Sept. 12, 2006 -- Paul Burrell's first book, "A Royal Duty," fueled worldwide speculation about the late Princess Diana.
In his new tell-all book, "The Way We Were," Diana's former butler and confidant reveals the princess only he knew.
Burrell throws open the gates to Kensington Palace and gives readers a tour of the princess' home, complete with previously unseen photographs.
He details Diana's Hollywood relationships and her sisterhood with Sarah Ferguson, and sheds light on the true nature of her romance with Dodi Al Fayed.
In stores today, "The Way We Were" offers a rare glimpse of Diana in her private world.
Read an excerpt from "The Way We Were" below:
The gold Yale key turned in the lock, and my stomach lurched as the back door of Kensington Palace opened. I stepped inside and walked forward, as the heavy black door slammed behind me, sending an echo throughout the emptiness that lay ahead. It was as dark and gloomy as ever in that part of the palace so I flicked the light switch. Nothing happened. The bulb must have blown, I thought.
Then I looked up to the ceiling and saw that the entire light fixture had been ripped out, leaving only dangling wires. I walked on, my footsteps echoing, to what had been the engine room of the 'home' I called KP, where tradesmen, staff and deliverymen had once busied themselves. I was in the middle of the lobby, once filled with the buzz of the refrigerator, the whirr of the ice-making machine, the swish of the dishwasher, the chatter of people coming and going. Now there was a void. The mail pigeon-holes were empty; black garbage bags, empty drawers and chairs lay about, discarded. KP looked as if it had been ransacked by thieves. Apartments 8 and 9 had been reduced to a shell, there wasn't a single hook for my memories.
It was 2002, and I had gone back to the apartments of Diana, Princess of Wales for the first time since I had left them in July 1998 when, even then, they were being emptied. Fine furniture was transferred to the Royal Collection. Jewellery was returned to Buckingham Palace. As the family was entitled to do, Princes William and Harry and the Spencer family had taken some items, and the Crown Estates had reclaimed the property. On the day I moved out, 24 July 1998, the apartments were being stripped. It was too painful for me to witness. I wanted to leave with a mental picture of what had been, dismissing the reality of what was taking place. In the ensuing four years I steered clear of the palace. I never imagined I'd ever see the day when I'd need to go back.
I didn't want to go back. But it became necessary to return 'home' when Scotland Yard and the CPS charged me with theft from the boss's estate – the system's response to my spontaneous protection of her legacy. In preparation for my Old Bailey trial, which ended in acquittal in 2002, I had to walk my legal team through the palace to build up a picture of what life, and my role, had been like.
That day, accompanied by my barrister Lord Carlile, QC, and solicitor Andrew Shaw, I steeled myself for what I knew I would see – the dismantling of the princess's world had long been complete. But I was still unprepared for the devastating scene of erasure and decay that confronted me when I walked up the main staircase, then went from room to room. Each had been stripped with a disregard that said everything about how the princess had been treated in life.
Nothing had been respected. Workmen had moved in, ripping up carpets, tearing down the silk wall panels that had decorated the drawing room and sitting room, leaving the doors of fitted cupboards hanging off their hinges. Even plug sockets had been removed. There were horizontal gaps where the odd floorboard had been pulled up and left propped against a wall. Newspapers were scattered on the floor. A blue mattress was propped against one wall. Junk lay everywhere. And it was dirty. It seemed that the place hadn't been cleaned in the four years since 1998. A layer of dust covered the once polished banisters, giant cobwebs were spun round grubby cornices, and the air was musty. A once pristine home was now as dark and unhealthy as Charles Dickens had depicted Satis House in Great Expectations.
Those with no reason to care about the princess's world, and the devastation I saw, might have shrugged and said, "Well, she's dead. It's time to move on. Who cares?" But moving on shouldn't mean forgetting.
I could have cried as I walked round those rooms. It was a stark illustration of how quickly some people had wanted to forget her, how eager some people were to remove every vestige of her.
It also represented a lost opportunity. A potential museum of memories had been wrecked.
After Princess Margaret's death in 2002, the administration of her home, Apartment 1A, was transferred to the care of Historic Royal Palaces so that part of her living quarters could be viewed for educational and exhibition purposes. Today, although the place has been stripped of its furniture, the public has the chance to visualize Princess Margaret's life, and study the photographs of her. Would it not have been possible to do the same with Apartments 8 and 9 five years earlier? Also, when the Queen Mother died in 2002, the Prince of Wales ensured that there was a fitting tribute to his grandmother: he arranged for the World of Interiors magazine to photograph the inside of her home to show how she had lived; to capture her way of life, her tastes and style, for posterity. It was published in October 2003.
