November 01, 1999 12:00 PM

Not a day goes by, says Princess Diana’s onetime lover, when he doesn’t think back on the times they shared. The memorable autumn in 1986, for instance, when the then cavalry officer—asked to teach the princess riding—would spend hours galloping with her across Windsor Great Park. “Those rides were idyllic,” James Hewitt says dreamily. “But I try to look forward. I’m trying to move on.”

Moving on, cashing in—it’s easy to get the two confused. This month, “the most reviled man in Britain,” as the tabs called Hewitt after he first divulged details of his royal romance in 1994, is once again filling bookstores with his memories. Hyped as a treasury of tidbits from the 120 billets-doux Diana had sent him during their five-year affair, Hewitt’s Love and War in fact reveals little: Copyright laws prevented him from quoting the princess’s letters, and much of the text is devoted to descriptions of his 1991 stint in the Gulf War. But that hasn’t stopped the author from profiting off the memoir (if all 200,000 copies sell, he’ll make close to $1 million) or from framing his self-justification as a necessary correction to the historical record.

“I gave Diana a lot, and that seems to have been forgotten,” says the never-married Hewitt, 41, who is unemployed (he was fired from the army in 1993 after failing tests to become a major) and lives alone in a smart two-bedroom London apartment. Sipping from a coffee mug emblazoned with translations of the word “love,” he continues, “She became more confident, and I believe I gave her that ability. There has been so much rubbish written about me—I wanted to tell the truth.”

Hewitt’s story begins in the spring of 1986, when, the son of a Royal Marines captain met Diana in the course of his cavalry duties. They began their dalliance several months later, he says, two years after Prince Harry was born. (Asked about rampant speculation that Hewitt fathered Harry, who has red hair like his, Hewitt says with exasperation, “I hope that will all be laid to rest now.”)

It was Diana, Hewitt claims, who made the first move, kissing him one day in the officers’ mess at Windsor. She soon grew bolder, inviting him to the family’s country home, Highgrove, where Hewitt would gamely participate in pillow fights and read William and Harry bedtime stories. If Charles—who Hewitt says had a “tacit knowledge” of his and Diana’s affair—was at Highgrove with his own lover, Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana often joined Hewitt at his mother’s modest Devon farmhouse.

Their affair became public in 1991, when one of Hewitt’s many ex-girlfriends told Britain’s News of the World that the princess had stolen her man. After Diana ended the affair, he says, he cooperated with the author of the tell-all Princess in Love, which earned him about $160,000, because “books were going to be done, and Anna Pasternak [convinced me] it would be fair and accurate without being tawdry. It was a huge mistake.”

In the new book, Hewitt seems unable to resist revealing tawdry details of his own. (“I remember Diana coming across the cat’s bowl with ‘PUSSY’ written on it, becoming helpless with laughter and daring me to eat out of it. Rarely being able to resist a challenge, I finished the cat’s entire dinner.”) Love and War has not endeared its author to Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, who expressed dismay to Mail on Sunday editors over their plans to serialize the book (the plans were later canceled). The Palace has not commented, but Diana’s friends are disgusted. “I thought he had already written that book,” says her butler and confidant Paul Burrell. “How much dirty linen can one person wash in public?”

Hewitt may feel he had little to lose. The riding school he opened in 1995—at the $450,000 Devon manor house his Princess in Love earnings helped buy—fizzled. Embroiled in legal battles after ex-fiancée Anna Ferretti allegedly stole Diana’s letters from him and tried to sell them to the Mirror last year, he had to sell the house and lives on his $10,000 annual pension, along with some investment income. Though such friends as cavalry buddy Rupert MacKenzie-Hill, 34, stick by him (“You can’t keep him in his trousers…. He’s a rogue but a nice one,” MacKenzie-Hill told Scotland on Sunday magazine), the hunting club Hewitt had frequented returned his membership check, and he admits to “occasionally” receiving hate mail. These days, he says, “I have not really got time to be emotionally involved.” Besides, as he writes plaintively, after Diana died “I…realized I loved her more than any other woman I ever have or ever will love.”

Maybe so. Yet even as Britain’s tabloids were once again denouncing him as a cad, Hewitt looked to be in fine form at a high-society London fete he attended earlier this month. “The women couldn’t leave him alone,” says photographer John Stoddart, who accompanied him. “He was the belle of the ball.”

Kim Hubbard

Simon Perry and Matthew Beard in London

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