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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 11:45 GMT
The man Diana trusted to the end
Paul Burrell
Acquitted: Diana's closest confidant
Paul Burrell, who has been acquitted of theft, rose from humble origins to be the closest male confidant of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Paul Burrell was not the only person in Diana's troubled life to earn the description of being her "rock".

As the late Princess of Wales's mother, Frances Shand Kydd, told the Old Bailey shortly before the collapse of Mr Burrell's trial on charges of stealing, "it is a term she used for many people".

Princess Diana
Diana viewed Paul Burrell as her "rock"
But there is no doubt he enjoyed a close and trusting relationship with the late princess during the years he served as her butler

Now 44, Paul Burrell grew up a long way from the pomp and finery of the royal household, in the former Derbyshire mining village of Grassmere.

His Sunday school teacher, Margaret Hardy, remembers him as a shy, retiring boy who never abandoned his roots.

"I would trust him with my life. He's such a caring person. We could not believe anything like this of Paul," she said of his arrest. "The village are all behind him 100%."

Paul Burrell with his Royal Victorian Medal
Paul Burrell was honoured for his service to the palace
The son of a lorry driver, Paul Burrell settled on a royal career at an early age, following a family trip to see the Changing of Guard at Buckingham Palace. He told his parents: "I want to work here one day."

It might not have happened but for the wily intervention of his mother, who later secretly destroyed a job offer from the cruise ship operator Cunard, leaving him with the one from the palace.

Mr Burrell entered the royal household in 1976 as a trainee footman and within a year was appointed personal footman to the Queen.

In 1984 he married Maria, then a maid to Prince Philip, and they have two sons, Alexander and Nicholas.

He was just so highly professional and she very much appreciated that

Larna Marks
The couple both joined the staff of the Wales's in 1986 and were given jobs at Highgrove in Gloucestershire - he as butler, she as a maid and dresser.

The royal manservant stayed with Diana throughout her marriage break-up.

Indeed, the princess wrote two words when asked what she wanted to salvage from her broken marriage: "Paul Burrell".

Close friend

In the years the followed, Diana increasingly came to rely on her butler.

He was the only member of her staff to travel with her to Angola, where she campaigned against landmines, and his title did not fully reflect his de facto role as Diana's closest male confidant.

Paul Burrell and Princess Diana
Paul Burrell with Princess Diana on Angolan trip
It was a stressful job. Mr Burrell complained about his hours and talked of getting a better paid position overseas.

Had he done so, he would have been greatly missed, according to one of the princess's closest friends, the American fashion designer Larna Marks.

"She often spoke about how reliable he had been, how professional he was and how he was her rock. He was just so highly professional and she very much appreciated that," said Ms Marks.

'Turn clock back'

When the princess died in a car accident in Paris, it was Mr Burrell who destroyed the clothes she had been wearing at the time. He was said to be devastated, in a state of despair and possibly suicidal.

Paul Burrell led Diana's memorial fund
Two years later, he said if he could have one wish, "it would be to put the clock back and for everything to be like it was before she died".

But Mr Burrell continued to serve Diana's memory. He was asked to spearhead the Diana Memorial Fund, the charitable foundation set up as a legacy.

"I tried to protect the princess during her lifetime and now I am trying to protect her memory," he said.

And in September 1997 he was awarded the Royal Victorian Medal by the Queen in recognition of his service to the Royal Family and the Princess of Wales.

Post-Diana role

Before his arrest on charges of stealing, he been in demand for after-dinner speaking and had launched a writing career, penning a cookery and etiquette book about how to entertain in royal style.

He also added to his portfolio a newspaper column and magazine articles offering advice on dinner parties minus "snobbery".

That new post-Diana role has been on hold since his high profile arrest 20 months ago.

In a recent letter to a friend, Paul Burrell wrote of how he would eventually have his say, in a dignified way and the truth would be told. If and when he does, it may well prove to be a compelling read.

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