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The Royal Butler: Trusted Servant or Thieving Scoundrel?

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Paul Burrell was Princess Diana’s personal butler, close friend and trusted confidant – so why was he discovered to be hoarding Diana’s dresses, photographs, postcards, crockery, paintings and other possessions in his house just a few short years after her death? Did Paul Burrell betray Princess Diana?

Paul Burrell’s arrest

On 18th January 2001, Paul Burrell was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives for the alleged theft of over 300 items belonging to the late Princess. As the press lapped up the story, the Royal Family remained strangely silent.

As the public grappled with the questions surrounding this case, people who knew Burrell on a personal level were convinced there had been a mistake. He was devoted to Diana – it just didn’t add up.

“Burrell was the only servant invited to attend the private burial and in 1998”

Burrell maintained his innocence. According to him, some of the items had been gifts, while others were the result of his attempting to protect Diana’s privacy by making sure her possessions did not fall into the wrong hands. 

The public was not convinced. Did Burrell ever plan on return these possessions to the Royal Family? Who was this man and what was his relationship with Diana?

Paul Burrell and Lady Diana

Paul Burrell was born into a northern, working-class family and had dreamed of entering Royal service since he was a boy. In 1976, Burrell got his wish when he entered the Queen’s service as a footman. 

Princess Diana first met him in 1980 during a trip to Balmoral Castle. Burrell happened to bump into the 19-year-old Diana Spencer – soon to be married to Prince Charles – as she tiptoed down a corridor, claiming to be lost.

Despite their different status, Burrell and Diana became friends and, when he got married, extended that friendship to include his wife Maria Cosgrove, a maid of Prince Philip’s. 

“Burrell was the one to put the Princess in her last dress when she died.” 

In 1986, Diana persuaded Burrell to leave the Queen’s service and join the Prince and Princess of Wales’ staff at Highgrove House, Gloucestershire. As the years went by, Burrell and Diana grew ever closer. As Diana’s fairy tale romance crumbled around her, Burrell was there to lend an understanding ear. When she was still married to Charles, Diana would wander away from the palace and spend time in the Burrells’ cottage, putting her feet up, nibbling on biscuits and enjoying the butler’s company.

When the Prince and Princess of Wales separated in 1992, Diana requested that Burrell, his wife and two children accompany her to her new residence in Kensington Palace. In 1996, when the divorce was finalised, Diana was stripped of her Royal title. 

This estrangement from the Windsors only drew her closer to Burrell, who she called ‘her rock’ and who even accompanied her on foreign trips.  Burrell was the one to put the Princess in her last dress when she died. 

Burrell was the only servant invited to attend the private burial and in 1998 he was invited to join the committee board for the Diana Memorial Fund.

How could such a close friend of Diana’s be accused of stealing from her? As Scotland Yard delved into Burrell’s personal life, they discovered something suspicious…

Was Paul Burrell guilty?

When Scotland Yard looked into Burrell’s bank account, they found a suspicious amount of money. Was he selling Diana’s items for a profit, or did the money have a more innocent explanation?  Or could Burrell simply have been trying to preserve the legacy of his late employer? 

So what happened during his infamous trial? Could a small mahogany box found in Burrell’s possession have contained shocking secrets about the Royal Family? Find out in Royal Inquest: Palace Timebomb, exclusively on True Royalty TV.

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