A wife who lives 4,000 miles away, a string of business disasters – yet now he's courting new ridicule on reality TV. Why Diana's disgraced butler is hooked on humiliation
Paul Burrel, surrounded by blooms in his florist shop in Cheshire, is his usual expansive, confident self.
Yes, he has just appeared on television in a red nose, curly wig and full clown make-up, and competed against various C-listers to see who could make the best balloon horse in a reality show, but he wants to get one thing straight.
‘It was not an indignity,’ he says, with emphasis.
'It was not an indignity,' said Paul Burrell of appearing on Celebrity Coach Trip. His chosen partner in the Channel 4 show was not his wife Maria, but the redoubtable Jean Broke Smith, an old friend
‘It was just great fun and I met some lovely people, especially Cannon and Ball. They could not have been nicer.’
Indeed, the warm friendship which developed between Princess Diana’s ‘rock’ — all neat fingernails and butler-ish fancy manners — and the superannuated Lancashire comedy double act is a rather touching by-product of his appearance as a ‘star’ on Celebrity Coach Trip.
However, you have to ask why on earth Burrell chose to put himself through the show in the first place.
For Celebrity Coach Trip has achieved a cult following for the sly way in which it punctures the egos of the famous and formerly famous who take part.
On this show, Edwina Currie was seen reducing an anorexic Big Brother contestant to tears with that galumphing tactlessness for which she is famous. The incident burnished neither’s image.
And when Paul Burrell, after attending Clown School, was shown practising judo moves in Croatia with a handsome young male instructor, the programme makers seized on the chance for snide remarks.
Brendan Sheerin, the avuncular tour guide, told the camera: ‘Paul Burrell was a bit nervous about things, but I put him with a young boy and he was fine. He loved that. He liked being thrown about by the young lad.’
The heavy innuendo clearly didn’t bother Burrell, who played up to his camp image with shameless gusto.
‘I haven’t been grappled like that and thrown onto a mat since I was at Buckingham Palace,’ he said with a brilliant white-toothed smirk.
Paul was utterly disgraced in April 2008 after he admitted he had not told 'the whole truth' when giving evidence at the inquest into Princess Diana's death in January of that year
He does quite a line in camp repartee, which you might think odd for a married man with two children.
And it has to be noted that his chosen partner in the Channel 4 show was not his wife Maria, but the redoubtable Jean Broke Smith, an old friend who is an etiquette expert.
She and Burrell have been friends for a decade after meeting while doing the shows American Princess and Australian Princess.
‘He is a lovely man and a great friend,’ she tells me. ‘People have the wrong image of Paul, he actually is just wonderful.’
She adds: ‘The producers asked him if he would do the show and said that he would need to pick a partner to be with, and he asked for me.
‘He said he just wanted to have a couple of days away with his mate. He asked me: ‘Jeanie, how about it I think it’s going to be a bit of fun.’
Money, it seems, was not a motive. Broke Smith sighs that they only got ‘expenses and all food included’ for the trip, and that the prize was a donation of money to charity.
But, she adds: ‘Paul does like a bit of attention.’
That, it seems, is quite an
understatement. For although Burrell proclaims he wishes to live a life
of quiet obscurity — and although he always says that he is ‘amazed’
that people continue to recognise him, he does love to be on television.
A Celebrity, on which he appeared in 2004, gave his profile a massive
fillip and helped him shift numerous copies of his 2003 book A Royal
Duty. (The book, by the way, is still for sale in his shop.)
friends of his claim that, as well as his appearance in Celebrity Coach
Trip, he has been casting about for at least the past year and a half
for another reality show to be in.
Paul's wedding to Maria. She is as shy as her husband is outgoing. 'She and Paul lead separate lives and it suits them both,' said a friend
Apparently, he is as keen as mustard to do Strictly — if only somebody would ask him.
So what is life like for Burrell And
what is the truth about his curious semi-detached marriage to Maria,
who lives in America with their two sons And why, after moving to
Florida with them, is he back living here in the UK
all, he suffered the ignominy in 2002 of being accused, and then
acquitted, of stealing 342 items from Princess Diana’s estate after she
Then his image in
Britain was seriously tarnished when he was accused of betraying
Princess Diana’s memory by writing two books about her secrets, in 2003
And he was utterly disgraced in April 2008 after he admitted he had not told ‘the whole truth’ when giving evidence at the inquest into Diana’s death in January of that year.
Burrell says the reason for his return to Britain is that he now finds he is only really happy in his shop in Farndon, on the border between Wales and Cheshire. This simple fact, he explains, accounts for his apparent separation from his wife.
He bought the shop in 1997 with the money left to him in Princess Diana’s will, and lives in the small flat above it.
‘This is what I do. I am a florist these days and I have been for many years,’ he said this week.
‘The family have had a shop here for the past ten years.
‘I am an ordinary guy who was thrown into extraordinary circumstances but I am happiest here in my village and being as ordinary as I can.’
'Maria likes the Florida sunshine and likes to spend the winter in Florida, and my boys are rooted in America and have their own careers there,' said Paul of his family
He last saw his wife when she visited Farndon just before Christmas. But since then she has gone back to the peach-painted house in Florida which he bought with the proceeds of his first book.
‘Maria likes the Florida sunshine and likes to spend the winter in Florida, and my boys are rooted in America and have their own careers there,’ said Burrell.
