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Ask Jeeves, he?ll gladly tell all!

Despite controversies, Princess Diana?s butler Paul Burrell?s 'tell-all' book is an eulogy to the extent of almost canonising her.

india Updated: Dec 12, 2003 15:24 IST

A Royal Duty
Paul Burrell

Penguin
2003
Biography
Price: £ 12.75
Pages: 416
Hardcover

A tell-all book seems hardly the royal duty Princess Diana had in mind when she requested Paul Burrell be moved to Kensington Palace as her butler. Burrell obviously thought otherwise and had no qualms about sharing his Boss’ confidences with anyone willing to spend £ 12.75 for almost 400 pages of gibberish. There aren’t even any pretty pictures to make up for the lack of content.

The book eulogises Diana to the extent of almost canonising her. Thank God the English are Anglicans! We are told that Diana “experienced a spiritual awakening” when she went to visit Mother Teresa’s home for the dying in Calcutta in 1992. “The princess viewed those women as saints. She never considered herself as one...” says the faithful butler. She was obviously less deluded than he was. The fact that his duties included spying on Prince Charles, facilitation of royal adultery, smuggling journalists hidden under rugs to Kensington Palace and giving false alibis does not seem to tarnish the princess’ memory.

The Boss could do no wrong. If she did, it was always someone else’s fault. She had a gaggle of suitors because she was lonely. Dodi Al Fayed was just a fling, she was swept off her feet by his extravagant lifestyle. Diana’s jealous spying happened because Prince Charles is not open with her. Her “charm offensive” to woo Fleet Street was to “avenge her husband’s public admission of adultery.” Burrell even accuses Martin Bhashir of “tapping the princess’ vengeful streak” in BBC’s Panorama interview, even though her smudged-mascara look on the show established her as “the queen of people’s hearts”. Diana had then complained about there being “three people in our marriage.” James Hewitt? Well, saints can sin, but when they do, butlers look the other way.

Burrell was obviously flattered by her dependency and he was eager to be there for her, forever. Even his family is not spared. “Paul, ring our boys and ask them to come up,” the princess would say when she wanted to hear the sound of the “small people”. It made Burrell’s wife Maria complain more than once, “She’s got you by your balls” and again, “She’s got you up there and now she’s got my boys.” A smug Burrell is actually flattered at this. “It was as if I was caught in the middle of family politics between an ex-wife and a new girlfriend,” he writes.

It’s this familiarity with royalty that became Burrell’s bane. A fourth of the book is about the butler as a tragic hero. He says he was falsely accused of stealing the dead princess’ possessions by her family, the Spencers, who are everything the princess wasn’t. His dislike for the key prosecution witnesses is obvious: Diana’s brother Earl Spencer is a pompous hypocrite preoccupied with one-upmanship with the Windsors, her mother Frances Shand Kydd is a shrew whose favourite accessory was a bottle of wine, sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale is an angel-turned-witch who glibly lies at Old Bailey to frame the loyal butler.

Why? Because they are madly jealous of Burrell, who was closer to the princess than her family could ever be. The butler admits that Diana liked Lady Sarah — it was official, as she accompanied Diana on many foreign trips — but insists that her nature soured after Diana’s dealth.

In her last letter to him, Diana calls him a “tower of strength” — Dr Freud would have loved this one — and Burrell clearly outdoes her in mush: “I know what we had. In know the depth of what we shared. I know the future we were heading to...” He just needs to wear pink and pearls and Dame Cartland would have an heir!