BY ALL ACCOUNTS, LADY ALETHEA Savile was mesmerized by last month's scandal surrounding Princess Diana and London art dealer Oliver Hoare—the married man who reportedly was plagued by anonymous calls from the princess. The troubled Savile, 31, had once been expected to marry another man in Di's life—James Gilbey, the 38-year-old marketing consultant who had blown kisses to Di in the infamous "Squidgy" tape released in 1992. By her account, she had witnessed Di's obsessiveness; as Savile told it, the princess had often rung Gilbey's Lennox Gardens flat in the early morning—and asked to speak to him while they were still in bed.

To Savile, an aristocrat who struggled with depression and drug addiction, Diana was the rival who bewitched the man she had hoped to wed—and who haunted their relationship in the same way that Camilla Parker Bowles cast a shadow over the Waleses' marriage. Even after she was found dead in her Chelsea flat on Sept. 16—the victim of a suspected drug overdose—London tabloids pegged her as the woman whose grand passion had been shattered by Squidgygate. In the words of the Daily Mail, Savile was the "girl who lost to Diana."

The truth was more complex: The only daughter of the Earl of Mexborough and Lady Elizabeth Hariot, an alcoholic manic-depressive who died in 1987, Savile told friends she had been depressed since she was 15. Raised with brother Viscount Pollington (now 34) on a 10,000-acre estate in Yorkshire, she also spent time at the family's home in London, where she found a place among bluebloods with little to do save experiment with drugs. Her parents' 1972 divorce hit her hard; struggling with addiction, she scraped by at Oxford before-moving to London, where her life was a round of relapses and rehab clinics.

When the well-born Gilbey—a friend of her brother's with whom she had been infatuated since she was a child—began wooing her in 1990, Savile was thrilled. He was the perfect lover—"gentle, understanding, sensual.... It [was] as though he'd read the last 18 volumes of Cosmopolitan," she told the Daily Mirror. (In June, the paper paid $35,000 for her story—money that she reportedly used to buy drugs when her father stopped her allowance.)

Apparently, Gilbey's charms were not lost on Diana (who had dated him before her marriage). Six months after he began seeing Savile, he arranged a lunch for the three of them in London, and Di "kept batting her eyelashes [as if to say] I could have you back in a minute,' " Savile said. She claimed that, for his part, Gilbey was "obsessed" with Diana; he reportedly asked Savile, to whom he was informally engaged, to have her hair cropped to be just like the princess's. "Diana became his only topic of conversation," she told the Mirror.

When the racy Squidgygate transcripts hit the London papers in August 1992, Savile's life fell apart. Angry and humiliated, she again sought solace in heroin. "She felt betrayed...because she found out some of her friends knew that James and Diana were quite close," a friend told the newspaper Today.

After trying to persuade her to abandon drugs, Gilbey broke up with Savile that December. She tried desperately to get her life back on course; later that year, she worked for six months in Mother Teresa's Calcutta clinic. But the demons lingered: Last May—after she discovered that Gilbey was in the throes of a new romance—she took a near-fatal dose of sleeping pills. "Death...was all I wanted," she told the Mirror.

In the wake of her apparent suicide, Savile's friends blamed her illness—rather than the Squidgy scandal—for her downfall. "James was only one of the causes of her depression—there were many others," her brother said. Gilbey himself told The Sun, "I was very much in love with her. We split up because of her drug-taking, not anything else."

Savile saw it differently. A month after her first suicide attempt, she told the Daily Mirror, "I still love James, and I hope he's happy. But he never apologized for putting me through [Squidgygate]. It would have helped so much if he'd just put his arms around me and said, 'This must be dreadful for you.' But he never did."

MICHELLE GREEN
TERRY SMITH in London

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Smith.