Who Is Major James Hewitt? 12 Things We Know About Princess Diana's Former Lover

Major James Hewitt's name has been associated with Britain's royal family for more than three decades. That association, of course, has brought mostly notoriety to the retired British cavalry officer, given that his claim to fame is the fact that he had an affair with Princess Diana while she was still married to King Charles III.

Hewitt didn't do himself any favors when his financial difficulties tempted him to profit from that affair — something he attempted more than once. This led him to be vilified in the press. As the Independent noted in 2003, an opinion poll at the time seeking to determine who held the title for "Most Hated Briton" wound up with Hewitt nabbing 37th place. In the decades since the affair, Hewitt has become something of a fixture in the British tabloids, often of his own doing. He wrote a book about his years as Diana's lover, became embroiled in a scandal over the love letters she wrote to him, and even became a television personality who popularized his own catchphrase, "ding dong" (via YouTube). So, who is Major James Hewitt? Here are things we know about Princess Diana's former lover.

James Hewitt's father was an Olympic athlete

James Hewitt was born in 1958 in Derry, Northern Ireland, to John Alfred Hewitt and his wife Shirley. James Hewitt's father was a world-class athlete who competed in the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki Finland. Hewitt's father's specialty was the modern pentathlon, a combination sport in which athletes compete in fencing, pistol marksmanship, cross-country running, freestyle swimming, and equestrian show jumping.

According to the elder Hewitt's official Olympics biography, he didn't bring home any medals, finishing in 30th place in the individual competition, while Great Britain's modern pentathlon team came in 10th overall. 

While Hewitt didn't follow in his father's footsteps by becoming an Olympian himself, he did compete in an Olympics-inspired television competition that aired on British television in 2003, titled "The Games." Hewitt engaged in various athletic challenges alongside celebrity competitors, including Spice Girls singer Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm, Miss World Azra Akin, former Steps singer Lee Latchford Evans, and others. Hewitt and the other celebs were split into two teams and underwent intensive training from actual Olympic coaches. As the Daily Mail reported, Hewitt comported himself admirably. At the same time, he didn't win but wound up coming in a close second to rapper Harvey — impressive, when one considers that the latter is 20 years Hewitt's junior.

He became a cavalry officer after enlisting at age 20

James Hewitt was born into a military family. As People noted, both his father and grandfather had served in the Royal Navy. Hewitt continued that tradition by attending Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where students are trained to be officers in the various branches of Britain's armed forces. 

After graduating, at the age of 20, Hewitt enlisted in the British Army, serving as a cavalry officer in the Brigade of Guards. The modern-day cavalry suited Hewitt; he ultimately served for 17 years in the Household Cavalry, comprised of the British Army's two most senior regiments, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. During the course of his military career, Hewitt saw combat during the Persian Gulf War, where he was a tank commander charged with leading 14 Challenger tanks during Operation Desert Storm, part of the effort to liberate Kuwait.

Hewitt retired from the military in 1994. Nearly a decade later, in 2003 he drew on his military experience for a new role as a war reporter for America's Fox News. As BBC News pointed out, there was a potential problem with his new gig. Since he was still a reservist, he could be called to return to service. That, however, turned out to be a moot point. As The Guardian reported, Hewitt was fired before even filing a single report. "[It's a] big kick in the teeth," Hewitt's lawyer, Michael Coleman, said of his client's Fox News firing.

When he met Princess Diana he offered his services as a riding instructor

James Hewitt met Princess Diana at a party in 1986. Diana's bodyguard at the time, Ken Wharfe, subsequently wrote several books about his experience with the then-Princess of Wales, which included his recollections of Hewitt. In an excerpt from his book, "Diana: A Closely Guarded Secret," published in The New Zealand Herald, Wharfe recalled that fateful first meeting. "Their first conversation felt natural, she said, and it was this that sparked her attraction. As she put it, they got along famously," wrote Wharfe.

During that initial conversation, the subject of horses came up, as it often does within Britain's upper crust. Diana told him that she was terrified of horses — a fear that became an issue given that horseback riding was a beloved hobby of her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, and many other royals. Hewitt, still serving in the cavalry, had a significant degree of equine experience, and offered to lend his services to Diana as a riding instructor. 

As Hewitt and the princess spent time together, sparks flew. Their first meeting, Wharfe noted, came at a time when Diana was at her most vulnerable, having discovered that King Charles was cheating on her with Camilla, Queen Consort. "Shattered by her husband's betrayal, the princess was ready for an affair," wrote Wharfe. "Hewitt, a natural womaniser, gave her the attention and affection she relished, and then the passion she yearned for."

His affair with Princess Diana began soon after they met

Following their initial meeting, it didn't take long for the relationship between James Hewitt and Princess Diana to become romantic. Due to the nature of her fame, their romance needed to be kept top secret, with the pair never able to venture out together in public. 

