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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 18:06 GMT
James Hewitt: Major Rat
James Hewitt: Reviled as a love rat

James Hewitt says he is prepared to sell a number of personal letters from his former lover, the late Diana, Princess of Wales. But what drives the Gulf War veteran who is now seen as Britain's most notorious "love rat"?

When is a cad not a cad? When he's a rat. Or so the tabloid press would say.

Most of us, if we are honest, are fascinated by cads and bounders. The sheer arrogant raffishness of the likes of Terry-Thomas, Alan Clark and Harry Flashman - all leers and innuendo - acts as a colourful antidote to an often dull world.

Cads dress and speak impeccably. They effortlessly insinuate themselves with - and ruthlessly ditch - beautiful women, outmanoeuvring their male rivals with practised ease.

The Cad's Creed is, as we all know, "all's fair in love and war". They are rogues, but charming with it.

Entirely dressed him from head to toe, that man

Diana, on Hewitt

The rat, on the other hand, seemingly personified by James Hewitt, is altogether darker.

He is seen as self-serving, callous, obsessed with his own image and, above all, with money. Sure, the rat can be charming, but only in as far as it suits his own ends. Above all, he can always be counted on to kiss and tell.

But have we got James Hewitt all wrong?

Here is a war veteran, with 17 years of service in the Life Guards, a cavalry regiment charged with guarding the Sovereign, behind him.

His only crime - though technically punishable by death at the time - was to have an affair with the then wife of the heir to the throne.

Diana, Princess of Wales
Hewitt was Diana's lover for five years

Today, he is reportedly considering selling 10 out of 64 private letters from Diana - which he says are "extremely well written, loving and nothing to be ashamed of" - for a reported £4 million.

His perceived betrayal of the late princess has made Hewitt a social outcast, virtually unemployable: the money would, no doubt, secure his future.

James Hewitt's life, though privileged, has mirrored that of many of his class. The son, and grandson, of army officers, he was born in 1958 and educated at the exclusive Millfield School in Somerset.

I'd never dream of selling Diana's letters

James Hewitt in April 1998

Although not academically bright - only really shining while in the saddle - Hewitt progressed to Sandhurst Military Academy, where he trained as an army officer, before being commissioned in the Life Guards.

He first met Princess Diana at a party in London's Mayfair in 1986. She was 25, he 28.

At the time, her marriage was in crisis and she and Prince Charles - whose own affair with Camilla Parker Bowles was in the process of being rekindled - were in the middle of a famous 39-day separation.

Diana engaged Hewitt as a riding instructor for both her and, later, her young sons. The affair, which began in 1987, ended in 1992, when the princess stopped taking Hewitt's telephone calls.

The Prince of Wales and James Hewitt
Rivals: Prince Charles and James Hewitt on the polo ground

Hewitt's career in the army had its ups and downs. Though he commanded A Squadron, Scots Guards, in the 1991 Gulf War, he twice failed his major's examination and left the service as a captain, no great achievement after 17 years of service.

His current rank of major - one above the one he retired with - was granted in line with common army practice.

After retiring from the Life Guards in March 1994, James Hewitt ploughed £30,000 into a golf driving range in the City of London, to little success.

He applied for a job at the House of Lords. But his effusive plea - "You'd be mad not to see me" - fell on deaf ears.

I think it might be irresponsible not to sell them

Hewitt, January 2003

The same year, Hewitt broke cover. He collaborated with the writer Anna Pasternak on Princess In Love, a saccharine account of his affair with Diana.

As well as a reported £300,000 fee for the book, a subsequent interview in the News of the World is said to have brought him £1 million.

Diana was distraught. In the famous Panorama interview, broadcast the following year, she admitted her adultery with him. "Yes, I adored him," she said. "Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down."

Beyond this, popular opinion was outraged and Hewitt's erstwhile colleagues cut him off.

The cover of Princess In Love
Anna Pasternak's book detailed Diana's affair
Revelations of other affairs - his amorous adventures have earned Hewitt the nickname Timeshare - including one with the weathergirl Sally Faber, then wife of a Conservative MP, only added to his reputation.

In 1999, two years after Diana's death, Hewitt published his autobiography, Love and War.

In it, he revealed intimate details of the affair: how Diana seduced him and how the couple made love in her four-poster bed and on a bathroom floor.

Today, paradoxically, Hewitt lives at home in Devon with his mother Shirley. The man who once claimed, "I like to pay my way" may well soon be in a position to do that.

But what price does anyone, even a rat, put on his reputation?

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