It seems that we have begun to live our life by the stars, taking the behaviour of celebrities (even middle-aged, male celebrities) as parables and exemplars of how to behave, or not to behave, in modern life.
Among public figures who have been given a secondary, social role outside and beyond their careers, Mick Jagger, soon-to-be-60, reminds us that one can approach old age and still be gloriously undignified, while George Best is an unsteady warning that even the most promising talent can be squandered. Lord Archer provides a whole slew of strong moral messages, not the least of which is that ferociously directed self-belief can indeed overcome innate mediocrity.
But what about James Hewitt? To adapt the formula which landed Anne Robinson in such embarrassing trouble with the Welsh, what exactly is the point of him? These days we can see that he is a celebrity all right: as the past few days have confirmed, he can number among his pitifully few qualifications full membership of the Famous-For-Being-Famous Club.
Other people went to bed with Diana, Princess of Wales, and a fair number of unscrupulous types have tried to make money from her more intimate secrets. But it is Major Hewitt who has become our most notorious love-rat, who indeed now finds himself being followed about by a man dressed in a rat-suit, employed by a witty tabloid newspaper editor.
In a recent opinion poll to establish the Most Hated Briton, he came in at a respectable 37th place. Most impressively of all, an achievement that formally establishes his status, he will soon be appearing in a television celebrity-reality show.
Before that, tomorrow evening, he will be starring in a television documentary about his life entitled Confessions of a Cad. To judge from all the advance publicity, it will be such an entertaining programme that, briefly, one is tempted to forgive Channel 4 for its headlong dive into summer stupidity with Big Brother and Graham Norton.
There will, of course, be a fair amount of stupidity on show in Major Hewitt's documentary. The major will be shown lying in his bath, boasting about the size of his penis - now such a familiar claim that the phrase "hung like a Hewitt" seems certain soon to appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. He will claim, amusingly, that the number of women he has seduced is greater than an English test cricket team score. In his cups in conversation with one of his charming friends, he apparently grins his agreement to the claim that poor old Princess Diana was "a good fuck".
The major is upset about all this. He may have agreed to be filmed, getting drunk, boasting, flashing in the bath, but he is almost sure that the producer agreed not to use the material.
Stupid, see? Really stupid. And that is the reason why this man is such a jewel in our public life. The fact is - and readers who have led sheltered lives may be shocked here - there are thousands of people like James Hewitt in these islands.
They are easy to spot, with their big-boned, wavy-haired, healthy, freckled looks, their identical tweed jackets, cavalry twills and brogues. In spite of receiving very expensive educations, they have emerged from their public schools every bit as brainless as when they went in but, such is the miraculous effect of class confidence, this worries them not one jot.
For in their world, it is much better to be good value than to be bright. In fact, good-natured goofiness is regarded in such circles as a positive asset, the mark of a chap who's not exactly the brain of Britain but the most tremendous fun all the same. When they leave the army, they retain the title of their modest rank, as if it were some mark of distinction.
The major is useful to the rest of us in another sense. He may be a braying ninny but, thanks to the culture in which we live, he is able to make a living out if it. The British still love a toff, even if he is a bit of a twit (Sir Dai Llewellyn), a geeky eccentric (the Marquess of Bath) or a celebrated love-rat (Major James Hewitt).
One could argue that Paul Burrell, the creepy ex-butler to the Princess of Wales, is every bit as unattractive, in his own way, as Hewitt, a man Burrell has described as a "slimeball" and a "disgrace". While professing his loyalty to his ex-employer, Burrell has still built a nice little career out of commenting on her life.
Yet, such is the mindset established by generations of class consciousness, the butler is accepted as a respectable pundit while Hewitt is presented as a heartless, unscrupulous, upper-class cad.
He may be all these things - one hardly expects any surprising hidden depths to be suddenly revealed by tomorrow's docu- mentary - and, true to the cliché, Major Hewitt will almost certainly continue to play the part of a grinning, gormless, over-privileged thicko, in private and in public.
It is not the most dignified way for a man to make a living but, in revealing the dead hand that class still exerts on our national culture, it is a more socially useful role than the major would normally achieve, lolling behind the desk of a merchant bank or an estate agent.Reuse content