Speaking with Vanity Fair, Hewitt recalled that their romance heated up rapidly. "It's a gradual period and then, you know, suddenly you can't get enough of each other or see each other as much as you want," he said. According to Hewitt, Diana would sneak away from her official residence in order to visit Hewitt at his farm. There, they'd settle into a little bubble of domesticity, away from the prying eyes of the public. "I'd cook and [Diana] would wash up," Hewitt said of that period. "Just dinner and relaxing and laughing."

Ken Wharfe, Diana's bodyguard at the time, was also on hand for those trysts and clearly knew a lot more about what was going on than the lovers presumed. "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," Wharfe wrote (via The New Zealand Herald). 

Princess Diana felt betrayed when his military service sent him overseas

James Hewitt's affair with Princess Diana ended when he was called into service in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. Given that Hewitt could have refused, allowing strings to be pulled that would let him remain in London, Diana took his deployment as a slap in the face.

"Diana felt betrayed: He had chosen his career over her," wrote her former bodyguard Ken Wharfe in his book "Diana: Closely Guarded Secret" (via People). "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."

After the affair had ended, Diana sat down for her bombshell-filled interview with BBC's "Panorama," opening up about her struggles with bulimia and her knowledge of her husband's infidelity. According to PBS' transcript, she also confirmed her affair with Hewitt. "Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down," Diana confessed. By then, their affair had long since ended and Hewitt attempted to cash in by spilling details about their relationship for a book. For Diana, this proved to be an even bigger betrayal than Hewitt's serving overseas. "Well, there was a lot of fantasy in that book, and it was very distressing for me that a friend of mine, who I had trusted, made money out of me," she complained. "I really minded about that."

He struggled professionally after retiring from the military in 1994

James Hewitt finally retired from the military in 1994, ending a 17-year career that began when he was just 20. The next decade or so proved to be a difficult period for him when he came to realize that his involvement with Princess Diana — and the ensuing public animosity toward him — had left him pretty much unemployable. In a 2004 profile for the Independent, he described himself as being "between jobs" since retiring in his late 30s from the only real job he'd ever held. That profile detailed how Hewitt cemented himself as one of the most hated men in Britain, thanks to his involvement in the 1994 tell-all "Princess in Love" and Diana's subsequent dissing of him in her "Panorama" interview. He was rewarded by the press with such nicknames as "the cad" and "love rat." 

Meanwhile, Hewitt's post-military business ventures flopped. Chief among those was a golf driving range, in which he invested £30,000. The business went belly up not long after it was launched.

Years later, in the late 2000s, he relocated to Marbella, Spain, where he opened a bar and nightclub called Polo House. It shut down in 2013. "After four relatively happy years, and one bad year, James and his business partner, Ram Nandkishore, decided to call it a day," a spokesman told The Telegraph. In 2021, the Daily Mail reported that Hewitt was working as a gardener for about £4,000 per year.

He confirmed his affair with Princess Diana in two tell-all books

Following the failure of his driving range, cash-strapped James Hewitt decided to tell his story to writer Anna Pasternak for a book, "Princess in Love." This ultimately proved to be the downfall of both Hewitt and Pasternak. Both were pilloried in the media, accused of cashing in by selling secrets about the world's most beloved woman. "I was flayed alive in the press," Pasternak wrote in Tatler. "I regret the toll the book took on my family and my reputation, and I certainly regret any pain caused to the royal family, especially William and Harry," Pasternak admitted to the Daily Mail in 2019. 

Despite the backlash Hewitt received for "Princess in Love," a few years later he wrote his own book, 1999's "Love and War." The response to Hewitt's book was similar to "Princess in Love," with the British press once again portraying Hewitt as a scoundrel tarnishing Diana's memory for his own personal gain. 

Hewitt addressed the backlash during a 2003 appearance on "Larry King Live," characteristically portraying himself as the victim. "Am I the only person in the world not allowed to write a book about myself?" Hewitt griped (via CNN). "I mean, I think that most of this hate and vilification is generated by the tabloid papers. Who need someone to paint as a baddy because every good story needs a baddy. Unfortunately I'm that person."

He was arrested on suspicion of cocaine possession

In 2004, James Hewitt managed to drag his reputation even further into the mud when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine. As the Evening Standard reported, Hewitt was having dinner with his then-girlfriend, British TV presenter Alison Bell (who had previously dated Prince Edward), when they were accosted by officers, who had reportedly been tipped off. Hewitt and Bell were kept at a police station overnight because the two were far too intoxicated to undergo questioning, according to sources.

As it turned out, the person who called in the tip to the cops was paparazzi photographer Dennis Gill, who had been covertly trailing Hewitt. At the restaurant where he was arrested, Gill told The Sydney Morning Herald that he called cops after observing Hewitt appearing to be "so out of it he was swinging around like a monkey," and suspected that drugs were involved. "I don't feel James Hewitt should go to jail; jail will teach him nothing. But I do hope he is found guilty because he is guilty." Gill, not surprisingly, photographed Hewitt's arrest.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, both Bell and Hewitt were ultimately released without facing charges, getting off with a warning. "Following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, he received a caution for the offence of possession of a Class A drug," a police spokesperson said in a statement.

