Far from being mortified, it is difficult not to imagine the Princess of Wales raising a toast to her disloyal butler
Butlers were once expected to keep their mouths shut. They did, indeed, see a great deal — sometimes intimately sordid, pathetically comic things. But the ethics of service ensured loyalty in return for protection and trust. And the notion of “duty” bridged an unbridgeable class-divide. Such times are past now, for the Windsors at least. Another royal servant has blabbed. Mr Paul Burrell — once a footman to the queen and eventually butler to Diana, Princess of Wales — has called his book of revelations A Royal Duty. Burrell used to be the princess’s “rock”, with unique access to facts, documents as well as secrets of the heart, some of which, he now feels, ought to be put in the public domain in order to set the records straight.
This is not only a labour of love, but also a personal vendetta. The Windsors had once alleged — with their legendary nastiness — that Mr Burrell had stolen some of the princess’s possessions, pitching him into a traumatic legal battle. However, the case against him collapsed last year and Mr Burrell was acquitted. But there was not a whisper of regret from the royal family, not even from the young princes, now old enough to understand the value of graciousness. This then was the last straw for Mr Burrell, and his loyalty went flying out of the window — to land straight on the Daily Mirror’s bountiful lap. The spin doctors at the Palace — those “men in grey suits” — got William and Harry to express their heartfelt outrage. Burrell’s book was a “cold and overt betrayal”, which would “mortify” their mother, for whom “we feel we are more able to speak…than Paul”.
Yet, far from being mortified, it is difficult not to imagine the princess raising a toast in heaven to her disloyal butler. Diana herself was a skilful manipulator of her own image, unerringly controlling the signs by which the public might know her as she wished to be known. Impeccably forlorn in front of the Taj Mahal or studiedly artless in the Panorama interview, Diana understood, and suffered, the relationship between the icon and the voyeur. Her butler’s disclosures are a less enchanting version of the same canny exploitation of public appetite, made with an unsqeamish sense of its material benefits. When a truck-driver’s son from a Derbyshire pit-village ends up with an intimate and uniquely privileged access to the inner chambers of Kensington Palace, then resisting the headiness of knowledge and lucre would require more royal “protection” than the beleaguered Windsors could ever summon up.
Mr Burrell remembers catching, as a footman, a glimpse of the queen sitting in her crown and her “pink mule slippers”. On page 156 of A Royal Duty, the Prince of Wales throws a book at Mr Burrell for not lying to cover the prince’s visits to his lover’s house. It is sometimes the butler’s prerogative to let in — through the pantry-door, as it were — the daylight upon the magic of monarchy. A former trustee of the Diana Memorial Fund has declared on television that “William needs to step in and sort this out by putting Burrell back in his pantry where he belongs”. As Britannia flounders into the 21st century, clutching at her crown and her class system, the eternal footman holds her coat and snickers. It is time for her to be afraid.