That is why I've decided to share with you my photographs, taken inside Apartments 8 and 9.
I took them, with my own camera, in the weeks after the princess's death, for purely sentimental reasons – to preserve what had been a special place to me. They also catalogued the precise location of her possessions, which was useful to me in my role as guardian of her world.
Over the years, the photographs have been a comfort, and have helped me remember details and moments that might have blurred with time. Many people from around the world have written to me, or asked me face to face, what life was like with the boss, how she lived, and what her inner sanctum really looked like. Well, the photographs in this book provide the answer; you will enjoy a virtual tour of Apartments 8 and 9. They show the rooms as she left them.
Today, Apartment 9, which housed the princess's bedroom, bathroom, dressing room, wardrobe rooms and part of the nursery, provides accommodation for members of the Queen's household. But Apartment 8 – the main staircase, sitting room, drawing room, dining room, kitchen and my pantry – remains a shell. I hope my photographs recapture the spirit of this home and offer a vivid image of what life was like with the boss. Her private rooms deserve to be remembered for the vibrancy, drama, laughter, tears and magic of a life lived to the full. That is why, as butler to that residence, I'm opening the doors to show you around. This is the way we were . . . She called the walled garden her 'little oasis', her place of escape and solitude. There was only one key to the black door set in the surrounding brickwork and, as the resident of Apartments 8 and 9, the princess had exclusive access, shared with me and the gardener. It was the only set of four walls behind which she found complete relaxation and sanctuary, with the sky as a roof.
Almost a decade since her death, my memories of that garden, and life at KP, are as vivid as ever. If I close my eyes, my mind evokes those special years of duty between 1993 and 1997. Her garden was scented, with roses of all colours climbing half-way up the ten-foot-high walls. There was a flowering cherry, a pergola in one corner, a long, rectangular lawn with a wide border, a central oak in which squirrels nested, a potting shed and a dilapidated old greenhouse.
In summer, on blazing hot days, I knew the routine. I can see her now, in a pair of shorts and a vest, and wearing her Versace sunglasses, almost skipping out of the front door, with a paleblue wicker basket filled with correspondence, books, CDs, a Walkman, a low-factor Clarins suncream and her mobile phone. She never went anywhere without her phone.
Then she'd settle down with her hair tied back. When she was relaxing, in the garden, in the sitting room before bedtime or at breakfast, she scraped back her blonde hair with an elasticated cloth band. She had several, in black, blue and purple. If the world remembers the princess for her signature hairstyle, I remember her for that band! Sometimes, as she talked on the phone, that hairband would be wrapped round her fingers, and she'd toy with it, then put it back on her head. I never joined the boss in the garden. It was her private time. When that black door swung shut, she was alone, as she wanted to be. Often, she returned to KP with a bunch of roses for a vase on her desk. She never stayed out there long, maybe an hour or two. She was too restless to keep still for longer than that. As much as she portrayed herself as a sun-worshipper, she was too impatient to lie immobile for long. The sun-bed, in half-hour bursts, was more her cup of tea.
If the garden was her sanctuary, Apartments 8 and 9 were the home that was filled with the laughter of the young princes William and Harry, but also the tears and sadness of the boss's well-documented personal strife. The entrance was a set of black double doors, flanked by two giant wooden planters.
One day in early spring, I decided to fill them with rows of hyacinths, like the ones at Windsor Castle planted round the Queen's private entrance, called the 'dog door', because Her Majesty used it when she walked her corgis. In my eleven years' service as footman to the Queen – from 1976 to 1987 – the gardeners at Windsor planted row upon row of blue hyacinths, to flower around Easter time, and I was met by their heavenly scent each time I was on corgi-walking duty – up to eight times a day. Those dogs never tired of walks! I suppose I planted the hyacinths because I thought that the scent would be a lovely welcome for visitors to KP. Except one visitor didn't agree. When Prince Charles saw what I had done, he chastised me. He told me it was far too early to plant hyacinths outside. "It's such a waste, Paul!" he said.