He tried to sell Princess Diana's love letters to the tabloids

In December 2002, Hewitt was approached by someone purporting to represent a Swiss tycoon, looking to buy his love letters from Princess Diana. Hewitt agreed to sell and asked for $16 million for all of them. What Hewitt didn't know was that the man looking to make the deal was actually an undercover reporter for Rupert Murdoch's tabloid News of the World, basically conducting a sting operation that successfully caught Hewitt red-handed. 

Hewitt, however, disputed the tabloid's account. "I wasn't willing to sell the letters. I was approached and was offered a substantial sum," Hewitt told "Good Morning America" (via ABC News). However, he also indicated that he was now willing to find a buyer for the letters. "I was intrigued to see if it was possible to achieve this," he added. "So in the end, I suppose, yes, I am willing to sell."

There were two potential buyers who reportedly emerged: Diana's sons. According to an unconfirmed report in the Daily Mail, a source claimed that Prince William and Prince Harry expressed interest in purchasing the letters, allegedly saying that there was "no price not worth paying" for them. Ultimately, Hewitt never did find a buyer. However, as he subsequently told The Telegraph, that didn't mean that he someday wouldn't. "Nobody is going to tell me what to do with my own property," he said of the letters. "I'm pig-headed in that respect." 

He appeared in several reality TV shows

By the later part of the early 2000s, James Hewitt found himself in the unenviable position of being notoriously famous, widely reviled, and flat broke. That combination made him a perfect candidate for reality television. In 2003, Hewitt joined the cast of "The Games," in which C-list celebrities competed in athletic events. The following year, Hewitt competed in the British TV "celebreality" competition "Back to Reality," with viewers voting on stars' fates until only one remains. That one turned out to be Hewitt, who won the competition. In 2005, he starred in the twisted dating show "Fool Around With" in which he was introduced as a "serial cad."

In 2006, Hewitt continued his reality-show run by competing in "The X-Factor: Battle of the Stars," in which he showcased his singing ability, such as it was. "Hewitt had the stage manner of a Thunderbird puppet cut loose from its strings, and his clipped elocution made hits like Robbie Williams' 'Rock DJ' sound like a series of vocal exercises from 'My Fair Lady' — when he could remember the lyrics, that is," noted the Evening Standard in its snarky critique.

After Hewitt moved to Spain to run his nightclub, he'd apparently lost interest in doing more reality TV. "They keep asking me to do 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!' It's good money — £70,000 they've offered — but the club is my priority now," he told The Telegraph in 2009.

He was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack and stroke

In May 2017, James Hewitt was living quietly in Devon in his mother's home when he suffered a heart attack and a stroke. As the Daily Mail reported, the 59-year-old's condition was dire; he was reported to be "fighting for his life," and doctors had given him just a "slim chance" of surviving. However, a member of Hewitt's family told the Mirror that they were optimistic about his recovery. "He's getting better, from what we know," the family member said. "He was a very fit man in his youth so we're all sure he'll pull through."

As People reported, a spokesperson for Hewitt confirmed that he hadn't been feeling great in recent weeks. "The last time I was in contact with him was a few weeks ago and he said he was feeling unwell," Hewitt's spokesperson said. "He said he thought he had a bug and was resting in bed."

Hewitt's health scare was apparently quite serious. After spending eight weeks in intensive care, he was finally released from hospital. "He is doing much better but still needs to build up his strength," a source told the Mirror. "Now he just wants to put this behind him and get on with his life."

Rumors have persisted that he is the biological father of Prince Harry

Arguably the biggest rumor about James Hewitt is that he's the biological father of Prince Harry. This claim continues to circulate, mainly because Harry and Hewitt both have similarly ginger-hued hair. As persistent as this rumor has proven to be, it's also demonstrably bogus: Harry was born on September 15, 1984, while Princess Diana and Hewitt didn't meet until the summer of 1986.

Hewitt has long refuted the claims. "Well, I think it is just ghastly and selfish of the tabloids who, again, are running this story to make money," Hewitt said while guesting on "Larry King Live" (via CNN). "It's been suggested before and I said many times I'm not. And I think it's just laughable."

Were those rumors simply a way of selling more newspapers, or was there a more nefarious scheme in place? That's what Harry alleged when he testified in court in June 2023 during his phone-hacking trial against Mirror Group Newspapers. "They were hurtful, mean and cruel. I was always left questioning the motives behind the stories," Harry said during his testimony, as reported by the Independent. In fact, Harry theorized that by spreading rumors that Hewitt was his real father, the tabloids were planting a seed in the public's eyes that he wasn't really a legitimate royal. "Were the newspapers keen to put doubt into the minds of the public so I might be ousted from the royal family?" Harry pondered.