As Britain's most senior woman judge was yesterday named as the person to preside over the inquest into the Princess of Wales's death, Diana's former butler has divulged the "final" secret with which he has been tantalising royal-watchers for years.
Paul Burrell, her loyal aide, claims that at the time of her death in August 1997 the Princess was wearing a £3,000 ring which she had been given by her lover Dodi Al Fayed. But, contrary to the theories of conspiracists, the Bulgari gold band studded with diamonds was not intended as an engagement ring and was worn on her right hand merely as a friendship ring.
In a new book, Burrell claims Diana told him about the ring in a phone call two days before her death in a high-speed car crash in Paris. "She made it clear this was not an engagement ring. It was nothing more than an addition to her collection of costume jewellery," he has written is in his book Diana, The Way We Were. "She said how romantic he [Dodi] had been and giggled with relief that the ring had not been more significant."
In the book Burrell says: "The world must stop believing Diana and Dodi were due to get married because that is simply not true."
He said that much as Dodi's father Mohamed Al Fayed has trumpeted the theory that the pair were deeply in love: "He must accept the Princess and Dodi had no more than a summer fling. In the final six phone calls she made to friends and in conversations she had with others in the weeks before her death, she made it clear it was not serious, that she was desperate to cut short her time with Dodi and return home to see William and Harry.
"As for wedding bells, her precise words to me were: 'I want another marriage like I want a bad rash'," he says in the book, which is being serialised by The Mail On Sunday.
Burrell's revelations come as it emerged that senior members of the Royal family could face questioning from Britain's highest-ranked female judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss when she begins the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. She has been brought out of retirement to hear the case and will draw up a list of witnesses who will have to give to next year's inquiry.
There is already speculation that those who will appear at the inquest will include Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. This follows repeated claims from Mohamed Al Fayed that Diana and his son Dodi were killed by British intelligence officials after a plot instigated by Prince Philip in the weeks before her death.
Burrell, who revealed that 10 months before her death the Princess wrote in a letter that someone was "planning an accident in my car, brake failure and serious head injury", has bolstered this theory. Burrell's claim was contained in an earlier book.
Prince Charles has so far been ruled out of appearing before the inquiry, but Dame Elizabeth may decide his presence is necessary.
Lord Stevens, the former head of the Metropolitan Police, who has already signalled that the inquiry into Diana's death was "far more complex that any of us thought", compiled the documents, whose contents have been kept secret.