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Butler to Diana, Princess of Wales until her death in 1997. Diana insisted that he stay in her service after she and Prince Charles were divorced, and described him as her 'rock', ostensibly for the moral support he gave her during the break-up of her marriage.

This record was qualification enough to get him installed as the etiquette columnist of the Daily Mail, the upmarket tabloid no self-respecting Di-adorer would be seen without. In 2002, Burrell finally made it into the annals of royal scandal on his own account when allegations that he had made off with various personal effects of Diana's after she died resulted in a saga worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Among the 310 items Burrell was accused of stealing were several dozen of Lady Di's CDs, demonstrating her impeccable taste in all matters Chris de Burgh and Elton John, two photograph albums of Prince William in the bath, the Princes' letters to 'Mummy', a foot-high porcelain kingfisher and other such ephemera. And this was just the list the public were allowed to know about: the Crown, who managed to be prosecution and victim at the same time (don't you just love the British constitution?), prevailed upon the judge to allow the jury to read certain lists of exhibits to themselves so that the press wouldn't get their paws on the gory details.

Even Mrs Justice Rafferty eventually had enough, and allowed the fact that Diana's sister had asked police to search his home for a signet ring given to Diana by her former lover James Hewitt, of Squidgygate fame, to be presented in open court.

The trial was already on its second jury - the first had been dismissed after a few days for unexplained reasons - when intervention by the Queen got Burrell acquitted: she had supposedly suddenly remembered, on her way to a memorial service for the victims of the Bali bombing, that Burrell had told her in 1998 that he was looking after some of the items on the charge sheet, a revelation the prosecution had tried to cover up with a Public Interest Immunity certificate in three days of legal argument.

Some criticism, naturally, centred on the police, when it transpired one of the investigating detectives hadn't taken a look around Burrell's loft, where he'd been accused of stashing the items, because she was afraid of heights. As the tabloids gleefully splashed on their front pages, police had also suggested to Charles and the boys that Burrell had been dressing up in Diana's gowns.

The Labour MP Paul Flynn, however, wondered aloud whether Buckingham Palace had cut a deal with Burrell in order to prevent him letting slip even more sensitive information. In which case, they'd need to have been very thick-skinned at the Palace indeed to put up with him selling his story to the Daily Mirror to the tune of £300,000.

Less than a week after the trial had fallen to pieces, all manner of new Dianagates had emerged via the Mirror, ranging from the highly plausible (Charles' irascibility with the servants at Kensington Palace) to the Jackie Collins-esque (the night Diana left the palace clad only in a fur coat to visit her heart surgeon lover, and Burrell's excursions to buy porn for Wills) and the disturbing (an accusation of male rape made by another servant against a man still in Charles' service). Diana's mother, Lady Frances Shand Kydd, broke off contact with her daughter (or so we hear) after a heated telephone conversation in which Lady S-K complained about Di's fascination with 'Muslim males'. (Apropos of nothing: the Shand Kydd pile in Scotland was burgled while she was testifying at the Old Bailey.)

Meanwhile, the tabloids who hadn't secured his signature retaliated with their own intrusions into Burrell's personal life, The News of the World even managing to link him to disgraced TV presenter Michael Barrymore. Believe everything you read, and the royal palaces would come to resemble the front row of a Liza Minelli concert at the YMCA.

In early December, the florist's shop Burrell operates as a sideline in his home town of Holt, in Cheshire, was torched by persons unknown. Seeing how badly the fire at Windsor Castle affected the Queen, it probably wouldn't be kind to wonder if any of her palaces are missing a petrol can.

Ben Elton, appearing on Question Time during the furore, was asked by a perspicacious audience member whether he yet had enough material for a fifth Blackadder; the two of them ought to be splitting the advances now. The publicity surrounding Burrell made it impossible to continue with the trial of another butler, Harold Brown, accused of selling off a model dhow presented to Diana by the Emir of Bahrain.

Outraging the republicans, throwing the monarchists on to the defensive, titillating the Lady Di fan club and massively entertaining those of us who can't go past a monarchy the way some people can't go past a train wreck, the Burrell case raises - in the eyes of liberal worthies at The Guardian and such like - serious concerns about the privileges of the Crown in today's British society. As indeed it does. But dammit, we want to know about Di's letters from Prince Philip and whether Burrell has the skinny on why Hewitt and Prince Harry look so alike.
Thanks to amnesiac for an extra Dianagate...

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