And, of course, he was right. What the prince didn't know about plants and gardening could have been written on the back of his mother's head – on a British postage stamp. I had witnessed his skills in the garden many times during my service as butler to the Prince and Princess of Wales at Highgrove, from 1987 to 1993, so I knew he was talking sense, even if his manner was somewhat brusque. Not that I was going to give him the satisfaction of watching me dig the bulbs out. Instead, each night for the next month, I covered them up with an old bed-sheet to protect them from the frost. I did it my way – after all, it was the boss's home, not his any more. She loved that scent, so maybe I'd got it right, after all.
From the front door of KP, visitors stepped out on to the gravel that surrounded an oval lawn, like a mini-roundabout, with a central flower-bed, overlooked by the first-floor diningroom windows. The princess always drove her BMW in nose first. As soon as she was inside the house, I would nip out with the car keys and turn it round so that it was ready to be driven out the next time she needed it.
About two hundred yards ahead of the door there was a block called the Upper Stables. Staff quarters filled the first floor and Princess Margaret's garage was underneath. To the left, a group of cottages was used by senior members of the Royal Household: Kent Cottage, Nottingham Cottage and Wren Cottage. To the right, there was a dead end: a towering brick wall with a black door set in it, which led to the State Apartments and the Orangery. The princess used that gate to nip out into Kensington Palace Gardens for a walk, or to go Rollerblading at around 8 a.m. when few people were around.
To reach it, she had to pass the door to Prince and Princess Michael of Kent's apartments. I occasionally went in for chats with the Portuguese housekeeper, Julia – it was like walking into a full-size doll's house, immaculate and chintzy. Whereas my first impression on walking into Apartments 8 and 9 was of simple elegance: the walls down the narrow entrance corridor, with its barrelled ceiling, were painted primrose yellow and led to an archway into the vestibule where there was a cloakroom.
The boss always stopped there on her way out. She would thrust her handbag into my hand and say: "Wait there – but hum or sing loudly!" Instead, I waited discreetly in the hallway. Across the vestibule, a doorway opened on to the main staircase, which climbed up then turned at a right angle to the first-floor landing and the boss's private rooms. From that same doorway, six steps dropped down to the right and the butler's pantry. It was there that I often waited for the princess to arrive home, waited for the frosted-glass panes to rattle in the door, those quick, light footsteps on the carpet, as she bounded up the stairs, rushing in like a whirlwind of energy.
Moments later the floorboards directly above me would creak, indicating that she was moving between her dressing room, bedroom and sitting room. Those old floorboards often told me her whereabouts and her mood: slow, unhurried movement meant she was relaxed; frantic pacing meant she was in a rush or had taken a phone call that had upset her. The staircase was wide with a classical white balustrade topped with a varnished, bevelled-edged banister. White garland mouldings fell down the walls from an intricate cornice, and a grandfather clock stood on one of the turns in the stairs. One high window cast daylight over them. On the sill, the boss kept a Steuben crystal vase, a gift from US President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy on behalf of the American people, with a scene of the Pilgrim Fathers landing in America carved into it. Sadly, a housekeeper washed it in too hot water and it cracked from base to lip. It was replaced with a hand-blown Venetian crystal lion.
Those stairs are a focal point for my memories. It was there that she stood and did a twirl to show off a new dress or outfit; there that I told her she had never looked so good before she left on that ill-fated excursion with Dodi Al Fayed. It was also the spot from which she would shout, "Paul, are you there?" In response, I would bolt up to the first floor, past a stunning full-length portrait of her painted by Nelson Shanks. It hung on the wall, adjacent to the grandfather clock, and showed a contemplative princess wearing a diaphanous white blouse, with a ruffed collar and cuffs, and an anklelength blue taffeta skirt. Around her neck she wore Queen Mary's emerald and diamond choker which the Queen had given her as a wedding present in 1981. The boss felt it rather vain to have such a huge image of herself as a centrepiece on the stairs – at least, she feared others would judge her as vain. I think, though, she was proud of it, even if she didn't let on that she was to too many people. Instead, walking up the stairs with a friend or a visitor, she would ask what they thought of it and, before they had the chance to answer, add, "It looks like I'm about to jump off a bridge, doesn't it?" That was her way of dealing with self-consciousness. Today, that portrait takes pride of place on a wall at Althorp, the Spencer family home in Northamptonshire.
