Paul Burrell used to be butler to Diana, Princess of Wales. He doesn’t like to mention it, of course. Soul of discretion. But sometimes a film crew comes along and he just finds himself spilling details of her personal life for – what would be it now? Oh yes, the hundredth time.
Up he popped in Diana: Her Last Summer (Channel 5), to remind us of his central place in the Princess’s life. The times she confided in him. The times she treated him like a trusted friend. Burrell has told these stories so many times, because they are his only currency, that he has now reached a point where he plays bits of the story for laughs. At one stage he recalled sneaking heart surgeon Hasnat Khan into Kensington Palace for clandestine evenings with the Princess. “I’d take him in the back entrance,” he said, before a comic pause for the camera.
This documentary, the first of three to look back at her life, featured all the usual suspects. There is obviously a market for this kind of thing, and nothing intrinsically wrong with looking back at a famous figure whose death brought the nation to a halt. It was an extraordinary time, and she was an extraordinary woman. There will also be people out there who are too young to remember these events, meaning this footage will be new to them even if it was painfully familiar to the rest of us.
The programme was made by ITN Productions and made use of old news footage alongside the usual talking heads, who included Jennie “She told me that when we were together at the Palace” Bond. It laid things out in tabloid terms, which was fine because this was Channel 5, not Radio 3. “She was a cross between Cindy Crawford and Mother Teresa,” said Sun photographer Arthur Edwards. “She looked a million dollars in her beautiful clothes but she had the compassion of a nun.”
But the clock counting down the days to her death was ghoulish, and the frequent shots of the mangled Mercedes were unnecessary. There were too many bad takes from Burrell to list here, but “I still curse her to this day for going all that way by herself” was a lowlight, along with his belief that “death seemed to haunt her towards the end of her life” and his feigned surprise at seeing the Prince of Wales shaken by the Princess's death. The person who emerged from this with the most credit was Khan, a man who really did play an important part in the Princess’s life, and who has the grace to keep the details private.