DALLAS — I entered the green room where the TV guests wait, and there, sitting in a chair, his collar unbuttoned, his face a bit pale, was Princess Di’s butler.
Paul Burrell has been all over the news lately. He penned a book about his life alongside the most famous woman in the world, including a letter she supposedly wrote suggesting someone might have her killed in a car crash.
The book has made him both reviled and celebrated. It is certainly making him money.
“You’ve got a tie on,” he said.
I looked down. Yes, I confirmed, I did.
“They told me casual. No tie.”
I shrugged. We were both guests on the same TV show. It is the first time, I believe, that I have outdressed a butler.
Burrell had several people with him, including his cowriter and a publicity person from the publishing house.
“You’re by yourself?” he said.
I’m not an entourage guy.
“I’ve seen your book,” he said.
I said I had seen his, too.
Manning the helm
Now, I have never been much on British royalty. To me, the soap opera of the royal family is simply England’s boredom with its lousy TV programs.
But I do admit, standing there next to him, I was intrigued. Here was a guy, chatting me up about ties, who not so long ago was chatting up Princess Di about her love life. She shared everything with him, her difficulties with Prince Charles, her divorce, her suitors. She once even called him “the captain of my ship — I am safe with you at the helm.”
You wonder what Charles made of that.
Burrell, the butler, said his children grew up with Diana’s sons, the little princes, William and Harry. Now, back in England, Harry and William were calling Burrell’s book “a cold and overt betrayal.”
“Yes, well,” Burrell told me, “they were too young to understand what was going on. When I get a chance to talk with them, I will explain.”
He also noted that since the princes’ statement, “my book sales have shot up. We’re at 455,000 copies in England and it hasn’t even come out yet!”
At that moment, he sounded less like a butler than a salesman.
He gave me a copy of the book and later, I read it. It is mostly a tribute to
“the Boss,” as he called her, with familiar compliments about her beauty, her courage, her selflessness.
The controversial letter is a tiny part of the story. But he had to know it would be all anyone talked about. Did Diana predict her death? Was she murdered? It has “made for tabloid” written all over it.
Now, it’s hard for me to believe someone orchestrated Diana’s demise, her late-night ride along a Paris highway, the drunken driver, the crash. Burrell asks why there has been no official inquiry? I asked if he had this letter all these years, why didn’t he come forward sooner?
“I couldn’t,” he said. He didn’t trust the police or the press. He wasn’t sure if he could trust the royal family, since he had been charged — but ultimately acquitted by the queen — of stealing mementos from his former boss.
“Put yourself in my shoes,” he said.
Well, that’s the problem. I can’t. I would never devote my life to a princess, to run when she said run, to fetch when she said fetch. I would never leave my family to be with hers. Burrell called it an “honor” and “a duty.”
I’d call it a really tough job.
I listened to him talk about his late-night heart-to-hearts with Diana. I read how he brought a black dress and shoes to the morgue the night she died. I heard that he was unemployable after his trial.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of him. Maybe he really was the captain of her ship. Maybe he’s just cashing in. All I know is, for one moment last week, he was a man without a tie, trying to hang onto the thing that made him special.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’ll sign “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Barnes & Noble in East Lansing.