John Ward sketches also hung on the wall, favoured snapshots from the Waleses' family history: William's christening in the music room at Buckingham Palace, Harry's christening in St George's Chapel, and the Prince and Princess of Wales's wedding day at St Paul's Cathedral. It was on those stairs, beneath those pictures, that we'd sit together, the boss on one step, her butler on the one below, talking through a piece of correspondence she had received, or composing a letter of her own. As one of the princess's closest friends, Rosa Monckton, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph in November 2002, "When I was in Greece with Diana, we discussed Paul. She . . . told me how he often helped her to write her letters, and they would sit on the stairs together. 'What do you think, Rosa – the Princess and Her Butler?'"
I can picture the scene now: the boss sitting down, knees together, on the carpeted step, scribbling words and thoughts on her memo pad or revising a letter, scratching through a sentence or phrase. As she thought, she'd suck the end of her pen. Then, she'd pass a note or a letter over my shoulder. Sometimes, she'd ring Richard Kay, the Daily Mail journalist and a trusted friend, for his opinion. He was her expert wordsmith and she called him 'Ricardo'.
I would sit with the princess for fifteen to twenty minutes: which was consistent with her short attention span, her hurried lifestyle. Then she would dart back up the stairs, and I would return to the pantry.
The walls of the hall, vestibule and staircase were not always yellow. In fact, they were only that colour for the last year of the princess's life. Yellow had replaced peach, which had dominated since the Prince and Princess of Wales had taken charge of Apartments 8 and 9 after their wedding in 1981. With divorce imminent at the end of summer 1996, the boss had wanted to place her own individual stamp on KP. She wanted her home to reflect her tastes, not Prince Charles's.
It is not true, as other observers have suggested, that she expunged all memories and remnants of the prince from those apartments – although I saw her put a collection of china that bore the Prince of Wales feathers into a garbage bag, then smash it with a hammer. It was her way of dealing with anger, she said. Later, she had sessions with a kick-boxer – the cheaper alternative, I joked! However, she kept framed photographs of Prince Charles, as a loving father, in her sitting room and bedroom. He took from KP some treasured possessions, but also a pair of upholstered Georgian chairs circa 1780 from the drawing room. The boss described them as 'hideous chairs', which was probably why they were pushed to one side. One day she said, "You'll never guess what he wants now! Those portraits of his ancestors!" She pointed to two paintings of Hanoverian forebears that hung against the yellow silk panels in the drawing room. They were duly dispatched to St James's Palace, but one request wasn't granted.
Prince Charles had wanted the John Ward watercolours from the staircase. The boss decided that those images of her wedding and the boys' christenings would stay at KP. When the division of possessions had been finalized, the boss concentrated on a new interior, drawing up plans with her favoured interior designer and friend, Dudley Poplak. "Let's freshen this place up a little," he said.
"Make a list of everything we need," she suggested, "and let's spend a bit more of his money while we can!" 'His money' referred to the budget of her soon-to-be ex-husband. After the divorce, the tab for domestic alterations and household goods would have to be picked up by the boss, not by the Prince of Wales's office. She undertook wholesale change on every front. We bought new towels, sheets, duvet covers, pillowcases, china, crockery, silver and kitchenware. We walked round KP with a check-list. "Do we need a new washing-machine?" she asked. I nodded. "And what about a new dishwasher, microwave and kettle?" she smiled mischievously. I agreed. We decided to throw in a new juicer for the hell of it.
The princess had suddenly started to become more careful with her money, and sought independent financial advice. From the moment she had to stand on her own two feet, she watched the pennies. Some staff received a payrise but we also noticed cut-backs, even down to the number of window-boxes at KP. One memo she sent read: "It is now not possible to have 5 window boxes outside the dining room and drawing room, please can you remove them and put the surviving plants in the boxes outside the sitting room . . ." She loved flowers, but they were an extravagance – unless, of course, they were a gift from an admirer or friend.
She even drew up a list of nine restaurants that were within her budget: "The only ones where I shall dine from now on," she said. It makes me laugh when I think of it now: the princess was attempting to be thrifty but her chosen restaurants were: Caviar Kaspia, Bebendum, Le Caprice, Thomas Goode, Turner's, Cecconi's, the Ritz, Claridges and the Ivy. At KP, Dudley Poplak drew up designs to transform her favourite rooms from pink, peach and cream to something he described as "a little more professional and mature": cream, gold and blue. The carpet in the main hall, up the stairs and across the landings was in lime green and orange diamond pattern, embroidered with the Prince of Wales feathers.
