By James Hewitt

Blake. 296 pp. $28

Reviewed by Charlotte Hays

Love and War is a book about two people, Princess Diana and James Hewitt, who were in love with the same man -- James Hewitt.

Before her death, Princess Diana seemed to have overcome her infatuation with Hewitt, but Hewitt has not fallen out of love with himself. Indeed, this polo-obsessed, burgeoning Colonel Blimp, whose speech is a caricature of the English officer's -- "The mood was very gung-ho -- they fully intended to put Saddam Hussein in his place," he noted of U.S. troops in the Gulf War -- is so taken with himself that he reverses the normal order of the personal pronoun -- "I and my men," "I and another potential officer" and "me and Francis Showering" -- throughout the book.

In this particular case, one can tell a lot about the book by its cover: Hewitt, looking Churchillian in his ornate Life Guards uniform, is on the front, while a smiling Princess Diana is on the back. In the introduction, he does acknowledge that his book "is not about Diana -- much more it is about the effect she had on my life."

As with his personal pronouns, he has this backward. The only reason to read a book by a vain and inconsequential royal paramour would be to learn more about an unstable princess who sent shivers through an ancient monarchy. The only fact of importance in this book is that it establishes the time frame for his affair; it frees Prince Harry from the unpleasant suspicion that he might have been Hewitt's love child.

Princess in Love, the 1994 book about the Diana-Hewitt affair written by Anna Pasternak with his cooperation (he also shared the publisher's advance), was far more informative than his own book. There is one potentially fascinating idea in the latter: He believed that Buckingham Palace had set him up to have an affair with Diana. He hints that this might have been because he was more socially acceptable than a previous lover, Barry Mannakee, Diana's bodyguard, who was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Hewitt first saw Diana when she was standing barefoot at the bottom of a staircase in Buckingham Palace, to which he, who belonged to the Life Guards, which guard the monarch (and with which he went to the Persian Gulf), had been admitted on business. Shortly afterward, he was formally introduced to the princess at a small party by Hazel West, a court insider who lived with her military husband in a "spacious apartment in St. James Palace." But Hewitt, who became Diana's riding instructor shortly after the party, doesn't offer much more information in support of his theory that the palace set him up, and all and all this theory seems to be born of his vanity.

Although he is a cad, he's a good observer -- you sometimes think he missed his real calling: couture -- and he could have written informatively about life behind the scenes at Kensington Palace if he had been able to focus on someone besides Maj. James Hewitt. Perhaps it is only to be expected that Hewitt, ridiculed by the press, would want to extol his service to his country in the Gulf War, but he can't expect the reader to really care, even though he killed two Iraqi soldiers with his pistol, received packages from Fortnum and Mason and corresponded with Maj. Ronald Ferguson (Fergie's father) about a celebratory polo match once the war had ended. Hewitt is the sort of person who can say, as he does in the book, that he was "prepared to lay down my life for Queen and country" without noticing the delicious irony that he was bedding the monarch's wayward daughter-in-law.

On page 173, I had a terrible realization: Princess Diana was already dead -- a tearful Hewitt was being comforted by his new girlfriend, the improbably named Camilla Courage -- yet I still had to endure the insufferable author for more than a hundred pages.

The last section of the book, however, is, as Hewitt might put it, ripping. It deals mainly with his misadventure with Anna Ferretti, a girlfriend who took his letters from Princess Diana out of his safe and conveyed them to the Daily Mirror, a London tabloid. The tabloid, apparently getting cold feet about the letters, handed them over to the palace. Hewitt waged a financially ruinous battle to retrieve the letters. (Incidentally, most of the quotes selected from Diana's letters in this book are all about how wonderful Hewitt is -- i.e., nothing of much interest.)

Hewitt sees himself as a victim of Ferretti, the Mirror and the palace, but one can't help feeling that a less vain man might have been more guarded with Ferretti, whom he had spotted in a Monte Carlo casino. They had not spoken in the casino, but late that night she knocked at his door and they hopped into bed. She began behaving suspiciously -- not surprising since she had to get him away from his house so she could take the letters.

Hewitt was also duped by a reporter who one Valentine's Day anonymously sent him a single red rose with a telephone number. The vain ninny went to London to meet his "admirer," who turned out to be Carole Aye Meung of the Mirror. Hidden photographers captured the encounter in a London restaurant. Still smarting, Hewitt could not resist unchivalrously describing Meung as overweight and saying that while the valentine tempted him to London, "Miss Meung in the flesh would have a great deal of difficulty in being seduced by anybody."

As part of Hewitt's deal to regain his letters from Diana, the palace originally wanted him to agree to have them destroyed at his death. As a reporter, I applaud his refusal to agree to this. But I quailed when Hewitt, who was, indeed, treated very badly by the Mirror, seemed to promise that he will take further action. "As far as I am concerned, this particular story has not yet come to an end," he threatened. Be gone, Major Hewitt! We've had enough.

Charlotte Hays, editor of the Women's Quarterly, is working on a book about glamorous marriages.