The Sun had claimed a "Royal World Exclusive" on Monday with the story that a mystery cameraman had videotaped the Princess "frolicking with James Hewitt during their affair".
The newspaper printed stills from the film apparently showing her riding on the ex- cavalry officer's back, taking off her sweatshirt to reveal a sports bra in a "tantalising semi-striptease" and hurling a cushion at him.
But yesterday the Daily Mirror said it had been contacted by the publicist Max Clifford, who said one of his clients had made the film as a spoof, hoping to sell it to a television comedy show. The players were lookalikes who worked as models.
Last night a north London agency, Susan Scott Look-Alikes, said it set up the models for the job but had not received payment. Christina Hance and Nicky Lilley were booked in April to appear in a non-broadcast video billed as a pilot and a James Hewitt look-alike was also sought then. Ms Scott said: "I still haven't seen the Sun newspaper but it sounds as if shots from that job could have been passed on as if they were the real thing. This morning I received a phone call very early from a man called Nick Hodge who was the producer of the video, he said. He was very angry to see that the pictures had been used in the Sun. I don't know if it was that job or perhaps another job. Since then we have not had a moment's peace but it is very hard to be sure whether it was our video that was used."
The hoax is deeply embarrassing for the Sun, which devoted its first five pages to the story. Television news programmes broadcast sections from the video and other newspapers, including the Independent, reported on it.
Mr Higgins, known as "Higgy", tells his readers today the video had been "one of the most elaborate hoaxes of the decade". Admitting he had been "conned", he adds: "I take full responsibility for this mistake and will apologise in writing to both the Princess and Major Hewitt for any offence caused. I believe both the Sun and myself were victims of a sophisticated hoax."
His suspicions were confirmed by Kensington Palace, which said in a statement: "The Princess of Wales has also asked me to tell you that she does not recognise either herself or Major James Hewitt in these photographs."
The story is a coup for the Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, who until a year ago was editor of the Sun's sister-paper, the News of the World, and before that a Sun show-business writer.
Previous royal scandals involving the Princess include the Squidgygate tapes, in which she was heard talking affectionately on the phone to a car dealer, James Gilbey.
Fergiegate featured the Duke and Duchess of York discussing their marriage problems and Camillagate featured a scatological discussion between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
All featured prominently in the Sun. Now Mr Higgins has a "gate" of his own.Reuse content