"It has to go," said the boss, and settled on beige-brown with a subtle design. Unfortunately, the silk-embossed hanging panels that covered the walls (they don't use wallpaper in royal residences) was deemed too expensive to replace. So the blue and pink pattern in the sitting room stayed, as did the peach paint in the dressing room. But the princess put yellow and gold in the drawing room and her bedroom. The dining room remained crimson.
The last room to be refurbished was the one where she spent most of her time: the sitting room. The furniture was reupholstered: a candy-striped sofa became a calmer cream; the chairs blue, and a new, long, cream stool on cabriole legs arrived to stand on the massive Aztec-style rug in pink and blue. Pastel blue curtains, with matching pelmets, were hung at the sash windows. All of this took place in mid-August 1997 when she was on the Jonikal yacht with Dodi Al Fayed. Sadly, she only ever saw the sitting room's new look once, when she made a fleeting visit to KP on 21 August. Before she dashed off to Stansted Airport and a flight to Nice. There, she was reunited with Dodi to cruise round the French Riviera and Sardinia. I don't know how much pleasure she took in the new colours because on the day she returned to replenish her luggage I wasn't there. I was on holiday with my family in the Republic of Ireland, unaware that I'd never see the boss alive again.
She didn't always wait in the sitting room for me to answer a telephone summons. Frequently, I'd be half-way up the stairs when I'd glance up to find her leaning over the banister, waiting for me, her shoulders hunched round her neck. We'd walk to her desk as she unloaded a thought or asked me to do something. If she was seeking a male opinion on what not to wear, she'd stand on those 'catwalk stairs' and ask, "What do you think?" then strike a pose. "With these?" she'd say, flashing a bejewelled earlobe with a dangling earring, and then she'd turn her head to show the other lobe with a diamond stud: "Or these?" Or one foot would be placed in front of the other. "With heels? Or without?" "With stockings? Or without?" Had there been ten staff in the house, she'd have asked each one for their opinion. As it was, she depended on either her dresser or me.
At the top of the stairs and straight ahead was the door to William and Harry's sitting room. It had been Prince Charles's until it was turned into a play den – that room was used for the boss's BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995. It was untouched during the refurbishment because the boss understood the importance to her sons of not interfering with their father's tastes and influence. The room for the men remained stuck in its 1981 time-warp, and looked as dated as the television that rested on a mahogany cabinet until a Harrods-donated, wide-screen plasma Sony model arrived in 1997. Both sets provided the boys with endless hours of fun and entertainment: either they were engrossed in their collection of action movies – James Bond, Lethal Weapon, Robocop, The Terminator, Mission Impossible – or they spent hours engaged in combat on their Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo or PlayStation consoles, always at full volume. When I was sitting in my pantry, I'd often hear an explosion of noise and knew what would come next because I'd seen or heard whatever game it was so often before.
"Do you think you've got that loud enough, boys?" the princess would shout. Two pairs of sheepish eyes would turn to her, and the volume would suddenly dip. My sons, Alexander and Nick, were often invited up to the palace to play with William and Harry. As a treat, I would fetch a plateful of Harry's favourite chocolate biscuits: Penguins. Sometimes the princess joined the boys in that room for burgers and fries, fish fingers or spaghetti Bolognese, served on trays or fold-away tables as she sat on a chair against a cushion embroidered with: 'Don't bug me, hug me.' There were unforgettable times at weekends, during hot London summers, when the princess and her boys came down to where we lived at the Old Barracks to play rounders on the green that stretched out in front of our home. As a family, we'd spot the princess, in a flowing skirt and short sleeves, on her bicycle, complete with basket at the front, coasting down the drive that runs past the staff living quarters, connecting the palace to Kensington High Street. At either side of her, pedalling furiously to keep up on their BMX bikes, were the two princes, in shorts and T-shirts.
I'll never forget how determined the boss was to win, especially at rounders. She wanted to win at everything. I'd always be captain yet everyone wanted to be on the 'princess's team'. She'd be giggling even before it was her turn to bat, and would laugh as she belted the ball, then ran from base to base, feet bare on the grass. She cheered, clapped and jumped up and down with the rest of us.
At the top of the stairs and down a short landing, another four paces would take you to the drawing-room door, on the left and, straight ahead, the door to the boss's sitting room. The balustrade that looked over the stairwell was on the righthand side. The drawing room was where I took guests to wait before the princess received them. It was where she conducted formal entertaining, receptions, business meetings, pre-lunch drinks and chats. An eighteenth-century Flemish tapestry seized the eye as it took up an entire wall, from cornice to dado-rail, and spread at least twenty feet wide. It was the backdrop for a long cream and gold silk-upholstered couch – which looked so delicate that I can't remember a single guest sitting on it. Most visitors tended to stand with a drink in hand as they nervously anticipated the arrival of the boss.
