Page last updated at 02:06 GMT, Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Butler reveals secrets at Diana inquest

By Daniela Relph
BBC royal correspondent

I've been at court for virtually every day of the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed.

Paul Burrell
Mr Burrell posed for the media outside the High Court in London

When you've been here for this long, you can sense if it's going to be an interesting day from the start.

Monday was going to be one of those days.

Paul Burrell has hardly been media shy over the years.

First, the books. Then the reality TV show appearances. And now the new life in the United States trading on his years of royal service.

Paul Burrell - former butler - is clearly a lucrative business.

But his turn as a witness at this inquest would be very different from what had gone before.

He'd be giving evidence under oath - the only time we'd see him deliver his version of events from a witness box.

And in court 73 of London's Royal Courts of Justice, he would be challenged in a way he hadn't been previously. He wouldn't have an entirely sympathetic audience.

Softly spoken

And so, wearing a dark suit, crisp green tie and sporting a Florida tan, it was a slightly nervous looking Mr Burrell who slipped into court just a couple of minutes before he was due to start his evidence on Monday.

He glanced around the room, catching the eye of some familiar faces in the press gallery.

For some at least, Princess Diana remains something of an obsession and here was a man who knew her better than most

The members of the public who had secured a ticket for the main event couldn't take their eyes off him.

For some at least, Princess Diana remains something of an obsession and here was a man who knew her better than most.

When the coroner said "I call Mr Paul Burrell", the former butler to Diana took a deep breath and headed to the front of the court and his place in the witness box.

He sat facing the jury, his hands clasped, and spoke softly. Throughout his evidence you had to strain to hear him.

Genuine insight

It began well enough - a comfortable start on comfortable territory. His early years working for the Queen, his family and his relationship with Diana.

"I was at the hub of the wheel and everyone else was on a spoke," he said. "I connected all the princess's friends and all her world."

This inquest has already proved an ordeal for many of those who have come to give evidence, as Mr Burrell is finding out

Genuine insight was given into the princess's relationship with the heart surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan, the man Mr Burrell said she wanted to marry.

"The princess said he was her soulmate. She said he was the man she loved more than any other and that they were very much in love."

And, on the idea that any member of the royal family was behind a plot to kill Diana - not true, according to Mr Burrell.

There were uncomfortable moments too.

'Messing around'

None more so than when Mr Burrell reluctantly recounted how he was asked to eavesdrop by the princess on a telephone conversation with her mother, Frances Shand Kydd.

He said Mrs Shand Kydd had been derogatory about her daughter and accused her of "messing around" with Muslim men.

He said: "She called the princess a whore and said she was messing around with effing Muslim men."

And it got personal, at the hands of Michael Mansfield QC, representing Mr Al Fayed's father, Mohammed Al Fayed.

Mr Mansfield wanted more from Mr Burrell than he seemed willing to give.

Mr Mansfield wanted diaries, journals and letters - evidence to back up Mr Burrell's claim that he knew secrets others didn't.

The coroner even asked Mr Burrell to travel overnight to his other home, in Cheshire, to produce some of those private documents.

"I'm beginning to feel that I'm on trial," Mr Burrell told the court.

He isn't of course on trial. No-one is.

But this inquest has already proved an ordeal for many of those who have come to give evidence, as Mr Burrell is finding out.



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