A Style section photo caption misidentified a man pictured with Princess Diana in some editions yesterday. He is John Hughes, chariman of the London City Ballet. (Published 10/6/90)

The most photographed woman in the world looked even better in person. But several of Washington's leading social figures didn't get a glimpse of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was the guest of honor at last night's $3,500-a-head white-tie benefit dinner.

They didn't show up.

More than 250 people, drawn primarily from American business leaders, attended the gala at the Departmental Auditorium, along with British Ambassador Sir Antony Acland and Lady Jennifer Acland; President Bush's son Marvin and his wife, Margaret; Dorothy Bush LeBlond; Secretary of Transportation Sam Skinner and his wife, Honey; and Pamela Harriman.

But Evangeline Bruce, Georgette Mosbacher, Bunny Mellon, Buffy Cafritz and Leonore Annenberg were among the no-shows of the night.

Originally listed as members of the American benefit committee for the dinner, the women said yesterday that their absence was no reflection on the princess or the charities benefiting from the event. They said their concern was the unusually high price for the event, set by the British organizers: $2,500 or $3,500 per person. Those who paid the higher price were personally greeted by Diana at a reception in a gauze tent erected in the back of the auditorium.

Organizers of the gala would not release a guest list but earlier in the week had said that guests would include members of the American and British benefit committees.

Bruce said she was skipping the evening because "the price is so out of proportion" for a Washington event. "When I said I would join {the committee}, I said I wouldn't think of paying anything like that," she said. "It's very unsuitable."

Mosbacher, who was asked to join the committee more than six months ago, said she would not attend the dinner and planned to send a donation directly to Grandma's House, a home for children with AIDS. She said the British organizers of the gala failed to take the advice of local committee members on the ticket prices and other aspects of the evening.

"I did feel the price was extremely steep for a Washington event," Mosbacher said. "Personally, I do think you need different {ticket price} levels. You exclude a lot of people when the lowest price is $2,500."

"Times have changed," said Buffy Cafritz, who withdrew from the event a week ago due to a death in the family but did give a donation. "These are serious times. To be Lady Bountiful is not in good taste."

Last night's gala had a decidedly British accent. Guests were greeted by 10 footmen dressed in 18th-century costumes and served by 80 waiters dressed in tails and burgundy bow ties and cummerbunds. Five hundred gold-colored chairs were imported from England to match the gold china and flatware on the tables. The florist was brought over from London.

Two British chefs were flown in for the dinner, which began with a seafood brioche in tarragon sauce, followed by filet of beef with bordelaise sauce, green beans and a salad. For dessert, fruit with raspberry sauce and lemon sorbet were presented on a plate elaborately decorated with chocolate. A California chardonnay, an Italian red wine, champagne and cognac were served with the four-course meal.

Diana, wearing a fuchsia off-the-shoulder dress by British designer Victor Edelstein, was seated between Marvin Bush and Michael Ashcroft, chairman of ADT Ltd., the primary sponsor of the event. Her Royal Highness arrived at Dulles International Airport on the Concorde earlier in the day for her fast first solo visit to Washington and leaves for London this afternoon. This morning she will have tea with Barbara Bush at the White House before a stop at Grandma's House.

A diamond-and-pearl necklace set in 18-carat white gold, donated by a London jeweler for the gala, was auctioned off for $22,000. A small gold carriage clock, donated by Diana, sold for $7,500.

Organizers for last night's gala said ticket sales and donations were expected to raise more than $500,000. Proceeds from the evening were to be split among the British and American charities. The London City Ballet, of which the princess is a patron, will receive approximately half. The Washington Ballet and Grandma's House are each expected to receive at least $100,000. The British-American Arts Association is expected to get $20,000.

Joanna Seymour, media manager for the London City Ballet, said the gala was intended as a "serious fund-raiser" and was "not an evening to see and be seen at. It's a thank-you for people's generosity."

Seymour said the ticket prices had been discussed with both British and American committee members far in advance. She called "misinformed" an article in Wednesday's Women's Wear Daily that reported that a number of the American committee members were pulling out because of the prices, although she did say that Mosbacher had requested her donation back. "I must say people here behave differently than they do in Britain," she added.

Francis Cornish, public affairs counselor at the British Embassy, said, "If there are people who have been offended in the process, that's a pity, but the objectives of the evening will have been met. Firstly, if the people who came enjoyed themselves, and second, if what was basically a fund-raiser raised funds."