Tall Paul… keeper of the Queen’s secrets: For 44 years, he was the 6ft 4in man at her side. This week he was given pride of place in front of her coffin. And, as RICHARD KAY reveals, she always told him her naughtiest jokes
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Even on a day brimming with historical significance, it was still one of the most striking images to emerge out of that extraordinary procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall on Wednesday.
As, tall and upright as the ceremonial guardsmen all around him, stood the unmistakeable figure of the Queen’s most loyal, most devoted and longest-serving retainer.
Balding and bemedalled in tails, Paul Whybrew, who was with the Queen at the closing of her life, was a picture of iron determination. His hands clenched, he looked neither to left nor right but focused only forwards as he marched in step ahead of the horse-drawn carriage bearing his mistress’s coffin.
He was one of only three of Her Majesty’s male domestic staff invited to join the cortege — but his placement in the middle of the throng underlined not just his seniority but his unique position in the Queen’s life.
As, tall and upright as the ceremonial guardsmen all around him, stood the unmistakeable figure of the Queen’s most loyal, most devoted and longest-serving retainer. Balding and bemedalled in tails, Paul Whybrew (left) who was with the Queen at the closing of her life, was a picture of iron determination
Quite simply she could manage without anyone apart from the man she knew affectionately as ‘Tall Paul’ — and his decades of unbroken service proved that.
At 6 ft 4 in he was, of course, hard to ignore. But it was not his height that made him so indispensable. Rather it was that through all the domestic crises, family storms and petty squabbling between staff and courtiers, he was never drawn in and escaped unscathed.
Indeed, he was said to have all friends and no enemies among the Royal Family he had served since the age of 19. And in the backbiting, below-stairs world of royal preference where favourites jostle, that in itself is a remarkable achievement.
It was Paul who would hand the Queen the telephone for those anguished calls from Prince Harry, ringing from California. Paul who set out the Radio Times with the times of her favourite TV programmes thoughtfully ringed. And it was Paul who, once she stopped drinking, substituted apple juice for her former tipple of gin and Dubonnet.
The bank manager’s son had been at the Queen’s side for 44 years and, as she had seen the records fall as our longest reigning monarch, so too had Paul. A year ago he became the longest-serving member of the Queen’s staff at Buckingham Palace, favoured with the Royal Victorian Order and Medal — silver and gold — and decorated for his long and faithful service.
He also has his own comfortably furnished quarters, for which she personally paid the renovation costs. When in 2006 the Queen turned 80 and decided to spend more time at Windsor Castle, she asked him to move too. He gave up his modest flat above the old stables at Kensington Palace for a house near Albert Lodge in Windsor Great Park.
‘The Queen told him to decorate it to his taste and send her the bill. She said she wanted him to be comfortable,’ a friend says.
And of course, it was Paul who was pictured escorting the Queen and James Bond star Daniel Craig as part of the magical spoof that opened the London Olympics
The move was a pivotal moment in his life of royal service. It was the one and only time when he paused to consider his years of dedication. Inevitably he stayed.
As Page of the Backstairs and Serjeant at Arms, Whybrew, who will be 64 next year, has committed all his working life to the monarch. Unlike many other servants who move between households, Paul remained steadfast alongside the Queen.
Arriving just after the Silver Jubilee, he was there for the Golden Jubilee in 2002, the Diamond Jubilee when the Queen shivered on the rain-soaked Thames in 2012 and, just a few months ago, this year’s Platinum jamboree.
He was there for some of the darkest moments of her reign, the years of her children’s marital discord, and some of the most uplifting.
And of course, it was Paul who was pictured escorting the Queen and James Bond star Daniel Craig as part of the magical spoof that opened the London Olympics.
He also played a key role in one of the most notorious incidents when an intruder broke into the Palace and made his way undetected into the sleeping Queen’s bedroom in 1982.
When the alarm was raised it was Whybrew who coolly steered the trespasser into the butler’s pantry, poured him a glass of whisky, then detained him until the police arrived.
There was often laughter. When the Queen looked out on the heavy rain falling on the day in April 1986 when the Royal Family were burying the Duchess of Windsor, the former American adventuress Wallis Simpson, she worried about the open grave filling with water.
Turning to Paul and another aide, she quipped: ‘If we don’t bail it out, we will be launching her.’
All those years of service, however, have not been without sacrifice. He has remained a bachelor, ‘married’ only, say friends, to his duty. But in return he has occupied one of the most intriguing seats in modern British history.
When in 2006 the Queen turned 80 and decided to spend more time at Windsor Castle, above, she asked him to move too. He gave up his modest flat above the old stables at Kensington Palace for a house near Albert Lodge in Windsor Great Park
Growing up in Essex there was no tradition of working for the Royal Family. A grandfather was manager of a drapery and outfitters, while a brother is a solicitor. Paul, the second oldest of four siblings was born in Braintree in 1959.
The family moved to Frinton on the Essex coast and when he left nearby Clacton High School he had already had his heart set on royal employment.
His first post was as a junior footman but he was quickly spotted by the Queen because of his way with the corgis.
The promotion was to be the source of his nickname and would see him working alongside another royal favourite Paul Burrell, who later became Princess Diana’s butler. To differentiate between the two men the Queen christened Burrell ‘Small Paul’ and Whybrew ‘Tall Paul.’ The term of endearment stuck.
Even this week, his presence in the lying-in-state entourage was being noted on social media. One posted: ‘Tall Paul, her trusted page.’
Another wrote: ‘At the head of the procession, walking behind the band, is this man — the Queen’s page and sergeant-at-arms Paul Whybrew. He’s been by the Queen’s side for 44 years of her 70-year reign. Companion as well as servant. Now accompanying her one last time.’
Over the years staff came and went but in the Queen’s household Whybrew was a constant presence. His position, and the trust the Queen showed him, earned him another nickname — ‘Keeper of the Queen’s secrets’.
Very few doubt that he will ever spill them. It makes the contrast between the servant and another of her circle, her senior dresser and personal assistant Angela Kelly, all the more fascinating.
Where the Liverpool crane-driver’s daughter is outgoing and boastful of her closeness to the Queen, Whybrew is discreet and modest.
It is unlikely he will accept a three-book contract as Miss Kelly has — two published already, a third still to come. And while Angela longed to be made a dame, according to friends Whybrew sought no such personal advancement.
‘He knew that he could have walked into any job in the private sector and earn far more than he does, but it never crossed his mind,’ a friend tells me.
‘He felt his place was at the Queen’s side as long as she wanted him and the fact is she always wanted him. She trusted him implicitly and he knew everything but would never say.’
When the Queen came up with the touching idea to have Prince Philip’s insignia set into a stained-glass window as a tribute to her late husband, it was Paul who found the ideal spot — an ante-room off one of the main private reception rooms at Sandringham House.
In Frinton-on-Sea, the sedate seaside town Princess Margaret used to visit, there is huge pride in the local boy who became the Queen’s rock.
Paul’s mother Jean died almost exactly a year ago aged 88, while his father Derrick, who has written a history of the local Baptist church, is a respected community elder.
It is a remarkable commentary on the Queen’s long life, that from all the people of power and influence whom she befriended and all the well-born and expensively educated people surrounding the Royal Family, it is the modest bank manager’s son from Essex with whom she was often at her most relaxed and happiest.
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