The Princess and the 'cad'

October 04, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

London -- Britons are calling for the hanging of the traitorous cad who claims to have been Princess Diana's lover -- then

rushing out to buy the book about the alleged affair.

The book "Princess in Love," a gooey Harlequinesque tale of the forbidden love of a fairy tale princess and a dashing cavalry officer, went on sale yesterday with the hype of a new Madonna tour and the pseudo-secrecy of a CIA profile of Boris Yeltsin.

"Princess in Love" claims to tell the true story of a five-year love affair between James Hewitt, a major retired from the Life Guards, and Diana, the wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne.

Life Guards are those horsemen in red tunics and white-plumed helmets who form a personal bodyguard to the sovereign on state occasions.

The major, now made "redundant" by both the British army and apparently Lady Diana, reportedly took his duties as seriously as did Kevin Costner in the film "The Bodyguard" with Whitney Houston.

In the runup to the release of the book, reporters from the tabloid News of the World met the 36-year-old major in the tea room of the fastidious Basil Street Hotel in Knightsbridge (the British observe a certain trashy decorum in these things). They asked if he had ever made love to Lady Diana.

"Beaming, freckled-faced Hewitt nodded and answered . . . with a terse, but emphatic 'Yes,' " the News of the World reported.

In the book, the first time, so to speak, is described as if it were right out of a 1930s tearjerker starring Bette Davis: "Diana stood up and without saying a word stretched out her hand and slowly led James to her bedroom."

Pause. Blackout.

"Later she lay in his arms and wept."

The book was written by Anna Pasternak, said to be the grand-niece of Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Boris Pasternak. She's 27 and a free-lance journalist who has written for major British papers and magazines.

Earlier this year, the major sold an account of his friendship with the Princess to the tabloid Daily Express, reportedly for 100,000 pounds, more than $154,000. Ms. Pasternak was the author. It was a kiss-and-tell series, but it stopped short of confessing adultery.

In Britain's tabloid world of checkbook journalism, the story of Lady Diana taking a lover was the ultimate prize. Guesses on how much Major Hewitt could make run as high as $4 million.

But he was immediately branded a "rat," a "cad," a "hypocrite," "a complete idiot" and, most Britishly, "a bounder."

Callers to London radio talk shows immediately called for Major Hewitt's head. Bedding the wife of the heir to the throne is a capital offense under the Treason Act of 1351, which is still in effect.

"It would be lovely if he were taken in the Queen's Barge to the Tower of London and hanged," said a patrician woman thumbing through the book at a shop off Traflagar Square, who adamantly refused to give her name to an Amerian reporter. "He could be taken in through the Traitor's Gate."

Toying with royal wives has always been dangerous, often for the wives. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of Henry VIII, were beheaded at the Tower of London, along with a total of seven alleged lovers.

The first copy of "Princess in Love" sold at 7:15 a.m. Monday to a slightly furtive thirtyish male buyer at a Books Etc. shop on Charring Cross Road, London's celebrated street of booksellers.

Corinne Gutch, the manager of Books Etc., opened 2 1/2 hours early with the first 300 books sent out by Bloomsbury Publishing, a company heretofore known for upmarket literary fiction. Most went to reporters, who jammed the shop and photographed each other buying the book.

Bloomsbury maintained considerable secrecy about its new book and generated a tidal wave of speculation and rumor.

The 192-page, $23 book sold out its first printing of 75,000 by noon. Bloomsbury said it would print 30,000 more for today.

Linda Boire, an American nurse from Washington state, bought two copies. One to read on the way home and one for a friend. She's fascinated by the royal family. She's already got 150 books about them.

"I don't think it happened," Ms. Boire said. "And if it did, he should have practiced discretion. You shouldn't tell."

Buckingham Palace felt the same way. A royal spokesman sniffed: "We're totally dismissive of this grub by little book. We'll let the public decide about the motives of people quick to peddle gossip about their royal acquaintances."

He said the palace was unlikely to take any legal action to try to prevent distribution.

"We are not prepared to spend any more of our time on this tawdry little book, on any front."

The book sounds pretty much as if it were written by Dame Barbara Cartland, Lady Diana's sprightly, pinkish and frosty-haired 93-year-old grandmother, who writes romance novels that sell by the millions worldwide.

The prose is soapy, frothy, but quite cagey. There are very few direct quotes, and it's written in the third person: He said, she said. It's not Major Hewitt as told to Anna Pasternak.

But Ms. Pasternak has no trouble revealing what her characters are thinking: "As she lay in the bath, she thought of James -- his strong physique, his height and those broad-shoulders . . ."

Etc. Etc.

The book is filled with foamy padding, but it does get a bit steamy: "Their bodies were electric, aching to embrace, yet the anticipation, the fervour of expectation, was almost more

delicious."

Yesterday, the Princess went to her gym for her daily workout as usual. She came out "grimacing," reporters on hand said. She went to lunch at a very exclusive French restaurant called La Gavroche. No reports emerged of the state of her appetite.

Prince Charles, who confirmed his affair with a married woman about four months ago, was reported to be in Scotland, fishing.

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