Tormented Paul Burrell admits he feels “selfish” for deciding to wed his gay lover and has told of the agonising moment he broke the news to his ex-wife Maria.
Burrell, 58, the former butler of Princess Diana , believes he has found a soulmate in lawyer Graham Cooper, but says: “I shouldn’t be doing this to people who love me.
“My mum told me before she died, ‘Paul, go through life and be kind, and try not to hurt anyone’. I have hurt the most important people in my life. I call that selfish.”
He and Maria, 63, who stood by him when he was falsely accused of stealing Diana’s possessions, had been separated for more than a decade when their 32-year marriage ended in divorce last yearo. But when he told her of his wedding plans, he said she was devastated and warned him he faced “losing” his sons.
The boys, Nick, 24, and Alex, 27, have since pledged their support and promised to attend the wedding in the Lake District next month.
But Burrell said: “Myself and Maria have been to hell and back. Our marriage lasted 32 years, and I still want to be there for her. We cried, when I told Maria I was marrying Graham.
“And she said, ‘Does that mean we’ll never be together as a family again?’ I said, ‘No, it doesn’t mean that.’ She said, ‘You could lose your sons. You’ll lose them because they won’t understand,’ but she was wrong.”
He said Maria had asked: “Will we never wake up on Christmas morning and open our stockings together?”
Burrell said: “I told her, ‘No, it doesn’t mean that. It’s a different chapter. I want you to be happy for me. I love you. You have to set me free.”
Maria has yet to meet Graham, but son Nick is to be introduced before the wedding and Alex has already got to know him.
Burrell has revealed that the boys, who live in Florida with Maria, asked him if he would invite their mum to the wedding.
He said: “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate, do you? I don’t think she would handle it very well.’
“They said, ‘How can we leave her behind? I said, ‘You have to make that decision, talk to her about it, she is a wonderful woman and she is your mother, and you have to love us both.’
“My boys are very, very precious to me and it will be the proudest moment of my life to stand with my two children and make a commitment to someone whom I love.”
Burrell began seeing Graham more than 10 years ago but only told his sons at Christmas, in Florida.
He said: “It broke my heart to have to sit down and discuss my sexuality with my two children.
“Then I had to suffer the indignity of questions, ‘Did I love their mother when they were born?’ And because I loved her, it really was heart-wrenching to have to do that.”
“I broke down and in between all of the crying I told them my story, and I thought they’d get up from the table and walk out of my life, but they didn’t. I said, ‘I’m sorry for breaking up this unit. I feel totally selfish. I want you to meet this wonderful man. Because he is good, kind, and he is now my rock.’ Because they are wonderful boys they’ve stood by me.”
Burrell believes Diana would have wanted him to find happiness. He said: “She’d have given me a hug and told me everything would be OK. She’s the one voice I want to hear, but I can’t hear.
“I’ve had to get on with my life because Maria lives in America with the boys. I can’t live the rest of my life alone. I want to share it with someone I love. I wanted someone like-minded to travel the journey with. I found it with Graham.” He tells how he met Graham in a “Sliding Doors moment” on a train.
He said: “I was coming from an appointment in London on the train which I shouldn’t have been on, he was coming from Euston to Crewe on a train he shouldn’t have been on. The moment I saw him I knew he was the one.
“It was again what Diana had told me when she saw Dr Hasnat Khan at the Brompton Hospital for the first time and she looked into his eyes.
“She said, ‘I knew, Paul, I knew he was my soulmate.’ The same thing happened to me. When I saw Graham, I knew. And I thought, ‘If I let you go, if I let you leave this train, I may never see you again. I’m not willing to take the chance.’”
As Graham passed his seat, Burrell asked him: “Are you going to leave your number?”
Burrell said: “In his hand, he had his business card. He was already going to leave it on the table. And he smiled as he left the train. I knew from that moment, and it’s been many years now, it’s been 10-plus years and we’ve grown together more and more. So we plan to spend the rest of our lives together. So maybe this rather sad story, and it has been sad for years, will have a happy ending, I’d like to think so.”
In those 10 years Paul has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep his relationship secret – even walking a few steps in front of Graham so they wouldn’t be seen together.
He said: “It’s been sad. I’ve not been able to be me. Not the real me. The time has never been right to come out. I don’t want it to be a dirty secret because it’s not. I’ve found a true, deep spiritual love.”
He almost revealed his sexuality on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! but said: “This was the perfect opportunity to tell the world, but I wasn’t in the right place.”
But he is now and is relieved that it is all out in the open. He said: “What I’m looking forward to most is being a couple and being able to say to people, ‘Have you met my other half?’ He has a gentleness and a kindness I wish I could have. I don’t know where he finds the courage from.”