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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 13:51 GMT
The butler's story: Ask a Royal expert

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  • Click here to read the transcript


    Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell has told how he received a dramatic warning about his safety from the Queen.

    The revelations come as he begins telling his side of the story in the Daily Mirror on Wednesday.

    Mr Burrell sold his story to the newspaper for 300,000 after he was cleared of three charges of stealing from Diana's estate.

    The trial collapsed after it was revealed he had told the Queen he was keeping some of Diana's possessions.

    Bob Houston, publisher of Royalty Monthly, answered your questions in a live forum.



    Transcript


    Newshost:

    Welcome to this BBC News Interactive Forum. Paul Burrell, the former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales has been giving details of his three hour conversation with the Queen, which brought about the collapse of his trial for theft.

    Mr Burrell told the Daily Mirror newspaper that the Queen told him - "there are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge".

    That's only one of many revelations in this story for which he was paid 300,000 by the Daily Mirror.

    Is Paul Burrell entitled to tell and indeed sell his story? We're taking your questions and you won't be surprised to hear there are many of them.

    With me here to answer them is Bob Houston, publisher of Royalty Monthly. Thanks for joining us Bob. Let's get to straight to the questions.

    Matt Davis: Do you think the Queen piped up to stop the butler revealing Royal secrets? I hope he tells all in a book.


    Bob Houston:

    No I don't think so. The timing was purely coincidence because in the five years since Diana's death, Paul Burrell has had many an offer for his story and he's turned them all down. And there he was, on trial at the Old Bailey - facing the hangman's noose, so to speak - and he still did not say anything about the conversation with the Queen and he wouldn't say anything about the Queen or Diana.

    It was only when the Palace themselves and I think probably Prince Charles realised the implications of the fact that Burrell had had that conversation with the Queen. Remember, it was five years ago, just after Diana's death. The Queen's a 76 year-old lady and you're asking a 76 year-old lady to remember a conversation of five years ago and also to realise its legal implications now in the light of the Burrell trial. I don't go for the conspiracy theory on it at all.


    Newshost:

    Monica: Aren't the newspapers fickle? One minute they are off with his head for Burrell and now they're his best friend. Do you think the public will never know the whole truth?


    Bob Houston:

    Well we'll never know the real truth about anything. But what people - and certainly people abroad - have to be careful of now is where these stories are coming from. Because Paul Burrell sold his story, such as we see, to the Daily Mirror, it means that every other tabloid newspaper in the country are busy painting Paul Burrell as a bad guy because they didn't get his story.

    So you have to be very selective about whom you believe - and in terms of revelations, there is certainly no salacious revelations at all in the Mirror so far.

    The only nugget that I would pick up from my point of view, as a professional Royal watcher, is the fact that Diana was considering moving to America. The rest of it is really nothing sensational as such.


    Newshost:

    Can I pick you up on this one point. When the Queen says almost - watch your back, there are forces out there we don't know about - what is that? Are you saying it has been misconstrued?


    Bob Houston:

    I don't think misconstrued - but how do we construe that particular phrase of the Queen's - it can either mean everything or nothing. Again, I don't think we're really ever going to know that.


    Newshost:

    Gerry Jones, London: Surely Paul Burrell is breaking the confidentiality clauses in his contract in order to sell his story? Isn't this a problem for him?


    Bob Houston:

    This confidentiality contract that they all sign - it comes up every so often but it has been broken so often, I think it lies in tatters.

    To me, the important thing about this is that I am certain that Paul Burrell has turned down much more money than he's getting from the Daily Mirror to tell his story over the years and he's said no.


    Newshost:

    Mike Harris: Don't you think the Royal Family have treated him like dirt and that now it's his turn?


    Bob Houston:

    I think Paul Burrell himself would not consider that he'd been treated like dirt.


    Newshost:

    Well with two years with that on your plate it's not the right treatment is it?


    Bob Houston:

    I think there is a lot of righteous anger over the collapse of this trial and the waste of public money etc. But I think that anger should be directed to the right places. For me the biggest culprits are the police. In my days as a cub reporter, I saw better prepared police prosecutions at a small police court after Saturday night punch-ups.

    The Royal Family has always been concerned about the implications of this trial. But Prince Charles was assured by the police - "we've got him bang to rights, guv." Total nonsense. He hasn't tried to sell anything.

    If there's going to be any levelling of scores in Paul Burrell's revelations in the Daily Mirror in the next four or five days, I think it will be with the Spencer family.


    Newshost:

    Robert Zaigue: Doesn't the Queen deserve to be respected and left alone about her conversation with Paul Burrell? The press will do anything to make money.


    Bob Houston:

    Well it wasn't the press who dug up the fact of the conversation - it was Buckingham Palace themselves who came forward and have been heavily criticised for coming forward as well because of the timing of it.

    You can either take the cynical approach and say - oh well, isn't it convenient, the Queen remembers this just before Paul Burrell is due to go into the witness box. But again, looking back on experience, if there's a toss up between the conspiracy theory and the cock-up theory - nine times out of ten, the cock-up theory wins.


    Newshost:

    Suzanne, Brighton: Do you think Paul Burrell is the best example of a loyal "servant" you have witnessed? Such dignity at every stage - no wonder somebody as overwhelmed as Diana held him in such high esteem.


