What Princess Diana Had to Say About Her Affair With James Hewitt

Elena Nicolaou
·6 min read
What Princess Diana Had to Say About Her Affair With James Hewitt

From Oprah Magazine

  • The Crown touches on Princess Diana's five-year-long affair with Major James Hewitt, an officer in the British Army.

  • Diana met Hewitt while he was working in Buckingham palace.

  • Here's the whole story of Diana and Hewitt's relationship, which is only briefly mentioned in The Crown.

The focus of season 4 of The Crown is predominantly Prince Charles and Princess Diana's marriage, and how it affected their trajectories. Charles and Diana's extramarital affairs, while acknowledged, are not given ample screen time.

Take the case of Major James Hewitt, played by Russian actor Daniel Donskoy in The Crown. According to Hewitt's testimony in the controversial book Princess in Love, his affair with the princess reportedly lasted from 1986 to 1991. (She was married to Charles from 1981 to 1996.) "For five years he was as available and attentive as a medieval troubadour," Tina Brown wrote in The Diana Chronicles. But Hewitt only appears in The Crown briefly.

Essentially, The Crown is only interested in Hewitt's effect on Diana and her marriage, not in the affair itself. After all, Hewitt was allegedly one of a few lovers Diana had, which Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) alludes to while speaking to Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman). While married, Diana was also rumored to be linked to Barry Mannakee, her bodyguard and childhood friend James Gilbey, heir to the Gilbey gin fortune.

The Crown treats the couple's mutual infidelity as a reflection of their unhappiness in their arrangement. Charles, forced into a marriage he never wanted. Diana, not understanding what she got herself into until it was too late. Just because The Crown zooms past her affair with Hewitt doesn't mean we want to, however.

James Hewitt and Diana met in 1986, when he was her riding instructor.

James Hewitt was a career military man: He graduated from the Royal Military Academy, and was commissioned into the British Army in 1978. Little did he know that trajectory would introduce him to one of the most famous women in the world.

When Hewitt met Diana at a courtiers' cocktail party in the fall of 1986, he was a staff captain in the Life Guards, a regiment of the Household Cavalry. In The Diana Chronicles, Tina Brown described Hewitt as like "a younger, cuter, less complicated, and far less burdened version of Prince Charles: cordial, mannerly, and handsome in the tall, chiseled, storybook way that Diana always admired her."

Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images

Diana asked Hewitt to give her riding lessons. "Only one thing went wrong," Hewitt wrote in his book Love and War, published in 1999. "We fell in love."

According to The Diana Chronicles, Diana took charge of the relationship. "She made the first overture by reaching to kiss him when they were alone in the Officers' Mess, telling him, 'I need you. You give me strength. I can't stand it when I'm not with you,'" Brown writes. "From beginning to end, it was Diana who ran this affair."

Years later, in 2017, Hewitt described the affair's head-first passion: “It’s a gradual period and then, you know, suddenly you can’t get enough of each other or see each other as much as you want,” he told Australia's Sunday Night in 2017.

Hewitt was often snuck into Kensington Palace, as seen in The Crown.

In The Crown, Hewitt is dropped off at Kensington secretly—which, indeed, happened. "Hewitt was regularly bundled into car boots and driven to Kensington Palace when their affair ensued," Anna Pasternak, who collaborated with Hewitt on a book, said of their affair in an essay for The Daily Mail. "He told me he was terrified the first night he stayed in Kensington Palace, relieved at least that Charles and Diana had separate bedrooms. Apparently, she had 30 childhood cuddly toys lining the end of her bed."

Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images

According to Brown, Hewitt became a regular guest at Kensington Palace and Highgrove, Charles and Diana's private residence, whenever Charles was away. "He became such a familiar private guest that William and Harry developed a fondness for him," she wrote.

They also spent time in a cottage that belonged to Hewitt's mother. On Australia's Sunday Night, Hewitt also described the low-key nature of their relationship. “Well, I’d cook and she’d wash up,” he said. “Just dinner and relaxing and laughing.”

The relationship ended when Hewitt was serving in the Gulf War.

In 1989, the relationship simmered down when Hewitt was posted to Germany for two years. Diana, according to Brown, tried to pull strings so that he would not be sent abroad: "She said, 'You promised you'd always be here for me and now you've broken that promise.'"

The affair rekindled in 1990, before he was deployed to the Gulf War. Diana was put off by how serious Hewitt was becoming in letters: "He was talking openly about spending the rest of their lives together." Diana pulled back while Hewitt was in Kuwait, but he still had her 64 handwritten letters.

He opened about their affair in a controversial book, Princess in Love.

Hewitt was intimate with one of the most famous women in the world. He had quite a story on his hands—and so he told it. In 1994, Hewitt gave a series of paid interviews to 26-year-old Anna Pasternak, a features writer for The Daily Express (and a niece of Boris Pasternak).

After Charles confessed in a TV documentary that his marriage had "irretrievably broken down" in 1994, Hewitt gave Pasternak the go-ahead to share his testimony. Pasternak completed the controversial bestseller Princess in Love in a manner of five weeks, using Hewitt's previously off-the-record interviews and cache of letters from Diana (which Hewitt later tried to sell for millions) to inform the book.

Pasternak recalls one of Diana's letters in The Daily Mail: "‘I have lain awake at night loving you desperately and thanking God for bringing you into my life—my darling one, you are the most magical and special person I’ve ever met, and how extraordinarily lucky I am to have been loved by you."

Though the book sold 500,000 copies and was a financial success, Hewitt was condemned by the media—and by Diana. In a 1995 interview with the BBC, Diana confirmed her affair with Hewitt, and her disappointment at its afterlife in the media. "Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down," she said. In 1999, Hewitt also wrote a book about his affair called Love and War.

Photo credit: Evan Agostini - Getty Images
Photo credit: Evan Agostini - Getty Images

No, he's not Prince Harry's father—despite rumors.

One of the most enduring rumors surrounding the royal family is that Hewitt, not Charles, is the true father of Prince Harry. In fact, a 2014 play about Diana indulged those rumors.

Hewitt adamantly denies this—and the timeline backs him up. Hewitt met Diana in 1986, when Harry was already two years old. "It sells papers," Hewitt told Australia's Sunday Night of the rumors' persistence.

Diana reportedly knew about the rumors, and was saddened by them. "A simple comparison of dates proves it is impossible for Hewitt to be Harry’s father. Only once did I ever discuss it with her, and Diana was in tears about it," Hewitt's former personal protection officer and confidant, Ken Wharfe, wrote in his book Diana: Closely Guarded Secret.

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