A Royal Duty is the book that tells the story of the butler to the world's arguably most famous woman - Princess Diana. Paul Burrell served the Royals for twenty-one years and this is his account of the life and times of the Windsor's from a servant's perspective.
He started young as an eighteen-year-old footman in 1978 at Buckingham Palace. In the space of just a year, he was appointed as the personal footman of the Queen and held that position for a further ten years.
I imagined A Royal Duty would be a 'warts and all' depiction of the royal household with all sorts of anecdotes, stories and titbits. Whilst there are some, it cannot be said that the book is liberally peppered with them.
Princess Diana is depicted as a caring, fun-loving, flawed and troubled individual who seems to only ever have wanted to do right, but was often seen to do wrong in the eyes of not just the Windsors but of the Spencers and the media. In fact, despite all the supposed evidence to the contrary, the Windsors come out of this book maybe not smelling of roses but certainly smelling much better than some might of imagined.
Certainly, the Queen is depicted as a very fair individual and Prince Philip is also depicted as going out of his way to rectify the hurt and damage caused by the royal couple's separation, even if his early letters to the Princess were perhaps a little strong. Prince Charles comes across as a stickler for routine and procedure and can be seen as being perhaps a little cold at times and callous, although he is mostly portrayed favourably.
It is the Spencer's, (Diana's blood relatives), who are the most tarnished by this book. Whilst it could be argued that following his trial Burrell might have an axe to grind with the Spencer's, it seems as though there is more than enough valid evidence here to blacken their name. They come across as being cold, uncaring and, it has to be said, quite greedy. Frances Shand Kydd, (Diana's mother), is depicted as an estranged, bitter old woman who reduced her daughter to tears following a row over the telephone. Her appearance at the trial portrays her as icy, cold and calculating.
Burrell is at his most devastating when he tears into the speech given by Charles Spencer, (Diana's brother), at her funeral. He exposes the speech and what it contains to the reality of what really happened between Diana in her relationship with her brother and the hypocrisy of his words. He also exposes the crass nature of the veiled insults and slights made against the royal family in the speech.
It is the almost machiavellian power games that take place behind closed doors at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund that is particularly galling. The devilish machinations of the men in suits and Diana's sister as they seek to take control over the running and direction of the charity is upsetting. In particular, the way Burrell and several other staff closest to Diana, who knew better than anyone else how the Princess would have wanted things to be run, were sidelined and then kicked out. One can begin to understand Burrell's frustration, anger and desire to tell the truth.
Diana's real family, (Burrell suggests), were her immediate circle of friends who were very trusting, reliable and supportive to her and would have provided a very strong character defence in Burrell's trial, had it gone ahead. As for Burrell's guilt or innocence with regard to the alleged stealing of royal property, I'm inclined to take his word for it. I suppose the only people who really know the truth are perhaps Burrell and the Princess herself. In my view, I'm inclined to believe Burrell when he says that the contents of his house were gifts and gratuities, (others may be more sceptical). Certainly, the events surrounding the Burrell affair make interesting reading and you will have to make your own mind up as to whether the collapse of the trial was an attempt by the establishment to cover up a far greater scandal.
The only gripe I have with A Royal Duty is that, anyone who has a passing interest or knowledge of the Princess's life will already know much of what is recounted here. I think that had Burrell been more canny he would have kept his own diary of the events over the years so that this book would have been more meatier and could have stretched to more than one volume. For those with little or no knowledge, I would suggest A Royal Duty as a great introduction to the life of the Princess.
More than anything else, A Royal Duty is a very long love letter to a Princess. Diana's legacy will point to this book as the ultimate validation of her sweethearted sincerity and kind nature. She is seen as a young woman thrown out of her depth into a world that turned her reality into a global goldfish bowl. Her growing humanitarianism around issues as diverse as landmines and AIDS show a woman who was finally realising her destiny as a force for good in the world, only to be tragically cut short at the tender age of 36. We can only ponder about what more she could have achieved had we been blessed with her presence a little while longer.
I give A Royal Duty