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Princess Di Admits to an Affair

Princess Diana during an interview aired on the Panorama program.
AP Photo

By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tues., Nov. 21, 1995; Page A01

LONDON, Nov. 20 -- Princess Diana tonight bared her private life to a nationwide television audience here, confirming many, though not all, of the stories told about her during the past five years: unfaithfulness to Prince Charles after their separation; physical damage she inflicted on herself; her bulimia; her secretive cooperation with a "tell all" book on the couple's unhappy marriage; and her firm conviction that the royal household has been -- and remains -- determined to ruin her standing with the British public.

In an hour-long interview with BBC television, her first ever, she said she has known for years of Charles's own affair with another woman ("There were three of us in the marriage. It was a bit crowded.") but nevertheless said she does not want a divorce.

At the same time, she said she does not expect to become queen. "The establishment that I married into," she said, has "decided that I'm a non-starter."

Later, she said: "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts, in people's hearts, but I don't see myself being queen of this country."

The interview -- which was taped this month without the knowledge of Buckingham Palace or Charles -- was in essence a response to an interview Charles gave last year, in which he admitted that he had committed adultery with his longtime love, Camilla Parker-Bowles, just as the book with which Diana cooperated was a response to a book apparently authorized by her husband. The American rights to Diana's interview were purchased by ABC, which will air it Friday.

The princess portrayed her public relations contest with Charles since their formal separation in December 1992 as a "chess game" or "poker" match, with the stakes being the affection of the British public. Indeed, she said, the royal family's resentment of her all along stemmed in part from the fact that she attracted more attention than Charles, even before they were separated.

Now, she said, that resentment has become a "fear. They see me as a threat of some kind. . . . I think every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it's the strength that causes the confusion and the fear. Why is she strong? Where does she get it from? Where is she taking it? Where is she going to use it? Why do the public still support her?"

Most of the questions tonight concerned previously published reports -- in books or in newspapers -- that have come out in the past few years. Calmly and with little hesitation, the Princess of Wales responded to every question put to her, including a much-anticipated one about a book written last year by a former army officer -- James Hewitt -- in which he claimed to have had an affair with her while serving as part of her Kensington Palace staff: "Did your relationship go beyond a close friendship?" she was asked.

"Yes it did, yes," she responded.

"Were you unfaithful?" asked the interviewer, Martin Bashir.

"Yes, I adored him," she said. "Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down" when he published his book. "It was very distressing for me that a friend of mine, who I had trusted, made money out of me. I really minded about that. And he'd rung me up 10 days before it arrived in the bookshops to tell me that there was nothing to worry about, and I believed him, stupidly. And then when it did arrive, the first thing I did was rush down to talk to my children. And William {the couple's oldest son} produced a box of chocolates and said, Mummy, I think you've been hurt. These are to make you smile again.' "

One rumor that the princess did try to put to rest was that she had had an intimate relationship with a longtime friend, James Gilbey. In August 1992, the tabloid press here got hold of intercepted cellular phone conversations in which he professed love for her and called her "Squidgy." While expressing great affection for Gilbey, and confirming the accuracy of the tape, she said tonight that they did not have an affair.

Diana said the stress of becoming Princess of Wales at 19, and the royal family's lack of appreciation for her contribution to the monarchy, was a factor in her bulimia and several attempts at "injuring" herself.

"Well, anything good I ever did nobody ever said a thing, never said, Well done.' . . . But if I tripped up, which invariably I did, because I was new at the game, a ton of bricks came down on me. . . . There were lots of tears, and one could dive into the bulimia, into escape."

"Yes," she said, "I did inflict injury on myself. . . . I hurt my arms and my legs." She did not elaborate.

Asked whether Charles understood her problems, she said flatly, "No."

She said it was Charles who asked for the separation, which was formally announced by Prime Minister John Major. "I heard it on the radio," she said. "The fairy tale had come to an end."

After that, she said, the "agendas" of everyone around the royal family changed. "I was a liability. How are we going to deal with her?' " She said palace officials blocked her public engagements and made sure that "letters" to her "got lost."

She said, without specifics, that there was some discussion in the royal household of having her "put away" somewhere.

Instead, she said, stories about her were leaked to the press in an effort to destroy her reputation, including a story about how police were investigating a series of harassing, hang-up phone calls made by her to a friend and London art dealer, Oliver Hoare. Tonight, while saying that she did call Hoare from time to time, she denied doing so "obsessively" or very often.

As to the future, she said she wondered whether Charles could "adapt" to being king. "There was always conflict on that subject with him when we discussed it, and I understood that conflict, because it's a very demanding role, being Prince of Wales, but it's a . . . more demanding role being king."

And of her own future, the princess said she wished to become an "ambassador" to the world, particularly to distressed people.

Asked why she was giving the interview, she said:

"Because we will have been separated three years this December, and the perception that has been given of me for the last three years has been very confusing, turbulent, and in some areas I'm sure many, many people doubt me. And I want to reassure all those people who have loved me and supported me throughout the last 15 years that I'd never let them down."

Scholars and lawyers and supporters of the monarchy remain deeply concerned about the possibility that Charles and Diana will never get divorced, since that would mean Diana would become queen when, and if, Charles becomes king (and head of the Church of England). The prospect of two admitted adulterers arriving in separate coaches for a coronation and of the monarchy continuing to be fodder for the world's tabloids is horrifying for those who wish the monarchy to continue.

The fallout from her interview tonight will undoubtedly continue for months. Indeed, the surprise announcement last week that she was giving an interview set off a flurry of subsidiary controversies before anyone knew what she would say.

Buckingham Palace was reported to be furious that she had given no notice of the event to the queen or to officials there. Her own staff was equally chagrined that she hadn't informed them: One, her press secretary, resigned in humiliation today.

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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