LONDON — Five years after her death, there’s still no memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales here, but what does that matter when her legacy can make tabloid sales rocket and her mystique can still divide the country?
The aborted trial of Diana’s butler Paul Burrell — accused by the Crown Court of stealing intimate possessions from his late employer — last week has unleashed the sort of media frenzy that makes newspaper publishers squeal with joy.
“You just couldn’t make these stories up,” said Judy Wade, a longtime royal reporter and the author of the recent book “The Truth,” about Diana’s affair with the heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. “And it proves that, even after her death, Diana is still the one overshadowing the Royal family.”
But the tabloid drama also sheds light on what happens when the Royal spin machine breaks down, and adds a fresh bitterness to the relationship between the Royals and the Spencers — who testified against Burrell during the first days of the trial.
Although Queen Elizabeth was able to halt the trial by vouching for Burrell, salacious gossip stemming from police statements about Diana’s sex life and lovers and Charles’ craven and arrogant behavior were conveniently leaked to the press earlier this week.
“This whole thing makes the Spencers look greedy and the Royals look stupid,” said one observer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “And the ones who are really suffering are William and Harry. Would you want to know those things about your mother?”
Indeed, there are tales of Diana dressing in nothing but a fur coat and sapphire and diamond earrings to meet her lover Khan, her desire to trap him into marriage with the age-old trick of getting pregnant, and her requests to Burrell to buy young Prince William girlie magazines.
And, according to the leaks that have appeared in tabloids such as The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Mail, Charles doesn’t look any better. He comes off as pampered, petulant — and dishonest. At one point in the leaked testimony, Burrell said Charles asked him to lie to Diana about his movements.
Sources say the best is yet to come — at least for the tabloids. WWD has learned that this Sunday, one UK newspaper plans to print a scandal-packed dossier on Michael Fawcett, Prince Charles’ longtime butler and a major influence at St. James’ Palace and Highgrove.
“That will be particularly interesting, as Prince Charles has always come to Fawcett’s rescue,” Wade said.
Meanwhile, though Burrell appears to be breathing a sigh of relief — he just signed a deal with The Daily Mirror worth between $450,000 and $600,000 — Wade believes he has nothing but agony in store.
“He’s sold the story to one paper, which means that the others are going to eat him alive,” she said.