It's a challenging job, but someone's got to do it. And the someone chosen to spend hours reading through Elizabeth II's personal diaries and documents is not a member of the royal family or an esteemed historian, but a retired palace footman known as "Tall Paul".
Paul Whybrew – whose nickname comes from the fact he's a towering 1.93 metres – has been tasked by the King to sort out which of the late Queen's papers can be sent to a public archive and which must be kept for her family's eyes only.
Paul has been chosen because of the close bond he shared with the Queen over the 44 years he worked for her. In 1982, Paul was the first person to help Her Majesty after intruder Michael Fagan broke into her bedroom at Buckingham Palace. According to some reports, he wrestled Michael to the ground, then offered him a whisky to calm him down.
In 2012, he appeared with the Queen and James Bond actor Daniel Craig in the skit that kicked off the London Olympic Games. It was Paul who introduced James Bond to Her Majesty, and then accompanied the pair and a couple of the Queen's corgis along the corridor at Buckingham Palace.
During the worst of the Covid pandemic, he was part of "HMS Bubble" at Windsor Castle – the small group of staff who stayed with Her Majesty throughout the lockdowns. He would often join her and her dresser Angela Kelly on the sofa in the evening to watch TV.
And Paul, whose official title was Page of the Backstairs, was one of a handful of loyal staff who looked after her in her last days at Balmoral Castle. Such was her trust in Paul, now in his early sixties, that the Queen asked him to contact former aides on her behalf as her health deteriorated.
Now retired from his job at the palace, Paul is spending two days a week sifting through the Queen's personal papers, which include handwritten diaries and letters. He has to evaluate those that are too sensitive to be archived and must be kept out of the public domain.
"For this task, King Charles needed someone he could trust, someone he could be sure would never breathe a word of whatever he came across," says a palace source. "Tall Paul is the legacy man – the keeper of the Queen's secrets. There is no one else the King would have trusted with such a big job. This is the ultimate reward for his loyalty."
Paul is also being rewarded for his hard work, discretion and devotion by being granted the right to live in a modest cottage on the Windsor estate for the rest of his life. A source says he was "very pleasantly surprised" to receive a "very good payoff by palace standards" after the Queen died. Meanwhile, Angela, one of Elizabeth's closest confidantes as well as her personal assistant and dresser, was asked to exchange her grace-and-favour home at Windsor for one hundreds of kilometres away, allegedly because the King is not happy about the fact she plans to write another book about working for royalty (she has already written two, with the Queen's permission). He apparently felt some details in the previous one were too revealing.
Paul, on the other hand, will never discuss or write about the contents of the diaries and other documents, says the source.
The Queen once revealed that she wrote in her diary for 15 minutes every night but said it was "quite small", not like Queen Victoria's diary, which was very detailed.
When asked in a documentary if she wrote in her own hand, she replied, "Oh, yes. Well, I can't write it any other way."
Royal experts say the diaries are more likely to be a record of events rather than an outpouring of intimate thoughts and feelings. But they could still provide a compelling insight to the UK's longest reigning monarch and detail historic events that happened while she was queen.
There could also be private recollections about members of her family, the prime ministers she met with every week and heads of state she encountered during her 70-year reign. Among the bundles of letters – which were written to and by the Queen – is early correspondence between Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip.
When Paul is finished sorting through everything – a job that's expected to take several months – he will present a catalogue of the documents to the King, who will make the final decision about what to make public and what to lock away.
The insider says knowing Paul will be thorough and discreet is comforting to the King, who can be confident his beloved mother's legacy will be preserved, alongside her privacy. "Paul will take the Queen's secrets to his grave."
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