Profile: Paul Burrell

Paul Burrell's latest sensational media outing is another reminder of the unique position he secured alongside Diana, Princess of Wales.

A trusted aide, friend and "rock" to the Princess, Burrell prided himself on never letting her down.

He first met Lady Diana Spencer in 1980 when she was wandering along a corridor at Balmoral looking lost and he had been working for the royal household for four years.

He guided her to a room and, the story goes, she engaged him in conversation and a friendship was born.

By the time she and the Prince of Wales split up, Burrell claims Diana was so attached to him that she put him "at the top of her list" when asked what she wanted to take from Highgrove.

Paul and his wife Maria, a former maid of the Duke of Edinburgh whom he married in 1984, both joined the staff of the Waleses in 1986 and were given jobs at Highgrove - he as butler, she as a maid and dresser.

He served the Princess until her death, working up to 16 hours a day, his duties ranging from washing her underwear to assisting with her communications with Buckingham Palace.

In four out of five of her last Christmases, he even spent the day with her instead of his own family, it was said.

Only constant figure

He became the only figure who remained constant throughout the last turbulent years of her life, and the pair were so close she termed him, affectionately, "Psychic Paul" for his apparent ability to read her thoughts.

He makes no attempt to mask his adulation for

Diana, referring to her as the "personification of style" and "my inspiration".

In fact, he and the Princess were so close as to prompt his wife to remark that there were three

people in the marriage.

When the Princess died, it was Burrell who flew home with her body and maintained an all-night prayer vigil over her coffin at Kensington Palace.

In the aftermath of her car crash in August 1997, he sank into an all-time low as he mourned the friend he claims dubbed him "my rock".

Burrell condemned the Princess's private secretary Patrick Jephson for writing a book

about her in 2000.

Book 'to fight for' Princess

Today he defended his own decision to publish as a demonstration of his continued devotion to Diana.

He said he had decided to write the book because someone had to "stand in the Princess's corner and fight for her".

Burrell, the son of a lorry driver, entered the royal household in 1976 as a trainee footman and within a year was appointed personal footman to the Queen.

After Diana's death he opened a shop near his home in Farndon called Paul Burrell Flowers & Gifts, and worked in it quietly while awaiting his trial in 2002.

He was acquitted of stealing items belonging to his former employer after it emerged that he had told the Queen of his intention to keep some papers.

What the butler saw

Despite declaring he would never reveal what the butler saw, Burrell talked about Diana at lucrative after-dinner speeches and wrote books and articles about how to entertain in royal style.

His work with the Princess was honoured by the Queen with a Royal Victorian Medal.

And he soon found his own way to honour her memory by becoming the public face of the charitable foundation set up in Diana's name

until 1999.

Burrell was born in the Derbyshire pit village of Grassmoor, near Chesterfield, in 1958.

The son of Coal Board lorry driver Graham Burrell, he grew up in a small terraced house in a mining community and recalls how his humble family had no bathroom and his mother used to wash him at the kitchen sink.

He and Maria have two sons, Alexander and Nicholas.

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