LONDON – Finally, some star power.
Princess Diana’s “rock” and confidant, her devoted butler Paul Burrell, is listed to testify Monday at the inquest into her death and that of boyfriend Dodi Fayed.
Jurors at the inquest, now in its fourth month, have largely been hearing from police officers, investigators, medical professionals – and witnesses who have widely varying recollections about what happened in the seconds before, and the hours following, the car crash on Aug. 31, 1997.
Famous names have been bandied about, but Burrell – famous solely for his closeness to Diana – would be the first celebrity to appear in the witness box.
Burrell has emphatically rejected claims by Fayed’s father, Mohamed Al Fayed, that Diana was pregnant with Fayed’s child and the couple were on the brink of announcing an engagement when they died.
In his view, Diana’s summer fling with Fayed was intended to provoke the jealousy of Hasnat Khan, the heart surgeon with whom she had broken off a nearly two-year relationship less than two weeks before her affair with Fayed began. In an interview carried by several British newspapers Sunday, Khan said he would never publicly discuss the reason for their split.
In his book, “The Way We Were: Remembering Diana,” Burrell has quoted “The Boss,” as he called her, as saying in the last days of her life, “I want another marriage like I want a bad rash.”
Burrell is also responsible for producing some tantalizing support for Al Fayed’s claims that the couple were murdered – victims of a plot, Al Fayed has claimed, directed by Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth.
In 2003, Burrell disclosed a note which he says was written by the princess, expressing her fear of being killed.
“I am sitting here at my desk today in October, longing for someone to hug me and encourage me to keep strong and hold my head high. This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous. My husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for Charles to marry…,” the note said.
The note went on to claim that Charles wanted to marry Tiggy Legg-Bourke, his sons’ nanny.
Another of Diana’s confidantes, Lucia Flecha de Lima, told the inquest on Dec. 18 that she believed Burrell had forged the note. “He is capable of copying her handwriting,” she said.
Al Fayed’s legal team has yet to lay out a theory of how the couple might have been murdered, though it has raised the possibility that a bright flash of light blinded driver Henri Paul, or the possibility that agents had blocked the road in the Pont de la Alma tunnel, or that someone in a white Fiat Uno had shoved the couple’s heavy Mercedes car to the side.
As for the motive, Al Fayed’s lawyer Michael Mansfield has suggested that Britain’s arms industry or its supporters feared for their profits because of Diana’s campaign against land mines.
Richard Horwell, a lawyer for London’s Metropolitan Police, noted on Thursday that Prime Minister Tony Blair had announced on May 21, 1997, three months before Diana died, that his government was signing up to an international ban on mines.
French and British police concluded that the accident was due to Paul being over the legal alcohol limit, and driving too fast in an attempt to evade paparazzi photographers.
Burrell has disputed the idea that Diana was on the verge of becoming engaged to Fayed.
“The idea that she could fall out of love with Hasnat, then fall in love with the Harrods heir is an impossible notion for someone as vulnerable as she was,” Burrell wrote in his second book, “The Way We Were.”
“Everything she did was designed to hit home with Hasnat.”
At the end of 1996 or early 1997, Burrell has said, Diana had decided she wanted to marry Khan, the man she called “The One,” but he balked at her wish to go public with the relationship.
Burrell has written that Diana was captivated by Fayed’s company, “enthralled by his charm, excited at the novelty of his lavish romance. But ‘The One’ he most certainly was not.”
On Aug. 28, 1997, Burrell said he had a telephone conversation with Diana about the possibility that Fayed would propose and give her a ring.
“She didn’t want to accept it but didn’t want to offend Dodi and seem ungrateful,” Burrell wrote.
“I suggested she accept it and wear it on the fourth finger of her right hand. She thought that was a clever solution. … It was during this part of the discussion that she also told me words to the effect, ‘I need marriage like a bad rash.”‘
Fayed did give Diana a ring on Aug. 29, Burrell said, and Diana put it on her right hand.
“She said how romantic he had been, and she giggled with relief that that ring hadn’t been more significant,” Burrell said, recalling a telephone conversation with the princess.