He’s as polished as the Queen’s silver, but is he as authentic?
That’s the question some ask about Paul Burrell, former footman to Queen Elizabeth and butler to Princess Diana, whose second tell-all book about Di, “The Way We Were: Remembering Diana,” ranks high on the New York Times' non-fiction best-seller list.
Burrell’s palace tales have captured the imagination of Anglophiles the world over — while also stirring the ire of those who see him simply as a royal sellout.
For those who drink his Kool-Aid there’s good news: Now you can imbibe a more potent and sophisticated blend with The Royal Butler Wine Collection of Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sparkling Rosé.
Burrell has parlayed his butler’s training in fine wines to launch an Australian label crafted under the guidance of talented New York-based wine merchant Seamus Quigley.
But you don’t have to have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth to afford Burrell’s wines. They’re available to us commoners for $12 a pop.
The collection debuted in this country with a party at Boscobel mansion in Garrison, N.Y., home of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Those who live or travel to this part of the country should check out the festival’s acclaimed summer shows, performed in an exquisite outdoor setting along the banks of the Hudson River, an hour’s drive north of New York City.
I haven’t read either of Burrell’s two books about Diana — the first being “A Royal Duty” — and frankly have never even been tempted. But as I chatted with Burrell at the party, I couldn’t help but be captivated by his stories, despite trying to maintain a healthy dose of reporter’s skepticism.
While Diana endlessly fascinates most people, I’m more intrigued by the Queen — a person who seems terrifically detached from the rest of the world.
“Oh, she’s terribly disconnected,” Burrell said. “If she were talking to you right now, it would appear as if she were moving in slow motion.”
He then proceeded to impersonate the Queen by shaking my hand and turning to the next person in a way that reminded me of those people you see outside doing that slow-moving Tai Chi.
He cocked his head sideways, still in full Queen mode, and said robotically, “So … nice … to …meet … you.”
But his most stunning example of Elizabeth as Stepford Queen came when he was describing her reaction to the overwhelming public sadness over Diana’s death.
Said Burrell, “The Queen asked me, ‘Why are all those people crying? They didn’t know her. She wasn’t in their family.’” It didn’t compute. She didn’t understand.
Still, Burrell has tremendous fondness and respect for Queen Elizabeth, and says that he still receives notes from the royal family (kind ones, I’m hoping).
He’s an excellent spokesman, and the crowd at Boscobel was truly charmed by his eloquence, style and remembrances.
One particular highlight was the day the Queen showed him, by example, what it means to be a truly gracious host.
She was entertaining a royal figure from a foreign land — sorry, the specifics regarding this princely type are a little fuzzy to me now … anyway, she was dining with this person, with Burrell standing nearby.
Fruit was served to the Queen and her guest, and a fingerbowl with water was placed beside each.
Instead of cleansing his fingertips, the guest placed his fruit in the fingerbowl, added sugar and took a sip of the bizarre fruit soup he had created.
The Queen peered over the top of her glasses to watch her guest’s, um, interesting behavior.
Then, without hesitation, she picked up her fingerbowl and drank from it.
That, then, was the lesson learned: Never make your guest feel uncomfortable. If his custom calls for fingerbowl fruit soup, then by golly so does yours.