Focus: Diana, the Princess of impending doom

The tale of the Princess and the butler is far more than soap opera. The latest episode reveals a lying prince, a lecherous duke, and threats in the Palace - adding yet more weight to the case against the House of Windsor. The republican writer Beatrix Campbell explains how the ultra-royalist servant and his tragic employer still represent the greatest threat to the monarchy
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The Independent Online

Is it a betrayal? Paul Burrell is adamant that his ongoing revelations about life with Diana, Princess Wales, are not an abuse of her memory, whatever her sons might say. But the extracts from his book, A Royal Duty, scatter shrapnel around the already ruined reputation of the Windsors. Those who deem this to be merely tittle-tattle, soap opera or, worse, the bile of a butler scorned still haven't got it: even in death, the Princess has presented the greatest danger to the monarchy in modern times.

Is it a betrayal? Paul Burrell is adamant that his ongoing revelations about life with Diana, Princess Wales, are not an abuse of her memory, whatever her sons might say. But the extracts from his book, A Royal Duty, scatter shrapnel around the already ruined reputation of the Windsors. Those who deem this to be merely tittle-tattle, soap opera or, worse, the bile of a butler scorned still haven't got it: even in death, the Princess has presented the greatest danger to the monarchy in modern times.

She knew the establishment regarded her as its enemy. The establishment was right. The establishment regarded the butler as an enemy. It was right about that, too. Not because either the Princess or the butler was a republican - on the contrary they gave themselves to the service of the royal system - but because both understood that, as its servants, they knew its secrets. By telling their stories they have dared to challenge the absolute power invested in that dangerous political cult, the Royal Family, to determine what we are permitted to know about it.

No other person or party in our political firmament has risked throwing the light of public scrutiny on the malevolent matrix that is the monarchy - the institution par excellence in which class, sex, property and power meet. The royals are not the "best of British", and it is to be hoped that the Prime Minister and his court didn't mean it when they came up with that line: they're the worst. The royals were prepared to see poor Paul Burrell destroyed, and stopped themselves at the eleventh hour only so that they could stop him from sharing the secrets he kept. Clearly, these were important enough to do damage. They confirmed either cruelty or corruption in the family firm.

Those who complain that Diana should be left dead and buried are either royal sycophants or smuggies who sniff that the revelations about royal domestic life are, well, domestic. But the histories of royal families blur the polarisation between public and private. Royal lives are always lived in public.

For a start, these people can't take care of themselves, which places them in a precarious position of simultaneous dependence and dominance. That is a dialectic that works only if the servants really believe in their supremacy. More importantly, their very purpose is to embody personal sovereignty, an anti-democratic dominion that compromises the domestic as well as the national landscape. The Windsors are about nothing if not the personal performance of power. Which is why, in the absence of a parliamentary political critique of the royal regime, the revelations of spouses and servants are so dangerous.

Who cares if Burrell emerges a little richer from his revelations? They enrich our collective knowledge about a system that deserves to die. Burrell's saga is supported by other royal commentators and confidants: Simone Simmons, a healer, was invited by Diana to listen in to a call made to Kensington Palace by someone described to her as "one of Charles's men". This was just after the Princess had returned from Angola as an envoy for the international movement against landmines.

To the rage of the establishment, and against the advice of the ailing Conservative government, she had accepted an invitation by the Red Cross to lend herself to the coalition campaigning against landmines. According to Simmons, one of Charles's men with "a really plummy voice" warned the Princess early in 1997, "you don't know what you're meddling with" and "if you carry on, anything could happen ... accidents happen".

So, we discover that in 1996 she felt most vulnerable when at her most powerful and political. She felt most endangered when she was engaged in real politics; just when she was finding a radical voice beyond her class and coterie. She found purpose by lending herself to philanthropy, but by now philanthropy had been politicised; good works were often dangerous works. Servicing the poor was radical; affirming people with Aids took guts, and campaigning against landmines took on the warmongers, the arms trade, and, of course, the Government itself.

According to Burrell, Diana was already alarmed about her personal safety. In the early Nineties she was certainly worried about surveillance and snooping. In the year before her death she feared, with good reason it seems, for her life. Now polls show that the majority of the population suspect that she could have been the victim of a killer conspiracy. We don't necessarily need a smoking Post-It to confirm her - and our - concerns. That it is thinkable that the woman was killed is eloquent enough.

Burrell could not be clearer. Towards the end of 1996 she called him "up from the pantry" on one of her "down days" and told him she was putting her thoughts down on paper. She was "worried about her safety and it was preying on her mind". She dated her script and gave it to Burrell, who says: "It was, in a way, her insurance for the future." Her letter read: "I am sitting here at my desk today in October, longing for someone to hug me and encourage me to keep strong ... this particular phase in my life is the most dangerous." She identified the source. She feared "an accident" waiting to happen.

