The day couldn’t have been more perfect. It was that typical crystal clear California day when the warm winds blow and you realize why you live here.
I was filled with anticipation as I drove down to the pier in Long Beach where the legendary ship the Queen Mary was docked. I was on my way to meet up with Paul Burrell who had been the private butler and confidant to Diana, The Princess of Wales.
As I boarded the ship, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to cross the Atlantic in such class and style. The ship itself is incredibly beautiful and has been restored to its former glory.
As I exited the elevator that took me to the main deck, I was greeted by the Captain of the ship and none other than Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler and closest confidante. Paul and I had met in Springfield, MO at an event a couple of years ago and we saw each other again at the same event this year. That was when he invited me to meet him for his special appearance at the Queen Mary exhibit, “Princess Diana: Legacy of a Princess.” Paul Burrell had been a footman for Queen Elizabeth II, then became butler to Diana. In 1987 he joined the household of Charles and Diana where he acted as her butler until her death. It was quoted that “he was the only man she ever trusted”, and he knew many of her innermost secrets.
We were first treated to a private tour of the ship and heard some amazing stories of celebrities that had sailed in the 20’s and 30’s. There were incredible anecdotes about the time during W W II when the ship became a transport vessel for thousands of troops deployed to Europe for military duty. We were treated to stories of the famous ballroom and how foreign dignitaries dined and interacted with movie stars.
After the tour it was time for tea. We were escorted to the Tea Room and were treated to a wonderful lunch that included sandwiches of shredded chicken and mango with curry aioli, freshly baked scones with Devonshire style clotted cream and homemade jam, lemon meringue tarts and a menu of loose teas.
Paul entertained us with funny stories of the inner workings at the palace, the “real moments” with the Queen and his wonderful travels around the world with the Princess.
We sat talking for almost two hours, which is a “civilized” amount of time when it comes to taking tea, then it was time to view the exhibit.
There is nothing like walking through and looking at historic items with the person who knows everything about them first hand. We got the inside stories on letters that Diana wrote, gifts that she gave or received, what her favorite items were and how deep her love and dedication was to her two boys. We also heard amazing stories about her many charitable trips that the press never knew. Private things that she did that were never publicized.
Paul took us through the rows of dresses in glass showcases and pointed out her favorites from designers like Bruce Oldfield, Catherine Walker, Christian Lacroix and Versace. He spoke of dresses that she had to wear but didn’t really like and shoes that hurt her feet! I felt exactly as if I knew her!
The exhibit was a wonderful look inside the woman that she really was, and the great thing about it was walking through it with Paul made us feel as though she was right there with us.
We finished the day having a glass of wine in the bar as the sun was going down. There were more stories of Diana and the impact that she made on so many in her short life. I could see Paul’s eyes well up a couple of times when he spoke of her. The admiration and respect is still there and always will be.
As I said my goodbyes and thanked Paul for a wonderful day, I couldn’t help but feel that in spite of everything, Princess Diana was one of us, with highs and lows, good times and bad, living in a whirlwind of people and cameras and then dealing with loneliness. There is no doubt that she was loved by millions and truly was “The People’s Princess.”