Flanking that couch, and positioned at right angles to it, were two peach-upholstered armchairs with tassel-fringed skirts to the carpet and two end-tables beside each that bore framed photos on piles of books, stacked four or five high. That was typical of the boss – she placed a photo wherever she found a flat surface. One of her favourite images of herself with her boys stood on one such pile – the black-and-white head shot of Harry, Mum and William, taken by Patrick Demarchelier. One year she used it inside the Christmas cards she sent to friends and family.
On the other side of the room was a fireplace, its marble surround standing five feet high. In front of it, facing each other, two lime-green sofas were scattered with peach and yellow cushions. I remember two ladies, smartly dressed in suits, kneeling on the carpet between these sofas poring over papers, sheets and charts spread out before them. The princess was 'in session' with her favourite and most-trusted adviser, Debbie Frank, in June 1997. Intricate diagrams of the universe and the planets spilled across the carpet, and the boss – a Cancerian whose birthday was on 1 July – was enthralled by everything Debbie said. The astrologer became a good friend, one of the few who wasn't dropped for being too familiar or 'wacko'. The boss adored her. Even when Debbie was asked to analyse the charts of Charles and Camilla, she was brave enough, and respected enough, to tell the boss the harsh truth: that they were 'well matched'. When Debbie came to lunch, the boss always had a private reading, and the intensity of those sessions was always in sharp contrast to the girlish banter and gossip at the dining table.
I remember the drawing room as a place for formal discussions, friendly chatter, the clink of crystal champagne glasses – and the boss bounding in to meet a guest, smiling, arms wide. I'm sure many visitors, formal or otherwise, have fond memories of that room. But, for me, it was also a room that was filled with music. Her Steinway grand piano was positioned between two Georgian sash windows, each topped with a ruched, peach pelmet. It was there that I often caught her playing the few bars of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 that she had mastered, head back, eyes closed. She would sit there at quiet times by herself over the weekend, or in the evenings after a busy day, when the work at her desk was done. It was one way she chose to unwind.
On one particular day, she didn't quite unwind. She was more in a spin, continually revolving on the spot. Two men and a woman had arrived at the front door with trunks, instruments and briefcases. I showed them in to the drawing room where I had already moved back the sofas, leaving a vast open space on the carpet. They set up their equipment, which included a metal-plated, revolving turntable. Meanwhile, the princess was in her dressing room, squeezing into a skin-tight leotard as the guests had requested. They needed to take 'precise' measurements. It was 1997 and they had come from Madame Tussaud's waxworks museum in London.
The boss greeted the trio with a smile. "Hello, everybody!" she said, and they got down to the business in hand. The princess was asked to stand on the metal plate in the centre of the room. Suddenly, she looked like a doll in a musical box, and was overcome by a fit of giggles. "I'm afraid we must ask you to stand still," someone said meekly, and the boss – eventually – composed herself. Giant callipers and tape measures were produced. Cameras flashed. Every inch of her anatomy, every curve, had to be measured exactly, from the width of her head to the width of her hips; the length of her nose (always a sore point with the princess) to that of her inside leg. It took around two hours, and she stepped down twice to take a break. I was back and forth with tea, coffee, and sandwiches, and water for the boss.
For me, history was repeating itself. In my days as footman to Her Majesty the Queen, I had accompanied the Queen, and her corgis, to the Chinese Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace for the official inspection of the finished product. Sadly, the boss never saw her finished product, but the figure that stands today in Madame Tussaud's is a superb representation of her.
The drawing room was between the dining room and the sitting room. A connecting door – adjacent to the windows – led to the all-crimson dining room, where the colour smacked guests between the eyes when they walked in. A round table, draped in white linen that fell to the carpet, stood in the centre of the room surrounded by latticed bamboo chairs, with red upholstered seats. A crystal chandelier with candle lights hung above, and a sideboard, again draped in linen, was pushed against one wall. In the mornings an electric toaster and a hotplate for the Herend china coffee pot stood on it. Her breakfast comprised a slice of wholemeal toast, half a grapefruit, a spoonful of honey, and black coffee, no sugar. She'd sit at the table in her white towelling robe, scanning the morning's papers, sometimes with a towel wrapped turban-style round wet hair. Each morning, the boss ran herself a bath – she never took showers – and appeared for breakfast around eight.