Burrell also had his warning from the highest authority: the Queen herself. He offers a poignant account of the audience that followed his request for a meeting to tell her he would personally keep Diana's documents safe and would not allow relatives to shred them. They stood for "at least" 90 minutes. The Queen is well known for her Dixon of Dock Green faculty for standing. They were by her desk strewn with red boxes. They weren't alone, apparently. A page was present, to whom she gave a bouquet of flowers brought by Burrell. She cautioned Burrell to beware "powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge". Who did she mean, Darth Vader?

Mark Bolland, the former public relations aide to Prince Charles, last week reported that the Prince of Wales wanted him to visit Burrell to "find out what he'd done", and perhaps make a deal. But Bolland was blocked, we're told, by "forces stronger than the Prince of Wales". Who does he mean? The secret state? Buckingham Palace?

Burrell comments that the secret services are like the royal household. "They are," he says, "given carte blanche to act in whatever way is considered to be in the best interests of the state and monarchy." Of course, her calls were bugged, he says: "It is a matter of routine that members of the Government and the Royal Family are monitored." Diana did not have police protection. She "didn't trust the police as tools of the state. In fact, she had a deep-seated suspicion about anything and everything to do with the state".

The former butler amplifies what we already know about the unreconstructed patriarchs of the aristocracy. Earl Spencer, Diana's younger brother, had spiteful things to say about the mental health of his sister, a woman who, by then, he hardly knew, but who had mothered him when he was her baby brother. But later, after her death, he would champion her in his Westminster Abbey elegy.

Did this abandoned, neglected rich kid ever forgive her for failing to go on caring for him? Did he ever think of taking care of his sisters when he inherited all the family loot? Or did they all assume that Diana's royal status would lend them protection? Did he expect that protection to be extended even after he spurned her desperate request for sanctuary somewhere around the family estate? What does it do to a man to have the power to deny his sister just because he can, just because he's a man, because everything in his history, and the history of his class, tells him that the son and heir's wants and needs have priority over his sister's? Well, we know: patriarchy makes a man like Charles Spencer.

It made Charles Windsor, too. Another pointless prince for whom everything, including his wife, serviced his mission to be king. Burrell reminds us that nothing was more important than that: Charles screamed at him to lie, yes, lie, to his wife about where he was, and with whom. Why should the servant do as he was told? Because the screamer was the future king, that's why.

This poor boy had been mothered by a woman who decided she would reign over us as if she were her father, George VI: a woman ruling in the most patriarchal institution in Britain. Her intemperate husband, Prince Philip, supplements the patriarchal model by being, by all accounts, an irascible playboy and philanderer.

Burrell tries to rehabilitate the Duke of Edinburgh's reputation by reporting a strangely intense correspondence with Diana. "What stunned the Princess was when Prince Philip raised the thorny issue of her husband's mistress." Philip reckoned Charles felt he'd made "a considerable sacrifice", which Diana didn't seem to appreciate, by dumping Camilla Parker Bowles. He inadvertently confirms what many have always suspected: that they all knew about Camilla, that they all knew that first one woman, then another, was "sacrificed" to the ambition of this unhappy Prince.

But there is more. Burrell would like us to think that Philip was being supportive when he creepily compared Diana and Camilla in the shagability stakes: Charles was "silly to risk everything with Camilla", he declared, and anyway, "I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla." Again confirming the Royal Family's complicity, he confessed: "We never dreamed he might feel like leaving you for her ... such a prospect never entered our heads."

Riveting as all this is for republicans and royalists alike, Burrell's book has distressed Diana's sons. As, of course, it would. Naturally, we understand how these young men want what they believe to be their private business to remain private. But it isn't just their business, although they don't appear to realise that yet.

If they were able to think about this without pressure (as we have the luxury of doing) they might see this story as an enhancement of society's understanding of their mother. They have no alternative, of course, but to want the revelations to be, as they put it, closed down. And presumably they know some of the things that Burrell has so far restrained himself from saying. Because to assimilate the truths of their mother's story would be psychologically dangerous. It would also endanger their relationship with their only parent. They can't afford that. Their father is what they've got. Their father hurt their mother. He - and now his sons - are enmeshed in a system that hurts men, women and children even as it gives them property and power.

The boys will never be allowed to do what the rest of us seek for ourselves out of such a calamity: to love and simultaneously criticise our parents, and sometimes to go cold on our parents while we try to make sense of them. After that we forget them, forgive them, like them, love them, or leave them. The Princes have been denied all such opportunities. They did, and do, love their mother; they have their own stories. They have dangerous knowledge, too, but their survival depends on keeping it to themselves. That's why the rest of us need to go on asking awkward questions about their, and our, business. And we should applaud anyone like Burrell who hints at the answers.

Beatrix Campbell is the author of 'Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy'.