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American audiences may not recognize James Hewitt's name in season four of The Crown, but the military man is at the heart of one of the biggest scandals to besiege the monarchy in the late 20th century. Here's everything you need to know.
He was a cavalry officer.
Hewitt was born into a military family in 1958. His father was an officer in the British Navy, and as a young man, he attended Millfield School. Then at 20 carried on his family's tradition of service by joining the Brigade of Guards, a unit of the British Army. During the Gulf War, he commanded 14 Challenger tanks as part of Operation Desert Storm.
The moment that would ultimately launch Hewitt into the public consciousness came in 1986, when the officer met Princess Diana at a party thrown by her lady-in-waiting, Hazel West.
"Their first conversation felt natural, she said, and it was this that sparked her attraction. As she put it, they got along famously," Princess Diana's royal protection officer, Ken Wharfe, wrote in his book Diana: Closely Guarded Secret. "He told her he was a riding instructor and, when she confessed she was afraid of horses, offered to help her overcome her fear."
He had an affair with Princess Diana.
Not long after he became Diana's riding instructor, the two became romantically involved—an arrangement that would last for several years. The Princess's marriage to Prince Charles was known to be rocky by the time she met Hewitt, and Charles was reportedly already carrying on his own liaison with his former girlfriend (and future wife) Camilla Parker-Bowles, which Diana's bodyguard, Wharfe, posited may have contributed to her willingness to begin an affair with Hewitt.
“Hewitt, a natural womaniser, gave her the attention and affection she relished, and then the passion she yearned for," he wrote. "The pair usually met at an old cottage in Devon belonging to Shirley, Hewitt’s mother, where the creaking bedroom floorboards told the story more loudly than any confession."
Hewitt painted the romance as a bit more understated. "I’d cook and [Diana] would wash up,” he said on the Australian television program, Sunday Night in 2017."Just dinner and relaxing and laughing."
Regardless of how the relationship carried on, by the end of the 1980s Hewitt was given command of a tank squadron, which led him abroad. "Diana felt betrayed: he had chosen his career over her. At first, she did everything she could to prevent him from going, even threatening to speak to his commanding officer," Wharfe writes. "When James refused to give up his career, Diana let the affair wane." Though Diana stayed in contact with Hewitt after he was stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1990, the relationship was, apparently, over.
He revealed the affair in a tell-all book.
Hewitt catapulted into the international spotlight in 1994 when, shortly after retiring from the armed forces, he cooperated with author Anna Pasternak for the book Princess in Love. The book purported to detail the extramarital affair between Hewitt and Diana over the course of five years between 1986 and 1991. Though Diana and Prince Charles had formally separated in 1992, the news nonetheless created a scandal and the book quickly became a best-seller.
In 1995, a little less than a year before Charles and Diana's official divorce, the Princess of Wales confirmed the affair in a famous interview with BBC's Panorama. "Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down," she said of Hewitt's involvement in the publication of the book.
Hewitt's life after Diana
Following Diana's tragic death in 1997, Hewitt continued to make news intermittently for continued revelations about the affair. In 1999, he released the book Love and War further detailing the affair, and has given numerous interviews on the subject in the ensuing decades.
He has on several occasions attempted, or been accused of attempting, to sell more than 60 love letters written to him by Diana while he was serving in the Gulf War; most notably, in a News of the World sting two years after the Princess's death which revealed that Hewitt had suggested a price of £10 million for the mementos. The letters have never been made public and in a 2009 interview with the Telegraph, he stated that he intended to keep them forever.
In the mid '90s, after his retirement from the military, Hewitt opened a golf driving range. He later made several appearances on reality TV, including a stint on X-Factor and a 2004 win on the Big Brother-esque competition Back to Reality.
Rumors that he's Prince Harry's father have persisted.
As a consequence of Hewitt's romance with Diana, fans have frequently speculated that Hewitt could, be the father of Prince Harry, citing a resemblance between the two—their red hair, in particular. Hewitt has uniformly denied these claims. Likewise, Wharfe wrote, "A simple comparison of dates proves it is impossible for Hewitt to be Harry’s father. ... Harry was born on September 15, 1984, which means he was conceived around Christmas 1983, when his brother, William, was 18 months old. Diana did not meet James Hewitt until the summer of 1986."
Prince Harry reportedly writes in Spare that King Charles joked about his parentage.
"Pa liked telling stories, and this was one of the best in his repertoire. He’d always end with a burst of philosophizing … Who knows if I’m really the Prince of Wales? Who knows if I’m even your real father?" he writes, according to a leak obtained by Page Six. "He’d laugh and laugh, though it was a remarkably unfunny joke, given the rumor circulating just then that my actual father was one of Mummy’s former lovers: Major James Hewitt. One cause of this rumor was Major Hewitt’s flaming ginger hair, but another cause was sadism."
Charles, Harry writes, never spoke to him about the Hewitt rumors. He also writes that though the tabloids loved the idea, "Maybe it made them feel better about their lives that a young prince’s life was laughable. Never mind that my mother didn’t meet Major Hewitt until long after I was born."
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