Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00
Last week, the New York Institute of Technology hosted three events in which Paul Burrell, who was the butler to Princess Diana, was the guest of honor. I attended one of these events, and was eager to do so as I have always found Diana to be a fascinating historical figure. Despite her fame and fortune, she gave of herself to help others who were suffering. She was an individual who was truly working to change the world for the better and tragically, she was taken from us much too soon. During his presentation, Burrell spoke of this.
“It’s better to give than to receive because when you give there are no strings attached,” Burrell recalls Diana saying.
However, despite my interest in learning more about Diana, it was actually something that Burrell said which I found most interesting and have decided to share with you. During his introduction, it was stated that when he was a boy, Burrell was brought to Buckingham Palace and declared that someday he would work there. As Burrell later explained, he grew up in a coal mining town so this would be similar to a boy from West Virginia growing up to work at the White House. Burrell studied hotel management in school, and upon graduation, applied to Buckingham Palace and a famous cruise ship line. Despite his proclamation that he would work at the palace, by that point in his life, Burrell said he was more interested in working for the cruise ship and enjoying a life at sea. It was at that point that fate, or more specifically his mother, stepped in.
One morning as she sorted through the mail, Burrell’s mom discovered a letter from Buckingham Palace and one from the cruise line. She made her other sons promise to not tell Paul about what she was about to do, and they never did until she passed on many years later. On that morning, Paul’s mother handed him the letter from the palace, and unbeknownst to him, tossed the letter from the cruise ship into a fire. Her justification was that she knew her son would take the position on the cruise line and she and the rest of the family would never see him again.
It could be argued that his mother really should have allowed him to make the decision, but Burrell says otherwise. He spoke the message that mothers really do know best and that nobody will love you like your mother. If Burrell’s mom hadn’t stepped in, he wouldn’t have enjoyed the extraordinary life that he has. He has handled the royal jewels and conversed with Queen Elizabeth while attending to her needs as she wore her crown on her head and fuzzy, pink slippers on her feet. He has met world leaders from across the globe, including President Reagan and First Lady Nancy, when they stayed at Buckingham Palace and Burrell waited on them. He recalls Reagan as a man who was a “gentle giant,” completely devoted to his wife. Pope John Paul II was another famous figure Burrell had the opportunity to meet. And, of course, there was his relationship with Diana, who referred to him as “the only man she ever trusted.” That relationship continued until her last breath on that awful August night when he went to the hospital and pleaded with her to wake up.
Burrel’s work also greatly affected his life personally. He met his wife while working at Buckingham Palace, as she was also on staff there. They honeymooned at Balmoral Castle and have two sons. All of which is because of his mother’s intervention.
Too often, children forget that their parents always have their best interest at heart, even if it seems they are just meddling. I spoke briefly with Burrell individually, and told him how touched I was by that story. He further elaborated that every year on June 6 he did not celebrate his birthday but instead sent his mother flowers and a card to thank her for bringing him into the world. When she passed on, Burrell’s recalls that his mother had one of those cards with her, indicating how much it meant to her. He then told me that nobody loves you like your mother, and does so unconditionally, and he then instructed me to go home and give my mother a hug and a kiss.
It’s amazing that a man who has met so many fascinating and influential people, still holds his mother above all of them. I think every now and then we need to realize how special our mothers, and for that matter our fathers and other family members, are. They look out for us and always seem to guide us in the right direction. So even though the calendar says September, it’s still a good time to say, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Just ask Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell.
Ron Scaglia is the Special Sections editor of Anton Newspapers.