The most sought-after guest at the Princess Ball may not be Oscar-nominated actresses Minnie Driver or Gloria Stuart, or supermodel Cindy Crawford, or director Ron Howard. It may be an unassuming 39-year-old whose job title most recently read "butler."
But it's whose butler he was that makes Paul Burrell so intriguing. For 10 years he was in service to Princess Diana, seeing to her needs, accompanying her on trips, acting as confidant.
Following her death, he is still in service to her as a part of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, established to benefit the various charities Diana had been linked with during her life. The Princess Ball, a dinner dance and auction to be held Saturday at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, is the first official U.S. event sanctioned by the fund, which will also raise money for Aid for AIDS, an L.A.-based AIDS service agency.
"This is such an amazing tribute," said Burrell via phone from London. "Who am I looking forward to meeting? Everyone! I'm just looking forward to coming."
This is Burrell's raison d'e^tre since leaving the employ of Buckingham Palace, where he had worked for 22 years.
"I think it's a very natural progression to move from the princess' household to the Memorial Fund," he said. "It's natural for me to help take care of things that were important to her in her lifetime, to pick up the mantle that she left and help project her thoughts and feelings into the future. I feel passionate about this fund, it's a wonderful legacy, and I look forward to carrying forward her wishes."
The fund was built upon contributions that came in from around the world after Diana's death, as well as proceeds of Elton John's recording of "Candle in the Wind 1997." The first disbursement of 13 million pounds ($21.5 million) to a handful of groups occurred recently, along with a promise to support some 100 more down the road.
Burrell, who is married and has two sons, is thrilled about the ball's A-list, as well as the scheduled auction of a version of the weighty Coeur de la Mer necklace from "Titanic." It's been re-created by Asprey London out of a 17-carat sapphire and diamonds set in platinum and valued at $3 million.
But he is not surprised by the way the city has responded to the $500-per-person sold-out event. "You know how much the princess loved America, and this country was affected the same [by her death] as any other country in the world. I do hope that this will start a wonderful feeling in America. America has huge potential. I think there are people out there who want to raise money for the fund, people who never knew her but feel akin to her, [who] feel a bond. It's obvious to me that this is universal; it doesn't just belong to England."
In light of that, he said, "the message is more important than the giving. It's more important to send a message of goodwill than to rake in the cash. The money isn't the most important aspect."
Burrell remains something of an anomaly for not spilling his guts following the princess' death. According to some reports, the butler was offered copious amounts of cash for his story, but for him, just saying no was the easiest thing to do.
"It's a matter of moral standing, isn't it? It's where you come from; it's what you consider to be right. And loyalty doesn't have a price. It's the most essential quality, loyalty and trust. Once they're broken, they're gone forever. And I hope I can carry that trust for the rest of my days."
Burrell is still adjusting to this media onslaught and remains a somewhat reluctant focus of attention. Those years he shadowed Diana gave him a good view of the limelight, but didn't prepare him for being knee-deep in it.
"I always assumed that I was behind closed doors and safe, and I never realized I was going to be exposed in such a major way," he said. "That was rather a surprise. I was always standing and watching in the wings, and then suddenly being thrust forward--it's a different feeling."
But that doesn't mean he's not up for the challenge: "I think it's daunting, but it's a tremendous responsibility too. It's a wonderful privilege and honor to carry such a tremendous fund forward. But no one can tread in her footsteps. She was unique, and no one can follow that."
Of his time spent with the princess on her various goodwill missions around the world, Burrell said, "Life was very humbling watching the princess do what she did. I was very lucky to witness what I did in my lifetime. I knew it when it was happening. I could feel it."
The former butler plans to stay with the fund, which is looking into establishing an arm in the U.S.
And Burrell would like to use his newfound notoriety "to its best advantage, for the fund. It needs a face and a personality, and I can help that process. . . . I've been well-placed to know how the princess would feel and think, and all I can do is try and help steer this fund in the right direction. I'm only a little person in a big machine."
But that big machine is where he'd like to stay for now.
"I've devoted 22 years to the royal family," he added, "and I don't know anything else. I'm very happy to continue my service, although it's posthumous. This is the only way I know how."