Although King Charles and Princess Diana’s tumultuous marriage took place decades ago, it continues to fascinate the world – especially as their son’s own drama spreads across front pages around the world. As Prince Harry prepares to publish his memoirs Spare parts this month, his childhood, relationship with his parents and the name “James Hewitt” are suddenly back at the forefront of conversation.
Charles and Diana’s marital strife was also at the center of the popular Netflix series The crownespecially in the recent seasons 4 and 5. The show is also detailed Charles’ ongoing affair– both emotionally and otherwise – with his former partner Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana, trapped in an unhappy and loveless marriage, had affairs of her own, and the couple’s mutual infidelity is explored in episode 9, “Avalanche”.
During the episode, Queen Elizabeth learns of the couple’s infidelity and trying to broker a vote with mixed results. Diana promises the Queen that she will be faithful from now on and makes it clear that she will fight for the relationship. The Queen accepts that answer, clearly desperate to end the unpleasant encounter as quickly as possible. But Charles is clearly not on board, and by the end of the episode, Diana has resumed her affair with a Captain James Hewitt. Here’s a primer on Hewitt, his real-life relationship with Diana, and why his name keeps popping up Spare parts running on the charts.
Captain James Hewitt was Diana’s riding instructor.
Hewitt was born in Ireland while his father was stationed there in the 1950s. After completing his training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Hewitt joined the Household Cavalry as part of a regiment known as the Life Guards, which serves the monarchy.
About five years after her marriage to Charles, in 1986, Diana met Hewitt at a party. According to Diana’s royal protection officer Ken Wharfe in his 2002 book Diana: A closely guarded secret, the duo “famously came together” during their first conversation. “He told her he was a riding instructor and when she admitted she was afraid of horses, he offered to help her overcome her fear.”
Hewitt had a bond with Prince William and Harry.
Diana spoke in depth about her relationship with Hewitt to biographer Andrew Morton, who detailed her remarks in his 1992 biography Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words. A large part of her attraction to Hewitt was the fact that he got on so well with her young sons William and Harry, who saw him as an uncle. “Hewitt, a keen polo player with the laconic humor and restraint reminiscent of a 1930s matinee idol, taught William and Harry the finer points of horsemanship during his visits to Highgrove,” Morton wrote. When Diana visited his family home in Devon, “she was entertained by his parents while her boys drove with Captain Hewitt.”
In addition to entertaining his sons, “Hewitt also provided Diana with amusing and sympathetic companionship at a time when she needed a shoulder to lean on due to her husband’s neglect,” Morton added.
Hewitt gained a reputation as a “love rat” after selling his story about his affair with Diana.
Shortly after Diana and Hewitt’s affair ended in the early 1990s, Hewitt teamed up with author Anna Pasternak on an all-encompassing book about the relationship titled Princess in love. The book briefly made Hewitt a household name in Britain, but not in a desirable way – cashing in on his intimate relationship with Diana was widely seen as a major betrayal. About BBCearned Hewitt a £300,000 advance for the book and a further £1 million for an interview with World news (the now defunct Sunday sister paper to The sun).
In 1995, under her infamous interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir, Diana admitted the affair and explained how devastating Hewitt’s betrayal had been. “Yes, I loved him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down,” she told Bashir, referring to Hewitt’s kiss-and-tell book.
After Diana’s death, Hewitt’s reputation as a “love rat” only became more damning. “His perceived betrayal of the late princess has made Hewitt a social outcast, almost useless,” BBC wrote in 2003. In the same year, Hewitt kept it classy by trying to sell “intimate love letters” from Diana for millions of pounds during an interview with Larry King Live. “I think it’s important to understand that they are, or will become, important historical documents,” he said. “I think it might be irresponsible not to sell them and create something that you can do something good with.”
There was speculation that James Hewitt was Prince Harry’s real father.
IN Spare parts, Prince Harry addresses the largely debunked but long-pervasive rumor that Hewitt was his biological father. He claims that King Charles often joked about the supposed patrilineage. “Dad liked to tell stories and this was one of the best in his repertoire,” Harry writes in Spare partsaccording to a segment viewed by Page six. “He would always end with a burst of philosophizing … Who knows if I really am the Prince of Wales? Who knows if I’m even your real father?
“He would laugh and laugh, although it was a remarkably unfunny joke, given the rumor circulating just then that my real father was one of Mummy’s former lovers: Major James Hewitt. One reason for this rumor was Major Hewitt’s flaming ginger hair , but another cause was sadism.”
As for the tabloid speculation about the source of that ginger hair, Harry added: “Maybe it’s made up [the tabloids] are better off with their lives that a young prince’s life was a laughing stock. Don’t forget that my mother didn’t meet Major Hewitt until long after I was born.”
Emma Dibdin is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who writes about culture, mental health and true crime. She loves owls, hates cilantro and can find the queer subtext in literally anything.