The Princess Diaries

updated 05/16/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It's a typical day in the life of this Princess. Right below her bedroom window are four exceptionally energetic—and loud—kids. "Mom! Dad! The cat's on the trampoline!" "Cappy's in the pool with his clothes on!"

"Here we go," says former Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, seemingly unfazed by the chaos over which she presides. Of course, compared to the personal havoc Oxenberg, the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, has faced in her 43 years, noisy kids hardly cause concern. For 20 years, she suffered from bulimia in secret; then, while trying to overcome the eating disorder, she recovered memories of sexual abuse from her childhood. "Things are not always as they seem," admits Oxenberg.

It's her willingness to discuss her personal history that led to the creation of I Married a Princess, a new Lifetime reality show that stars Oxenberg and her 36-year-old husband, actor Casper Van Dien, their two daughters Celeste, 1, and Maya, 3; her daughter India, 13; and his son Cappy, 11, and daughter Grade, 8. ""When you feel like you can't stop something, you don't want to admit it," she says of her bulimia. "Now that I'm not doing it anymore, I tell everybody!"

Named after her mother's ancestor, Catherine the Great of Russia, Oxenberg—who grew up in London—began bingeing and purging in her teens. A friend at boarding school taught her how to make herself throw up, and she lost 15 lbs. after graduating from high school, dropping to 95 lbs. (at 5'5") by the time she entered Columbia University. Finding success in modeling, she quit school and later began acting, playing Princess Diana in a TV movie at age 21 and landing the role of Amanda Carrington on Dynasty two years later. All the while, she was throwing up almost every time she ate; "it became a spontaneous reflex, which was terrifying," she says. The bulimia took its toll; the stomach acid from vomiting began rotting her teeth, forcing her to undergo several root canals in her early 20s. (On I Married a Princess, Oxenberg is filmed going to her dentist for a dental implant.)

She sought different types of therapy, but nothing helped until she met with meditation guru Deepak Chopra in 1987. "He said to me, 'Are you sure you've never been sexually abused?' " she recalls. "Over the next few years, it began to come back to me, first in dreams and at the end I was reliving it. It was a slow process. But I knew it was connected to the bulimia." (She won't name the relative who she says abused her when she was a toddler.) In 1992 Oxenberg finally checked into a treatment center. "I truly believe the eating disorder is gone," she says. "The discovery of what was at the bottom of it lifted me, and I walked into a different phase of my life."

Meeting Van Dien, the hunky action hero of Starship Troopers, on the set of The Collectors in 1998 ushered in another phase. At the time, she was still sporting a ring from her annulled 12-day marriage to Hollywood producer Robert Evans ("A wacky, spur-of-the-moment decision," she says of those nuptials). Van Dien recalls, "She walked on the set and I said, 'I guess whoever you marry next is to going to have to buy you something pretty substantial to be bigger than that' " Seven months and an 8.3 carat diamond later, the couple were married in Vegas by an Elvis impersonator. Today they share a 4,000-sq.-ft. Malibu home with five kids, a cat, a golden retriever—and during filming, a handful of cameramen. "When Catherine first came up with this idea, I was totally against it," says Van Dien of the show. "Sometimes there can be a bit too much honesty. But we had a big family meeting, and everyone wanted to do it."

So how honest are we talking? In the course of the 13 episodes, the couple reveal that Van Dien was also abused as a child, cheated on Oxenberg four years ago and recently underwent a vasectomy. "We put pretty much everything out there for the cameras," says Van Dien. And why not, asks his wife. "We have really made it through so much as a couple," says Oxenberg. "I don't want people to think we are always outrageously happy, but I want them to see what we do to face the challenges of our togetherness as best we can."

Chris Strauss. Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles

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