Lunch was formal or relaxed, depending on the company. If it was someone like Debbie Frank, the boss's barriers were down. If it was Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, they were up and fortified behind a charming façade. Lunch with Raine Spencer, her stepmother, sticks in my mind – because I didn't always get things right at KP. Even when I tried to impress. Or, as the princess would say, when I "tried too hard". I had wanted the Countess to marvel at my floristry skills. Which she did – at first.
As I stood behind the boss, pulling back her chair for her to be seated, her stepmother was all oohs and aahs and "Isn't that just wonderful?" as she surveyed the arrangement. There were smiles from the boss, and a murmured, "Well done," from the corner of the boss's mouth as she sat down, and I left the room. But now the two ladies realized they couldn't see each other. My arrangement, with its foliage spilling over onto the table, was too big. When I returned with the starter, my beautiful display had been relegated to the floor, placed out of the way.
"Beautiful, but far too big." explained Raine, apologetically. There was a wet patch on the table-cloth where the basket had leaked. The boss saw my disappointment, and folded her lips to stop herself laughing. And then she laid a napkin over the damp linen, and continued chatting to Raine.
The sitting room was relatively small, the heart and soul of the princess's home, where she spent much of her time. She filled the shelves with her favourite things. "This will all be worth something one day," she said, as she reached into the open-faced white cabinet against the wall behind her desk, to take down a china rabbit, part of her treasured Herend animal collection, which also included elephants, sea lions, unicorns, pheasants, cockerels and fish. She was for ever re-arranging them and sometimes put them on the mantelpiece.
Queen Mary had collected miniature furniture and possessions for the doll's house now on public display at Windsor Castle, and the princess believed that one day her china collection would be a treasured addition to the Royal Collection. But it never was. Instead it was boxed up – with the Halcyon Days enamel pillboxes that covered a glass-topped end-table – and sent to her ancestral home at Althorp.
Pictures of ballerinas hung on the walls, a reminder of her childhood passion. "I dreamed of becoming a ballerina," she said, "but I was too tall." She liked to watch the English National Ballet at rehearsal, yearning to be among the dancers, and two pairs of pink satin pointe shoes hung by their ribbons from a hook on the door that led to the landing. In that room, there were signs of her sense of humour. Stickers saying 'I Like Di' and 'CAUTION: Princess on board' were plastered on to the marble fireplace. In one corner of the room, between the window and the Herend china collection, hung two of her favourite watercolours in gold frames, one of a kingfisher, which had been a wedding present, the other of William as a cheeky infant, in a blue and white striped jumper. A giant cuddly hippo slumped in front of the desk, between the two sofas where she sat, legs curled beneath her, to watch black-and-white movies, the news, Brookside, Blind Date, EastEnders and Casualty.
That area in front of the sofas was used for dress-fittings when Jacques Azagury and Catherine Walker visited to oversee operations. The boss would kick off her shoes and stand on a small stool as fitters pinned a hem or took a measurement. "Isn't it beautiful? Isn't Jacques clever?" I remember her saying once, as she twirled on that stool. Or "What do you think of this colour?" she'd ask.
She spent an inordinate amount of time at her desk, talking on the telephone, penning an endless stream of thank-you notes, signing official correspondence, writing letters to friends, putting down her thoughts on paper. She kept her vocabulary list propped against a letter rack and used it as a quick reference for words she found hard to spell, such as 'conscientiously' and 'infinitely'. Words, by her own admission, were not her strong point. She'd sit at that desk and write postcards or short notes to William and Harry, sometimes two a day. Frequently they'd say no more than 'Can't wait to hug you!' and she always sent them 'huge kisses and enormous hugs'. A silver ink stand was positioned in front of that list: a three-sided ornamental tray with a crystal pot as an inkwell at its centre, and a grooved channel for her to lay down the black fountain pen she used for all correspondence.
A bottle of blue-black Quink was kept to hand near the blue leather blotter – always filled with pink paper, always covered with dark splodges. It was here especially that the boss surrounded herself with William and Harry, in little framed snapshots to right and left on her desk. A tiny, open locket lay on the ink stand, with thumbnail photos of her boys. It had been a gift from the readers of Woman's Own magazine, which she flicked through for its real-life stories about women. She had once hosted its annual 'Children of Courage Awards' and the locket had been presented to her as a memento. She treasured it.
