Burrell: Diana wanted to marry heart surgeon

After the "rock" came the "hub". Paul Burrell, the royal butler whom Diana, Princess of Wales, considered vital to her existence, claimed yesterday that he co-ordinated her life to such an extent that she asked him to arrange a potential "private wedding" to a Muslim heart surgeon she called her "soul mate", rather than to Dodi Fayed.

The 49-year-old former servant, who lectures potential butlers in Florida, said the closeness of his relationship with Diana meant he acted as a "hub" for her friends and had unrivalled knowledge of what was going on.

Mr Burrell, who was referred to by the princess as being her "rock", told a packed Court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London that her relationship with Hasnat Khan, a senior cardiologist who had been Diana's lover for 18 months until just before her death with Dodi Fayed in August 1997, had been so serious he was about to be given his own room at Kensington Palace.

Mr Burrell flatly contradicted claims by Mohamed Al Fayed, the proprietor of Harrods, that Diana and his son had been on the verge of announcing their engagement. Mr Burrell said the princess was "on the rebound" from her relationship with Mr Khan and had simply been enjoying the attention paid to her by Dodi Fayed.

The former butler, who worked for the Royal Family for 21 years and was previously on the staff of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, said he was certain that a marriage between Mr Fayed and Diana had not been discussed. "This was only a 30-day relationship," he said.

Mr Burrell insisted his intimate involvement with her daily existence gave him a unique overview of her life. He said: "I was at the hub of the wheel; I connected all the princess's friends and all her world. All the princess's friends did not know each other."

The former aide, who supplements his income from books, said the glitzy nature of her relationship with Dodi, from whom she received gifts of Bulgari jewellery including a diamond ring she wore as a "friendship ring", was in stark contrast with the time she spent with Mr Khan, who had been introduced to her sons and became part of the "fixtures and fittings" at Kensington Palace.

Mr Burrell said: "The princess said that this was her soul mate; this was the man she loved more than any other and it was a very deep, spiritual relationship. I witnessed it at first hand and they were very much in love."

The former butler said plans were in place to provide "quarters" for Mr Khan at the palace. Mr Burrell said: "She asked me if it was possible to arrange a private marriage between her and Hasnat." An approach was made to a Roman Catholic priest about a ceremony between a Christian and Muslim, the court heard. The jury was told that when Mr Khan, who met Diana when she visited the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, ended the relationship in July 1997, the princess was devastated and was "still holding a candle" for him when she died. The heart specialist now lives in Pakistan.

When asked about claims that the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales were behind a plot to murder the princess, Mr Burrell said it was impossible that either could have contemplated such a deed, but conceded that Prince Philip was "not known for diplomacy" and had written "sharp" letters to Diana at the time her divorce from the heir to the throne in 1992.

Under cross-examination from Michael Mansfield QC, for Mohamed Al Fayed, Mr Burrell said the princess cut off relations with her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, shortly before her death after she called her a "whore" for dating Muslim men. He said Diana asked him to listen in to phone calls from her mother, who died in 2004, adding: "She called the princess a whore and she said that she was messing around with fucking Muslim men. She was disgraceful and said some very nasty things."

The inquest continues.