inappopriate.

He recovered his momentum with a book on etiquette and entertaining, keeping his promise not to spill the beans on the Royals. The book sold well, but not enough to prevent a move to Cheshire, where he opened a florists' shop with his wife.

Then came the arrest for theft. Even then, his loyalty to the Queen prevented him from mentioning the crucial conversation which would have helped his case. But then, after he was cleared, he sold his story to the Daily Mirror.

Neither Junor nor Hugh Vickers, author of several books about the Royals, believes, with one or two exceptions, that the revelations have lasting historical import. "I think it's interesting that Earl Spencer talks about Diana's mental illness. Everybody knows she was disturbed, but it gets repeatedly overlooked with the portrayal of Charles as the cause of the break-up,'' said Junor.

Neither believes the "Book of the Century" ­ out on Monday ­ will enhance Burrell's reputation. "He's a very sad man and easily led astray,'' said Vickers.

Junor also questioned whether Burrell was as dedicated to the Princess as he claimed: "If he is, why has he been sitting on the letter about the car accident for six years?" she said. "I don't think that it looking after her memory.''


Monday: "They're planning 'an accident' in my car so Charles can marry again," wrote the Princess to her butler 10 months before her death. A disclosure that, inevitably, fuels conspiracy theories.

Other extracts refer to being "battered, bruised and mentally abused" by life with the Royals. Prince Charles, she said, had put her "through hell".

Tuesday: "I can't imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla," wrote Prince Philip in a letter to the Princess.

The Duke of Edinburgh told Diana his son was "silly to risk everything" with Camilla, adding: "We never dreamed he might feel like leaving you for her."

Wednesday: Letters from Earl Spencer, to his sister in April 1996: "I know how manipulation and deceit are parts of the illness, I pray you are getting treatment for your mental problems."

Burrell discloses Prince Charles' anger at his wife's discovery he entertained Mrs Parker Bowles at Highgrove and how the Princess asked him to bring Major James Hewitt to Highgrove.

Thursday: Letters from the Princess to her butler revealing she never wanted a divorce and she still loved Prince Charles.

The negotiations over whether the Princess would be able to retain the HRH title and how the actor Kevin Costner tried to interest her in a starring part in Bodyguard II.

Friday: How the post-divorce Princess graded her boyfriends in a "horse trap" system - the novelist was in trap 5, the billionaire in trap 8 and so forth.

The Princess's last phone call, Dodi Fayed's (alleged) cocaine habit and Burrell's lengthy meeting with the Queen.