When she left for that holiday in August 1997, she had ensured her desk was neat and tidy – she was fastidious in that way. In the hours after her death, I was drawn to the sitting room and the desk, and it struck me how organized everything was. There were three miniature clocks, ticking quietly, a dozen pencils crammed into a beaker, and a miniature marble statue of Jesus Christ, with the rosary beads given to her by Mother Teresa draped round the arms and neck. It's easy for me to bring to mind the vision of the boss sitting at that carefully arranged desk. Whenever I was in the tiny first-floor pantry that adjoined the dining room, I could see her through all of the open, interconnecting doors. I'd be three rooms away but could always see her at the far end of the palace. And she'd be sitting in that seat, her back against her pink cushion, head down, scribbling away, sometimes looking up to gaze out of the windows as she searched for a phrase or new train of thought.
My two abiding recollections of the boss, imprinted on my memory, are simple ones: of the infectious giggle that could break out anywhere and at any time, and the quiet sight of her at that desk, endlessly writing.
At the top of the stairs a left turn led immediately to a small lobby where there was a cupboard, a passenger lift, its doors disguised as a bookcase, and a door that led up to a narrower staircase to the boys' nursery and bedrooms. Straight on, there was a long corridor with six high windows overlooking a cobbled courtyard with an ornamental well in the centre. Outside, the windows of the boys' sitting room were to the right, and ahead the butler Harold Brown's apartment. (He went eventually to work for Princess Margaret.) To the left lay the apartment of Sir Michael Peat, then the Keeper of the Privy Purse and Treasurer to the Queen.
Every evening the boss went to each window and pulled the string to close the wooden slats of the Venetian blinds. She not only guarded her privacy in public, but protected it, too, from the inside.
That corridor felt claustrophobic because half of its width was taken up with cupboards that stood with their backs to the walls, facing the windows. Once the doors were open, it was impossible to pass through.
The first entrance that came up on the left was covered with a curtain, not a door, and led into her main L-shaped, walkthrough wardrobe with one section for daywear, one section for eveningwear; each suit, dress or coat hung on its own padded silk hanger. I walked through that wardrobe to an archway that led into the boss's dressing room, between her bathroom on the left, and her bedroom on the right. This was the inner sanctum few people ever saw.
On many mornings, I delivered a glass of freshly squeezed carrot juice to the princess after breakfast as she sat in her white towelling robe on a bamboo chair, in front of her dressing-table in the window. She'd see me approaching in the oval mirror that stood on the glass top where she kept her hairspray, perfume, makeup, cotton-wool pads and Q-tips, and brushes. She'd reach out, take the glass, and thank me. More often than not, her hair was being blowdried by stylist Sam McKnight, who also became a confidant – even princesses gossip with their hairdresser! She would sip the carrot juice, reading a letter or the newspaper, as Sam worked on her hair, occasionally shouting to make herself heard above the noise of the hairdryer. "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS, PAUL? SAM WAS JUST SAYING THAT . . ." and it was quite comical at times as I stood there, straining to hear what she was saying.
The woman I saw on those occasions was not the fashion icon, the royal celebrity or the high-profile humanitarian, but a woman without the mask of royalty and fame. Others might remember her for a dazzling public engagement, when she was wowing crowds in a stunning dress, in her jewels and tiara, every inch the beautiful princess, but I remember her best for being 'Diana' at home, for her being – and for me knowing – the ordinary woman behind-closed-doors. Believe me, it was an immense privilege.
Yet my lasting memory of that dressing room is not of the princess sitting in her robe, but of the wall-to-wall images of William and Harry, which charted their growth from babies to infants to boys. It was a museum to a mother's love for her sons. There were thirteen large framed black-and-white portraits on one wall alone: mother and sons photographed in bales of hay at Highgrove; brothers back to back, cuddling their rabbit and guinea pig; William and Harry embracing their mother, larking about, or rocking with laughter as the photographer captured official poses among off-guard moments. Even in the bathroom there were framed photos of the boys as babies at bathtime.
And the boss arranged her own photographic montage on her dressing-table, inserting snapshots between the glass and the table top, so that she could see them each morning as she did her hair and applied her makeup. There must have been fifteen or so photos under the glass, and she'd refresh the collection from time to time, inserting a new picture that showed a recent milestone reached in her boys' lives. Wherever she walked in KP, there was always an image of her boys to remind her of the good that had come from her marriage to the Prince of Wales.