Whenever I meet royal fans (or indeed haters) who want to talk about Prince Harry, they nearly always ask, “So, who is Harry’s real father?”
As the clock to the royal wedding counts down, and Harry finds himself back in the news, I find the question arising more and more frequently.
When I break the disappointing news that I think it is more likely than not to be Prince Charles, they sometimes produce their phones, and start googling split-screen images of Harry and James Hewitt, the dashing cavalry officer who was Diana’s lover for five years, but was branded a “love rat” and a “cad” after selling the story of their romance.
As my interlocutor brandishes a phone in my face, I sometimes find myself forced to admit that Harry really, really does look the spit of Hewitt.
I make the case, patriotically, that this is simply because James Hewitt (weirdly) looks exactly like Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, but a part of me cannot help but wonder whether there is truth to the longstanding rumors that say Harry is Hewitt’s boy.
The Daily Beast attempted to reach out to Hewitt for this article via his most recent agent, but received no reply to email and a direct message sent through social media.
In truth, it would have been remarkable if Hewitt had wished to comment: He is thought to be unwell following a stroke last year, and is said to be living a reclusive life in the West of England.
And he has always been very clear on the issue. Hewitt has never, ever claimed to be Harry’s dad. In fact, he has denied it. Most recently, in an interview with an Australian TV show, when Hewitt was asked if he was Prince Harry’s biological father, he replied, “No I’m not. When I met Diana he was already a toddler. I have to say he’s a much more handsome chap than I ever was.”
(This is not entirely true. Hewitt was devastatingly handsome.)
In a biography of Harry, the author Penny Junor claimed, “The News of the World had strands of Harry’s hair DNA-tested in February 2003—and if Harry had been shown to be James Hewitt’s son, you can be sure we’d have known.”
Well, would we? For despite the denials, the question remains a subject of much idle fascination and speculation.
It was back in the news again this week after Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler, was asked point blank on the Australian version of jungle game show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here about Harry’s paternity.
In a fireside conversation, Burrell was asked about Hewitt and said, “She didn’t know James Hewitt when Harry was born. That’s fact. Five years into the marriage, she had Harry. And she hadn’t yet met James Hewitt. True.”
While the thrust of Burrell’s statement is clear, he is wrong on the detail by any reckoning.
Charles and Diana were married in 1981, Harry was born in 1984. And according to the “official” version of the Diana and Hewitt romance, their first meeting was in 1986.
James Hewitt, this version of the story goes, was introduced to the Princess of Wales at a drinks party in 1986, organized by Hazel West, wife of Lt-Colonel George West, the Assistant-Comptroller in the Lord Chamberlain’s Office.
The journalist Nigel Farndale, in an interview with Hewitt, in 1999, wrote that “Hewitt thought it odd that he, an ordinary soldier, should be invited to drink with senior courtiers. He now believes that the introduction had been planned because he, a single handsome Guards officer, would be the ideal person to keep the princess quiet.”
It is unlikely, however, that this really was the first time Hewitt met Diana. Hewitt, thanks to his position in the Guards, was not a complete stranger to royal and society circles—and he served in an official military capacity with his regiment at the wedding of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew in 1986.
The journalist and playwright Jon Conway claimed, in his play Truth Lies Diana, that Hewitt told him that he and Diana did indeed meet before Harry was born, but that the “inconvenient” truth had been swept under the carpet.
“Diana and I started our relationship more than a year before Harry was born. Now that doesn’t prove that I am his father. It’s just the inconvenient truth,” Hewitt is quoted as saying.
Hewitt has never disputed Conway’s account of their conversations.
He did not claim to Conway that he was Harry’s father, but he didn’t seek to dampen the rumor mill either, saying that if he was Harry’s father, the best thing he could do for Harry would be to deny it.
In the book Princess in Love (when, in 1995, Diana told Martin Bashir of Hewitt, “Yes I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down,” she was referring to the book), Hewitt recounted reading bedtime stories to Harry and William and having pillow fights with them.
“I played with them, swam with them, taught them to ride,” he said in an interview.
This point is often forgotten in the relentless dispute over Hewitt’s alleged biological role in Harry’s conception. Regardless of DNA, Hewitt certainly was an important male role model and father figure to the young Harry.
“He was a surrogate father and a kind of stepfather,” Conway told The Daily Beast. “He saw Harry every weekend for several years. He played an important part in bringing the boy up, and making him the man he is today.”