Magazine article The Spectator

The Butler's Done It Now

Magazine article The Spectator

The Butler's Done It Now

Article excerpt

The butler's done it now A ROYAL DUTY by Paul Burrell Penguin/Michael Joseph, L17.99, pp. 395, ISBN 0718147202

In all the uproar of indignation surrounding the publication of this book, Paul Burrell's riveting, hilarious and ultimately rather touching account of his time as a royal servant in general and butler to Diana, Princess of Wales, in particular, one curious fact has been obscured. He was, and appears to remain, so far, the most tremendous monarchist. Just as his late employer convinced herself that she could, if only she was permitted, be a shining force for good in the royal family and indeed the whole world, so Burrell believes that by breaking all the rules of loyalty and confidentiality he is actually doing his victims a service. Both of them, blinded by self-regard and publicity and short on common sense, can have had no idea of the amount of damage done.

Like all backstairs gossip, this book is shamingly enjoyable to read. It also has all the pleasures of an archetypal tale of how a northern lad of sterling qualities from humble origins finds his way to London to meet the Queen. Burrell was 18 when after a short spell at catering college where, we learn, he won a prize for sculpting the spire of Chesterfield church in margarine, he was taken on in 1976 as an under-butler in the silver pantry at Buckingham Palace. Within a year he had been promoted to be one of the Queen's personal footmen, where he felt he bonded with the monarch as they fed the corgis (Pedigree Chum and the occasional bit of left-over pheasant) together. He enjoyed the security, companionship and of course the perks of palace life (cheap gin and a room with a view down the Mall) and draws a respectful and rather charming picture of the Queen, hardworking, humorous and kind. Prince Philip, for a change, comes out rather well too. In 1984 Burrell married a spirited Irish girl, Maria Cosgrove, a housemaid on the Prince's staff. It was all too good to be true.

He first encountered Lady Diana Spencer when she stayed at the Palace during her engagement, and recalls a nervous girl seeking reassurance who found it easier to talk to the junior staff than to daunting court officials. As Princess of Wales, her need to make a special friend and ally of everyone around her continued; the Burrells were charmed, flattered and slowly drawn into her web. In 1987 a reluctant Burrell was winkled away from the Queen to join the Highgrove household as butler.

Temperamentally, the Princess of Wales disliked formality and all barriers of class and convention. Beguiling though this attitude undoubtedly was, it had its dangers; the rules of behaviour she disregarded, as she rushed in and out of the Burrells' cottage whenever it suited her, helping herself to coffee and hugging their two small boys, were designed for their protection as much as hers. …

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