A Duty To The Profession

Much media has occurred of late concerning Mr. Paul Burrell and his book, «A Royal Duty,» excerpts of which have been run in the sensationalizing Daily Mirror tabloid. In addition to using his own observations while serving the Princess, he has drawn upon private letters sent to and from her. Mr. Burrell has stated, «My only intention in writing this book was to defend the princess and stand in her corner.» He also stated it was «nothing more than a tribute to her.»

From a logical standpoint, this raises some questions:

  1. Is anyone actually besmirching Princess Diana’s name, as Mr. Burrell claims? Does anyone actually think badly of her, that Mr. Burrell should feel compelled to intercede? My understanding is that she is one of the most popular women in the world. So why is Mr. Burrell tilting his lance at this windmill?
  2. How does revealing the details of Princess Diana’s private life make people think better of her?
  3. Would Princess Diana welcome the effect Mr. Burrell is creating on her sons, who have stated of Mr. Burrell: «… abuse(d) his position in such a cold and overt betrayal. It is not only deeply painful for the two of us but also for everyone else affected and it would mortify our mother if she were alive today. And, if we might say so, we feel we are more able to speak for our mother than Paul.»

From other statements made by Mr.Burrell, he published his book because he was angry at the Royal Family for not helping him during his time of need while undergoing trial (for taking items belonging to his former employer). His anger may or may not be justified, but the way he chose to remedy the situation was not the path a true butler would have chosen.

From an ethical standpoint, Mr. Burrell (whom I have shared the stage with on a couple of occasions and found to be a very likeable fellow, so I have no personal axe to grind with him) has unfortunately broken the written and unwritten code of conduct of a butler. If every butler made public the private life of his employer, nobody would ever hire a butler.

Put another way, if Mr. Burrell hired a butler, would he feel aggrieved or satisfied if that butler later wrote a book revealing every intimate detail of his private life? It’s the old golden rule at work.

It is for this reason that I feel compelled, in the light of the barrage of media concerning Mr. Burrell’s actions, to reaffirm the basic principle and ethic of butling. It is based on trust and confidence. Writing a book may pay in the short term with wealth and fame, but the profession is weakened with each such book, as is the author. Without maintaining our standards, we will cease to have a profession. This may not concern Mr. Burrell at this present time, but it does impact the rest of us, as well as existing and potential employers. I believe it is important, therefore, that whenever we have an opportunity to comment, we put forward the same message as above.

As for Mr. Burrell and his threat to keep on revealing Princess Diana’s and the Royal Family’s secrets, if he truly feels that he is «the keeper of these (Diana’s) secrets,» then I invite him to do as he says. I also invite him to make up the damage he has done to our profession in some way that will restore trust and peace of mind among employers.

Steven Ferry
October 2003