She is due to come over to see him in a fortnight.
On any Friday evening Maria Burrell can be found pushing a trolley around her local Publix supermarket in the town of Clermont, a sprawling suburb of gated communities near Orlando.
Like other expats, she always makes for the British section and snaps up McVitie’s biscuits and Paxo stuffing. Mrs Burrell, a former royal dresser, has clearly retained a taste for home.
Yet this devout Catholic, who is as shy as her husband is outgoing, shows no signs of missing her publicity-hungry other half.
A friend who knows the couple said: ‘Maria does not want to go back to England. Her life is here. Both her sons are here and she sees no reason to go back.
‘She and Paul lead separate lives and it suits them both. Paul does come back occasionally, but it is mostly to see the boys. I guess he and Maria have an arrangement.’
There is no sign of another man in her life. Her only frequent visitors are sons Alex, 27, and Nicholas, 24.
Nicholas recently graduated with a business degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville. He has been working part-time for a pool cleaning service. Alex is understood to have a degree from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Neighbours say Maria is friendly and waves to them whenever she leaves home. She does not work, despite gaining a Green Card that allows her permanent residency in the U.S. Instead she enjoys the run of her four-bedroom house, which has its own swimming pool.
Jean Broke Smith says that the Burrells do spend time together, but they also value the time they spend on their own at their separate houses.
She says: ‘He likes to do watercolour painting here and is very talented at that, and he loves being in England, so it works in that way. Lots of families live in a similar kind of way. All I can say is that the boys are their world.’
It would be fair to say that the current arrangement was not part of the big plan. There was a time when the Florida home was considered by Burrell to be the first step in conquering America.
It was bought in December 2004 for 150,000 and preceded his launch as a lifestyle and etiquette guru. He reasoned that, after a decade of working for Princess Diana and given the heat generated by his tell-all books, he could surely make a few million in the U.S.
Paul earned a great deal of money – perhaps up to 5 million – from writing two books about the late Princess and from other media activities
He launched a range of Royal Butler Wines, which were sold in supermarkets for around 6 a bottle.
But despite an extensive promotion campaign, with Burrell visiting stores all over Florida, they were withdrawn from shelves within a year. It seems they didn’t sell.
Then there was a range of furniture with a North Carolina-based manufacturing company, launched in 2006. The furniture is no longer sold. A planned range of chinaware never materialised.
The collapse of his business interests coincided with his disastrous appearance before the inquest into the death of Princess Diana.
After giving evidence, Burrell was secretly filmed by a red-top newspaper boasting that he had lied to the inquiry and knew more than he was letting on.
He became an instant pariah, not just in the UK but also in the U.S., where he had been in demand by television networks to talk about the Royal Family.
The extent of his fall can be seen by the fact that only Fox had him as a commentator in their Press enclosure outside Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Prince William’s wedding last year.
His hopes of trading up from the house in Clermont to something bigger with a lake view had to be abandoned.
It seems Burrell earned a great deal of money — perhaps up to 5 million — from writing two books about the late Princess and from other media activities.
But his big payday was a long time ago now. He says that he lives modestly these days. He also spent a lot of money on fighting the 2002 court case in which he was accused of stealing items from the Princess. He was acquitted after the Queen remembered a conversation in which Burrell told her he was safeguarding some of Diana’s possessions.
Burrell puts a brave face on the fading dream.
Paul was acquitted in 2002 of stealing items from the Princess after the Queen remembered a conversation in which he told her he was safeguarding some of Diana's possessions (pictured with the Queen in 1997)
‘Of course I go to America regularly. I seem to spend half my life on a plane,’ he says.
‘But I also come back to my little shop. This is my sanctuary really. It is a great place to come and be grounded.’
He explains that ‘the opportunity comes along now and again to do something interesting such as Celebrity Coach Trip’, but he doesn’t want anyone to form an incorrect impression that he is a man in search of the spotlight —heaven forbid!
‘One would have thought that 14 years on from the Princess’s tragic death that the media would have forgotten about me and let me get on with my life,’ he intones, with more than a hint of rebuke and sorrow.
‘Someone has to look after the family business and that is me. I am here simply getting on with my life. This is where my future is, right here.’
The shop is a quaint little property, double-fronted, with wooden steps up to the door. The awning over the front reads simply ‘Paul Burrell’.
Inside, there is a counter to one side where he leans and chats with customers and displays of books, jewellery and paintings as well as flowers. Outside the front door there are pretty displays of snowdrops in pots.
Burrell is well-liked locally, and supported by numerous friends in Farndon.
‘People come in here to order flowers and don’t realise that I will be there at the wedding doing the flowers myself, but that is what I do, that is my world and this is where my heart is.’
So have we seen the last of the most famous butler in the world
It seems that, having forged a media career, he may well be tempted to do more television work. It appeals, of course, to both his ego and the wallet.
But those who loved the late Princess can rest easy on one score. Although Burrell still loves to drop her name into conversation, he promises that he has told every last secret and that there is no more to come.
‘There will be no new book,’ he insisted this week. ‘No way.’
It is hard to credit that after the books and the TV appearances around the globe there could be any more secrets left to sell.
But Paul Burrell, as even his friends will tell you, is not the kind of man much given to silence.