    Bob Houston:

    Well I'd go along with that very, very much indeed. Here he was facing imprisonment and he still would not breach what he saw was a special confidence - he certainly built up with Diana and also the confidence and the loyalty he had to the Queen. Remember, he was a footman in the Queen's service for ten years before he joined Diana.

    There are those who will say, well that's taking loyalty to an absurdly nave extreme degree. But that's what the guy is like. Unfortunately in our media world we don't meet many people like that these days.


    Newshost:

    Richard Exworthy, Kingston, Surrey: Can you explain how was the Queen's intervention allowed by the Court without a sworn statement and the opportunity for cross-examination?


    Bob Houston:

    Among the outcomes of the collapse of the trial, there are several highly legal points such as that which, I think, have to be addressed. We're back to the fact that we do not have a written constitution as such. There are things which I think the legal profession will be looking at very, very thoroughly to just tidy the whole thing up.


    Newshost:

    Nobody has got an inside track on what the Queen is thinking now but this is a complete mess isn't it? She did the right thing in the end - she is pilloried for that. It's a bit of a no-win situation for the Royal Family.


    Bob Houston:

    Very, very much so. I think once the dust settles and I think there's an awful lot of dust and I think it will take a long time to settle. But once the dust settles the man and woman in the street will not be pointing the finger at the Queen, nor Paul Burrell.


    Newshost:

    Do you think it will have any implications for the monarchy's standing - its credibility now?


    Bob Houston:

    In the light of a fantastically successful Golden Jubilee in the year which was far more spectacularly successful than most people could have predicted, there has to be some egg left on the monarchy's face after this.


    Newshost:

    Will it be against the Queen herself? Or Prince Charles?


    Bob Houston:

    I don't see it as being a rallying call for the rise of Republicanism. Actually, Queen Victoria had much more trouble with Republicanism than the House of Windsor has ever had.


    Newshost:

    Leigh Cranmer: Is Paul Burrell now letting the world know what the Royal family is really like? How can he keep his promise of discretion?


    Bob Houston:

    What does he have to tell? This is where we get into the tabloid war going on - there are allegations that Diana did this and Diana did that - those things did not come from Paul Burrell. Those things came from the great unknown "sources close to".

    That's why readers have to be - certainly readers in Britain - very careful about what they're reading and especially where they're reading it.


    Newshost:

    But the first part of the questions asks: Is Paul Burrell now letting the world know what the Royal family is really like?

    Do you think that we're getting a distorted or fair picture of the Royal Family?


    Bob Houston:

    Paul Burrell isn't really telling us much about the Royal Family, so far. In his piece in the Mirror today, he's talking about his conversation with the Queen and that really is all.

    That is why I advise people to be very careful and look where you're reading all this material.


    Newshost:

    If you take the Mirror article on its own, do you think this is a fair and honest account of what happened?


    Bob Houston:

    I think so - why should he fabricate it?


    Newshost:

    Louise Reilly: Do you think he was right to sell his story? Have his morals gone out the window with his cheque book journalism?


    Bob Houston:

    As I said earlier, he's certainly been offered a lot more money. But as I say, what story has he sold? So far all we've seen in the Mirror is the outline and much more detail of the conversation with the Queen.

    I certainly don't think we're going to see any salacious stuff about Diana, the Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles or whatever. He certainly won't do it - if it's there to be written about - again we don't know.


    Newshost:

    A few comments now. The first from P. Hill: I think it is disgusting how the Royal Family have acted ever since Diana died. Isn't it about time someone stood up to them? Paul is probably the one, his loyalties should be with himself and his family, it looks like the Royal Family would have let him rot in jail rather than stand up and tell the truth.

    And another one here from L. Baerentzen: I believe he was right to sell the story and it will have a tremendous effect on the public's view of the monarchy.

    And a further one from Leigh, Enfield: Isn't the Queen in an impossible position over this story?


    Bob Houston:

    Very much so - a totally impossible position. She's in a no-win situation - a no-win situation doesn't describe it adequately enough.

    In terms of Burrell selling his story - he has felt that the air has to be cleared over certain aspects that have come up in the course of the trial. He hasn't really gone into anything other than that.

    Again, I repeat the warning to people to be very careful and check where you're reading the allegations about Paul Burrell.

    We were told this morning, in some papers, that Diana wanted to sack him and he grovelled at Diana's feet. You've got to be very careful where you're reading these allegations.


    Newshost:

    Jan: I think Paul Burrell would have been right to sell his story about the trial but I feel he has gone further than that in revealing details about Diana. Do you think he is betraying her trust?


    Bob Houston:

    My response to that is what has he revealed about Diana? Paul Burrell has revealed nothing about Diana. Back to what I said earlier, be careful about all these allegations about what Burrell has said about Diana - be careful where you are reading them because Paul Burrell has said nothing about Diana to anybody. He might have said something to the Daily Mirror - we don't know yet - maybe that will come up in the next two or three days. But he has said nothing, as I understand it, to anybody so far about Diana.


    Newshost:

    But in essence, you think he's done the right thing?


    Bob Houston:

    I feel he's been driven into a corner and I think reluctantly he has sold his story to the Daily Mirror. I still think that what many people consider absurd and nave loyalty - I think that is just what the guy is about.


    Newshost:

    Well have to end it there. Thanks for joining us, Bob Houston. Many thanks for your questions and apologies for not being able to fit in everyone's e-mails. Goodbye.


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