Diana Secret Outed! Court Let Down!

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Mark Lennihan, Richard Drew / AP

Diana, Princess of Wales and her former butler, Paul Burrell

Everyone was expecting fireworks, but all they got was a damp squib. On Monday, the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed adjourned with her former butler Paul Burrell reluctantly agreeing to bring in a letter she had written to him just before she died. The letter, which is partly quoted in one of his books, referred to a special upcoming weekend and a "secret" the two of them shared — a secret that Burrell had refused on Monday to disclose, before the judge demanded the letter. Was Diana going to announce her pregnancy that weekend? Was her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed going to propose to her? Was she going to propose to him? On Tuesday, everyone thought, the butler would be back on the stand, the letter would be read out to the court and all would be revealed.

Not quite. On Tuesday afternoon, the butler was back and he had a letter — just not the one Diana had written. Instead, Burrell wrote his own letter, a "private and confidential" one to the judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker who, in turn, paraphrased it for the court. Burrell had made a mistake: the Diana letter wasn't in his Cheshire home, but actually at his house in Florida. He would send it to the court once he retrieved it; in the meantime, Burrell would let the judge in on the secret — as long as he didn't tell. But Baker said the cloak-and-dagger act was inappropriate — and unnecessary. "The secret is actually two secrets," he told the court. "And it doesn't seem to me that they are actually secrets at all." In fact, he added, Burrell had published one of them in his 2006 book, The Way We Were.

The revelations? First, that Princess Diana was thinking about buying a house in the U.S., either in Malibu or Cape Cod. And second, that she was also looking at a place in South Africa. Hardly earth-shattering. But all was not lost — Burrell had brought something back from Cheshire, a small pile of papers and photos he had used to write his two tell-all books. Along with the "secret" letter and a few other letters he had in Florida, these, Burrell said, were the last bits of physical proof of his time with the Princess. After the publication of his second book, he destroyed almost everything. "I burned quite a lot of material," he said. "I had already created what I thought was a historical document."

The few surviving snippets of Burrell's life as butler to the world's most famous woman include six notes that Diana had written to him, a box of holiday snapshots from trips their families had taken together, and a lavender-colored spiral notebook in which he had jotted down descriptions of people and events and that "as far as I can see, adds nothing to the inquiry," Baker said as he admitted it all into evidence. Michael Mansfield, who represents Dodi's father, Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, wasn't so sure: "It may be what it doesn't disclose is more important than what it does."

There was a 20-minute break, to give the legal teams time to look over the new evidence. When proceedings started up again, there was only an hour left — just enough time for Mansfield to pick apart everything Burrell had said the day before. Why had Burrell claimed that the letter was at his house in Cheshire when it was really in Florida? Why had he told the court there was one secret, when he knew there were two? And why was he even saying they were secrets when he had published at least one of them in a book? Burrell, looking more confident than he had the day before, said the pressure of the inquest and the intensity of Mansfield's questioning had confused him. (With his quick-fire interrogation and his reedy, disdainful tone, Mansfield is a cross between TV detective Columbo and Harry Potter's Professor Severus Snape.) "I didn't know what I would be asked," the former butler said. "I thought it would be easier than it is. Quite frankly, it's been horrid."

And it was about to get worse. The day rounded off with Mansfield using Burrell's own words against him, pointing out discrepancies between what Burrell had said in his testimony and what he had written about the same things in his books. The lawyer turned to a note that Diana had written to Burrell — over time it's been creatively nicknamed "The Burrell Note" — in which she said she was convinced Prince Charles was planning for her to have an accident in her car, "brake failure and serious head injury." Earlier, Burrell had said he'd found the note propped up on his desk, left there by Diana. But in A Royal Duty, he gives a detailed account of sitting in a room with her and discussing the note while she wrote it. "We really do need to know whether we can rely on anything you say," Mansfield said. "I still believe that it was on my desk when I came into work the next morning," Burrell replied. So why does he give a different story in his book? "I can't explain that," he said. Burrell is back in court tomorrow, so he has one more chance to try.