Burrell, Paul (Interview)

THE PLOT in the never-ending royal family soap opera took a sordid twist recently, as the beleaguered monarchy faced explosive allegations and intimate revelations by two former servants. First on the scene was Paul Burrell, former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales, with A Royal Duty, a new book that gives a behind-closed-doors glimpse of the Windsors. Burrell, self-proclaimed confidante to Diana, nearly ended up behind bars after being accused of stealing some of the princess's property after her death. The one-time footman to Queen Elizabeth II suffered public humiliation and apparent abandonment by the royals after his arrest in January 2001. He was exonerated when the monarch suddenly remembered during his trial, two years into his ordeal, that she was aware he had taken certain items into his possession for safekeeping.

The second was George Smith, a one-time royal servant who, according to London tabloids, witnessed an incident involving Prince Charles and another royal servant. Charles' former aide Michael Fawcett sought, and won, a court order to prevent the publication of details of the alleged occurrence. Smith, employed by Charles during the 1990s, also claims to have been raped by a servant in Charles's household. According to the newspapers, Smith told Diana, in taped interviews, about the alleged incident involving her husband, as well as his own rape (a subject raised in Burrell's book). A spokesman for Charles dismissed the story as "ludicrous," and, in an unprecedented move, went on to describe the prince's accuser as an unreliable alcoholic. Amid the furor, Burrell spoke by telephone with Senior Writer SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER.

Why did you write A Royal Duty?

I'm not a bitter and twisted man. No. It was just meant to correct the untruths that have been told about the princess over the years. I'm still very loyal to the Queen, and to the princess, of course. Let's face it - a lot of people feel the royals are so detached from normality they're not human. Well, I've debunked that by saying the Queen is a wonderful Christian lady who loves her dogs, takes great pride in her staff and is tolerant.

Haven't you broken an unspoken code of conduct for butlers?

I wasn't a butler. Toward the end of my working life, I was much more than that. I was a private secretary, a personal assistant, a dresser, sometimes, a driver, a go-between, an errand boy. And professional conduct - well, the princess encouraged me to be open and honest and true. As time went by, she trusted me more and more.

Prince William certainly feels betrayed.

Yeah, he issued a statement. But that statement came from Clarence House, the home of Camilla Parker Bowles and the Prince of Wales. Now, I don't blame them for that. I love those boys. I would do nothing to hurt them. And the book is not a betrayal; it is not a kiss-and-tell. It is an accurate, historical account.

I'm sure there've been some very interesting conversations at Buckingham Palace. There's a huge spin campaign to rehabilitate Camilla in the public's eyes. Perhaps I've damaged that to some extent by telling the world that even the Duke of Edinburgh said to the princess, "How could anyone in their right mind leave you for Camilla?"

You describe how Diana befriended street prostitutes. How would she have met them?

She regularly took a shortcut home to Kensington Palace. She'd see the girls on the street corners; she'd stop, wind her window down and ask how they were. One winter, she gave a girl £50 and said, 'You look freezing cold. Why don't you go and buy a coat? But I want to see the coat the next time I come around."

Are you obsessed with Diana?

A lot of people have said that, but can I swap that word for passion? Many people thought our relationship was unhealthy and wrong. I was a servant. Who did I think I was? But, you know, I was just doing my duty. I was doing what she asked of me.

Will you profit financially from the book?

Yes, I will. I'm not embarrassed about that. Remember, for two years or more I had not one penny of income. As a father and a husband that pained me, because my career, before the police knocked on my door, was taking off. I was a daytime television presenter. I had landed some lucrative deals for advertising campaigns. All that disappeared. So I'm putting back what was taken from me before that nonsense happened.

In your book, you write that the princess taped an interview with George Smith, the servant at the heart of the latest royal scandal. How credible is he?

The princess certainly believed him when he told her his story. I knew of the story of him [allegedly] being raped by a male member of staff. I had no idea there was more. Perhaps some of this was on the tape that disappeared before my court case. It was in the princess's apartment. That tape is missing. The last time Lady Sarah McCorquodale [Diana's sister] and I saw it, it was in a wooden box which went to storage. And then the next time I saw the box was in my court case, and the box was empty.

According to your book, Diana pleaded with Charles to dismiss that male staff member, but he refused.

The princess couldn't understand why the prince would not investigate it further. He told her not to listen to servants' gossip and tittle-tattle.

Did Diana really have nine lovers?

I said they were suitors. When you're the most beautiful woman in the world, of course you have a string of male admirers. I didn't tell any incidents attached to any one of them.

One of Bryan Adams's former girlfriends asserts the singer was one lover. Is that true?

Bryan is a very good friend of mine and I wouldn't dream of discussing his private life. If one of his former girlfriends wants to discuss her agenda, then I can't stop that.

You quote a letter from Diana stating her fears about a plot to kill her in a car accident, to clear the way for Charles to marry Camilla. Why did you not report that threat at the time?

If I went to the police that would be the end of my job because she didn't trust the police. Why do you think she got rid of her security? Because they were running messages back to the establishment telling them where she was going, who she was seeing, what she was doing. She wanted to be safe, but she wanted her freedom, too.

You also describe a lengthy conversation with the Queen after the death of Diana and a warning from her to be careful.

In that meeting, we discussed many, many things. She said to be aware, there are forces at work in the country of which we have no knowledge. I took that as a clear warning. We have internal security, MI5, and I'm sure they listen to telephone calls. To be quite honest, they're probably listening to this one. During the course of my trial, 20 lines I regularly phoned were tapped. We're not talking about James Bond here. It's fact, not fiction. The internal security system listens to people who are perceived as a threat to the country.

Were you - are you - concerned about your safety?

Yes. I feel sometimes that the blame is resting on my shoulders for the current crisis in the country. I can't help it if [alleged] victims of male rape in Kensington Palace decide to sell their stories. And I can't help it if people decide they want to cover up these happenings within royal households.

Maclean's November 24, 2003