Books: A Royal Duty by Paul Burrell

I written before about my feelings regarding Princess Diana. You know, I grew up at a time when she was the "real-life princess" every little girl could look up to.

Anyway, I stumbled across this book at our library's book shop, and I'm not entirely sure what compelled me to buy it. Curiosity, I suppose. And reading this book certainly gave a lot of insight into the way royal houses work and then also into Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana specifically. Which was interesting—engrossing even—but I felt kind of sick as I read it, too. I don't know how else to describe it. I sort of hated myself for reading it because it seemed so voyeuristic.

Going into the book, I wasn't really aware of who Paul Burrell was, largely because (a) I'm not British or one of those people who obsessively follow the royals, and (b) at the time of his court case I had a lot going on in my own life and wasn't paying much attention to the news. Which sort of made for nice reading since it was really all fresh and new to me. Though I suppose even if you did follow those proceedings at the time, this book is still an interesting perspective.

Burrell makes himself very likable, but of course what else would he do? He tries to make things sound reasonable, or at least tries to explain why he did some of the things he did. For me, that was only partially successful. In some instances I was just shaking my head. Because, yeah, he sort of seems obsessed. Maybe good servants are obsessed? I dunno, I feel like there's a lot of psychology to be explored here. Stuff about deriving your self-worth from whom you serve and how important you are to them, etc.

Come the end of it all, Burrell doth protest . . . if not too much, an awful lot. The letters to Charles and William were, of course, suspect since they came after the fact of his arrest. So naturally it was only when the Queen herself said that, no, Burrell had said the same things to her prior that the case against him collapsed. I'm not sure why Burrell professes in this book to be bewildered by that. He keeps going on about the letters to Charles and William but those could easily look like attempts by Burrell to cover his a**. And it's fine if we believe he's in earnest. But one has to look at it objectively, and from the court's point of view. People are tried on facts not personality. (Or should be, though I'm sure personality must color things.)

As for personality, while Burrell does seem earnest, he also comes across as somewhat smug, and then again at times desperate, almost pleading. He definitely wants to be understood, and wants Diana to be understood as well—or maybe just viewed through his particular prism? One can never be free of the bias in this book. Burrell was simply too close to everything to be able to put forth a big picture.

But one doesn't read a book like this for the big picture. This is an intimate story, if one sided. This is a man attempting to explain his devotion and also possibly excuse himself from certain things.

Burrell writes glowingly, lovingly of the Queen, the princes Harry and William, and of course Diana. He's less effusive about Charles though seemingly strives to not be outright damning. For people wanting to get to the juicy stuff quickly, there's a bit of Burrell's family history and such first. A primer of sorts on how he became a royal butler.

On the whole, it's a good read, but as I mentioned, it also made me a tad uncomfortable. I asked myself more than once: Why am I reading this? But once I'd started, it was difficult to stop. Indeed, I didn't—until I reached the final page.

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