Dear Princess Di

Having a lifestyle and having a life are not the same thing. It is high time you recognised the difference

A lifestyle obliges you to borrow - almost routinely, it seems - other women's boyfriends, partners, husbands. Innocently or carnally, who knows? It smacks of the adolescent - all those giggly calls on the mobile and exchanges of nicknames and presents (trolls, model pigs, dolls et al) suggest a faux intimacy rather than any real depth. And that's not to mention an unwelcome regression to the Sloane roots many of your admirers had hoped you had dug up and discarded. As if you had nothing better to do with your time beyond the limelight than use your power and position to flatter a bewildering range of men - James Gilbey, Oliver Hoare, James Hewitt and now Will Carling - into dancing attendance on your still-lacerated ego.

I'm sure these men are little more than modish accessories - "I think Oliver with the Westwood and Will with the Donna Karan" - and you see no harm in having them around (they're so cute, so sweet and, most importantly, oh so undemanding), but it's a vicious and ultimately boring circle. You dally with them, are found out, and what once seemed safe - safe because they can't be yours - suddenly explodes in your face and you're in the headlines again. Unstable, predatory, shallow, aimless - that's what the tabloids say, and they're right. They're judging the lifestyle, and the lifestyle is justly found wanting.

Get yourself a life, and that will change. It's time to quit the petty pilfering and find someone you can actually call your own, to make choices, to come to decisions, to forge ahead. The circle must be broken.

Sure, the tabloids will gun for you (as if your erstwhile husband hadn't blithely built an existence entirely separate from you and your children), and there'll the usual cant about "how could she and don't the boys come first", simply because you're a woman and every wish, dream and desire you have for yourself is meant to be secondary, sacrificed to some sad image of permanently passive motherhood.

But after the initial firestorm, you may find yourself more content than you've been in some time. The "Di's live-in lover" angle has a limited shelf-life and the very honesty of it would be its best defence, a declaration to the world that you're done with sneaking around, flirting with happiness and paying those astronomical phone bills - that you have a sense of your own self-worth that doesn't rely on attention, that looks as if it can't be bought with a cuddly toy.

And let's face it - your public standing needs the boost. Enough suffering. Enough spinning in space. Enough already. Those of us who have identified with you as you passed through the images of young bride, rejected spouse, martyr, princess in a strop, all the way back to girl about town again, want to see you incarnated as an independent woman in love. We need it, and we deserve it - and, believe it or not, so do you.

JOHN LYTTLE

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