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James Hewitt and Princess Diana had a romantic relationship that would go on to make global headlines. The retired British Army captain wrote two books about his affair with Diana during her marriage to Prince Charles. Hewitt became a controversial figure in the U.K. for his attempts to sell love letters he exchanged with the late princess.
Fans of The Crown may recognize Hewitt's name, and in 2019 author Anna Pasternak, who co-wrote Princess In Love with Hewitt, addressed at least one aspect of the affair that appeared in the Netflix series.
"Hewitt was regularly bundled into car boots [trunks] and driven to Kensington Palace when their affair ensued," the author wrote in 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."
Here's more about the man who went from stealing Diana's heart to being labeled "Britain's biggest cad."
His father was an Olympic athlete
Hewitt's father, John Alfred Hewitt, was a pentathlete who competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. John was a captain in the Royal Marines when he married Shirley Stamp in 1956 and welcomed son James two years later.
He was a cavalry officer in the British Army
Hewitt graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, then served as a cavalry officer in the British Army after enlisting in the Brigade of Guards when he was 20 years old. Hewitt followed in the footsteps of his father, John, as well as his grandfather, Alfred James Hewitt, who served in the British Navy.
Hewitt was a tank commander during the Gulf War and was in charge of 14 armored vehicles in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
According to the BBC, Hewitt retired in March 1994 with the rank of Captain after 17 years of service, having failed the major's exam twice, but was eventually granted the higher ranking following his retirement.
Hewitt's military service would ultimately cause his relationship with Diana to end around 1990, as his trips overseas meant he couldn't spend time with the princess.
In the book Diana: Closely Guarded Secret, Diana's royal bodyguard Ken Wharfe wrote, "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. When James refused to give up his career, Diana let the affair wane."
He struggled professionally after leaving the military
Hewitt tried various business ventures after his military retirement. According to the BBC, his first post-Army entrepreneurial attempt was a driving range in London that closed shortly after opening.
In 2004, Hewitt won the short-lived competition show Back to Reality.
He met Princess Diana at a party in 1986
Wharfe wrote that Hewitt and Diana had an instant connection at a party hosted by Diana's lady-in-waiting, Hazel West.
"She said that their first conversation was completely natural, and it was this that first attracted her to him," Wharfe wrote. "They got along famously from the start ... Hewitt told her he was a riding instructor; when she in turn spoke of her long-held fear of riding, he offered to help her overcome it."
Diana took him up on the offer, and their affair began not long after he began teaching her to ride horses, continuing for the better part of five years. After his deployment to the Middle East, the relationship ended, though Diana continued sending him letters.
In a 2011 interview with Inside Edition, Hewitt revealed that he contemplated taking his own life after their breakup. "I got in my car and loaded a few things up to get on the ferry to go to France to shoot myself," he said. "And then my mother insisted on coming with me. And, if she hadn't, I would have probably shot myself. So I owe her my life really."
The longstanding rumor that Hewitt is Prince Harry's father is false
Because of their shared ginger hair and freckles, some have speculated that Hewitt, not Prince Charles, is Prince Harry's father — but this is false. Hewitt addressed the gossip in 2002, saying, "I have been aware for a while that the issue of Harry's paternity has been a major talking point. There really is no possibility whatsoever that I am Harry's father. I can understand the interest, but Harry was already walking by the time my relationship with Diana began." Prince Harry was born on Sept. 15, 1984; Hewitt and Diana reportedly did not meet until 1986.
"Admittedly the red hair is similar to mine and people say we look alike," Hewitt added. "Looking at the pictures I would say he is a much more handsome chap than I ever was."
He wrote a book about his affair with Princess Diana
After his affair with Princess Diana ended, Hewitt wrote Princess In Love with journalist Anna Pasternak. The book detailed their relationship, garnering Hewitt and Pasternak a $4.5 million advance. The book hit shelves in October 1994 after being rushed to print when Prince Charles admitted to his own affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
At the time, sources told PEOPLE that Diana was "bitterly hurt" at the tell-all, which detailed everything from their intimate moments to her struggles with bulimia. One palace spokesperson dismissed the tome as "grubby and worthless."
Hewitt continued to profit off his relationship with Princess Diana after her death
After Princess Diana's untimely death on Aug. 31, 1997, Hewitt continued to peddle stories of their affair for money.
In October 1999, Hewitt published Love and War, a memoir that detailed their relationship — right down to what they ate for dinner the day their affair began. Excerpts of the book were slated to be published as a serial in the Mail on Sunday in early 1999, but the publication nixed the plans after receiving a letter from Diana's brother, Charles Spencer.
In December 2002, Hewitt attempted to sell love letters he received from Diana, asking for $16 million. Some of the letters were published in British tabloid News of the World after Hewitt read excerpts of them to a reporter who posed as a buyer.
"I wasn't willing to sell the letters," Hewitt told Good Morning America in 2002. "I was approached and was offered a substantial sum. I was intrigued to see if it was possible to achieve this. So in the end, I suppose, yes, I am willing to sell." He added that he didn't believe the content of the letters to be embarrassing or shameful. "I think they're historical documents written by her to me as I served in the Gulf War, and they will become more and more of an important historical part of what went on," he said.
In January 2003, Hewitt told Larry King that he could do "a lot of good" with any money made from selling the letters. He did not have takers at the time, nor did he in 2015 when he tried again. In July 2003, Hewitt appeared in a documentary called James Hewitt: Confessions of a Cad, in which he claimed Diana was "good in bed."
He was arrested on suspicion of drug possession
In July 2004, Hewitt and TV anchor Alison Bell were arrested at a London bar on suspicion of drug possession after another customer observed the pair and called authorities. The pair were accused of possessing illegal class "A" drugs, a category that includes cocaine and heroin. That September, Hewitt was let off with a warning, but later had his firearms license revoked in connection with the incident.
Princess Diana kept his signet ring after their affair ended
In October 2002, Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, was accused of stealing more than 300 items from the late princess. At the trial, Detective Sgt. Roger Milburn testified that Princess Diana kept Hewitt's ring in a locked box in her home. The ring was considered such a sensitive subject that it wasn't initially mentioned out loud in Burrell's trial. Milburn instead wrote about it on a note that he handed to the judge; the judge later approved the information to be on the record.
Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, and Burrell found the ring after Diana's death in a locked box in her living room. Burrell was accused of stealing the box, which also contained letters from Prince Philip, audio tapes and a resignation letter from Diana's former secretary Patrick Jephson.
Hewitt survived a heart attack and stroke in 2017
Hewitt suffered severe health issues in May 2017. At the time, Hewitt's spokesperson told PEOPLE, "The last time I was in contact with him was a few weeks ago and he said he was feeling unwell. He said he thought he had a bug and was resting in bed." Hewitt reportedly suffered from a heart attack and a stroke and underwent surgery. He was released in late June and reportedly made a full recovery.