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Serving Di One Last Time

October 28, 2002

For celebrity-watchers, it's the trial of the new century. Princess Diana's long-time retainer, Paul Burrell, has been accused in England's famous Old Bailey court of pilfering no fewer than 310 objects from her estate. A police raid a year ago on Burrell's home in Cheshire turned up everything from china crockery with the Prince of Wales' feather monogram to autographed photos of Prince William with supermodels Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer.

This latest installment in the Windsor family's soap-opera-like drama has England and much of the world wondering: Was Burrell trying to protect her legacy from a "conspiracy," as Burrell has stated? Did he simply cherish the objects as a way of preserving her memory for himself? Or was he simply a common thief out to profit from her legacy, as the prosecution asserts?

Almost every hanger-on and associate of Princess Di has tried to extract something from her memory. But Burrell was supposed to be the exception. By all accounts, he was a model butler -- the one person Princess Di could count on for obedience, loyalty and, above all, discretion. During 22 years of service, he had risen from being a Buckingham Palace footman to Princess Di's personal butler. Burrell was the only mourner at her burial who did not belong to the royal family. But now Burrell is playing hardball with the family he once so devotedly served. He may, he said, feel forced to divulge personal details about Diana's life.

No doubt such details would further titillate the professional Diana-watchers who helped make her life such a torment. But even if he has to hand over the objects, Burrell could render his former princess one last service by keeping quiet and showing that the greatest of butler virtues hasn't gone by the wayside -- a stiff upper lip.

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