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The Princes Fire Back

updated 11/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/10/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sure, he has spilled the beans about glass-smashing, secret trysts and all manner of skulduggery in the Windsors' households. But as he blazes a publicity trail across Britain and the United States promoting A Royal Duty—his tell-all tome about 10 years as butler to Diana, Princess of Wales—Paul Burrell keeps insisting that he remains a loyal servant with deep affection for Diana's two boys, Princes William, 21, and Harry, 19. Not so long ago, the feeling was mutual: The princes grew up with Burrell's sons Nicholas, 16, and Alexander, 18, and, says a royal source, were "once very, very fond" of the butler.

That was before he told tales of Prince Charles's affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, and published parts of Diana's private letters, one of which seemed to be an eerie prediction of her death in a car accident. On Oct. 24, just before Burrell's book began flying out of British bookstores, the young princes issued a harshly worded statement asking him to back off. "We cannot believe that Paul, who was entrusted with so much, could abuse his position in such a cold and overt betrayal. It is not only deeply painful for the two of us but...it would mortify our mother if she were alive today.... We ask Paul to bring these revelations to an end."

While some suggested that Prince Charles had urged his sons to go on the offensive, a Palace source insists, "This comes from the boys themselves." An aide to Charles adds that William is prepared to meet with Burrell, 45, to discuss the "drip-drip of information and revelation of secrets that is hurting a lot of people. [He] believes that Paul doesn't realize that this is damaging to them and their mother's memory," says the aide.

Or, perhaps, that his own stock has dropped dramatically in royal circles. Some friends of Diana's once sympathetic to Burrell (who tells PEOPLE that he was merely "correcting untruths") now see him as a turncoat. According to Diana's chums, the sympathy that Burrell gained last year when he was tried on charges of stealing property from Diana—and cleared after the Queen spoke up—has evaporated. Says Lady Annabel Goldsmith (a mother figure to Di): "I deplore the betraying of confidences. It is incomprehensible to me."

Others who knew Diana claim that Burrell has exaggerated their friendship; some even say she wanted to dismiss him. "The princess told me several times, 'I'm sick of him snooping,' " says Darren McGrady, Diana's chef for four years. "But it's difficult to sack someone who knows so much about you." Burrell himself suggests he has yet to reveal the most damaging information about the Windsors: "I'll go to my grave with many secrets," he says. Might he change his mind? Pressed on the issue by the BBC, he said coyly, "I don't know what the future holds, do I?"

At the moment, observers are speculating about whether there will be a tête-à-tête between Burrell and Prince William. Burrell says he wants to have a "totally private" conversation—in part because he wants to chide William for the Windsors' failure to offer "a little help or encouragement" during his trial. A spokesperson for the prince says William is willing to meet with Burrell, and the Queen has given her support. But if the encounter does come off, the mood in the room isn't likely to be warm. Says one of William's friends: "Burrell has completely mucked things up [with the royals]."

Michelle Green. Pete Norman, Simon Perry, Bryan Alexander and Courtney Rubin in London

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