Princess Diana’s former butler and personal assistant, Paul Burrell, is opening up to ET about the parallels between the lives of Diana and Meghan Markle, who has been facing increased media scrutiny following her marriage to Prince Harry. In fact, Burrell says there are lessons that can be learned from the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, Princess Diana’s ‘Wicked’ Stepmother.
Premiering Monday at 8 p.m. ET, the new special shines a light on Diana’s relationship with her stepmother, Raine Legge, who married the Earl of Spencer in 1976. Burrell, screenwriter Julian Fellowes and others who were close to the late princess “paint the picture of a backstabbing rivalry between the two women” and how Diana's divorce from Prince Charles led to “a surprising twist in their relationship.” (In ET’s exclusive clip from the documentary, Burrell explains why Diana cried herself to sleep the night that Harry was born -- and what his birth meant for her marriage.)
“It started when she was a child and finished just before she died. It spans most of her life,” Burrell says, adding that the documentary will show “the complexity of a relationship of a child, which Diana was when she first met Raine, into a mature adult and how it changes over the years.” While the story does have a dark side to it, he says, viewers will see how Diana turned things around in the end.
While the documentary is the latest deep dive into the royals’ lives featuring Burrell’s firsthand knowledge and stories, he says he’s a better spokesperson than someone who wasn’t around. “When I have something to say, I’m not afraid of saying it because I was there,” Burrell explains, adding that he feels that he has “a duty to the princess, her memory and the boys.”
It’s also why he’s vocalizing his support for Harry and Meghan, who have recently spoken out about their struggles with the media. Not only have they decided to take legal action against British tabloids, but Harry also referred to the press as bullies during an interview for the ITV documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.
“I don’t think the media are being fair with Meghan and Harry,” Burrell says, adding that Meghan’s become “a royal, a mother and a wife within one year. Cut her a bit of slack. I mean, how much do you want her to go the wringer before she suffers from mental illness?”
“She would have run toward her and embraced her. She would have given all the advice that she could have. I think Diana would say to them, ‘Don’t do what I did. Don’t listen to everything that’s being said about you. Don’t read it. Don’t watch it. You know who you are.’”
In fact, the lawsuit is a sign of Diana’s influence, with Burrell pointing out that she also sued Mirror Group newspapers after it published photos of her working out. “Diana wouldn’t think twice [about it],” he says, adding that the couple should have that same right.
Following their tour of Africa, the “Duke and Duchess are expected to take some extended family time off starting in November,” a royal source told ET amid rumors they might move to Canada or the U.S.
“It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they decided to buy a property here in the United States,” Burrell says, adding that “they should go to where they’re embraced, not to where they’re not wanted.”
Because there are so many similarities between Diana and Meghan, Burrell says that if Meghan saw the Smithsonian Channel special, “she would see the complex character that Diana was, but she’d also see the compassionate and kind person that she was.”
Burrell concludes by recalling something Diana once said to him. “She said, ‘If you unzip somebody and look inside them, they’re made of exactly the same stuff.’ That’s something Meghan can take from this documentary: the princess’ compassion.”