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Dr Hasnat Khan: Princess Diana and me
By Massoud Ansari in Jehlum and Andrew Alderson
Last Updated: 2:19AM GMT 16 Jan 2008
His hair is greyer and his features are more rounded but Dr Hasnat Khan's affection for Diana, Princess of Wales, remains undiminished by the passing of more than a decade.
- Diana, Princess of Wales
- The royal family: coverage in full
- Prince Philip sent 'nasty, cruel' letters to Diana
The heart surgeon the late Princess described as "Mr Wonderful" is sitting on a sea-green sofa at his home in Pakistan.
Dressed in a white shirt, faded jeans and trainers, he fondly recalls the woman he shared an intimate relationship with until just months before her death.
To Dr Khan, Diana was first and foremost a warm, generous woman who just happened to be a princess.
"I found her a very normal person with great qualities," he says, choosing his words with immense care.
"I think she did great work all over the world not just for the UK but for everyone. That is very important."
After meeting at the Royal Brompton Hospital, where the Princess was visiting a friend who was recovering from heart surgery, they pursued a discreet, two-year affair that finished in the early summer of 1997.
Talking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph, Dr Khan ends his 11-year public silence over their friendship, following incorrect media speculation last week that he is to give evidence to the inquest into her death via a video link from his homeland.
The Princess's closest friends have described Dr Khan, now 48, as the love of her life and have told of her distress when he ended their relationship.
He, however, is reticent about speaking of how much he may have meant to her - or even how much she meant to him.
Yet their relationship was serious enough for his family to meet the Princess during her 1996 visit to Pakistan, when she wore a traditional shalwar kameez out of respect for their Muslim faith.
"She really enjoyed her time when she came here. She also enjoyed the afternoon tea she had with my family. And I think she very much liked the Asian family's eccentric culture," says Dr Khan.
He speaks tenderly about why he will never divulge the details of his affair with the Princess.
Other lovers, notably former Household Cavalry officer James Hewitt, may have cashed in on their relationship, but the intimate moments Dr Khan enjoyed with Diana will never be shared with a wider audience.
"Generally I do not talk about people - family or friends. This is how I am.
"I'm loyal to her [the Princess] not because she was a celebrity but because I'm loyal to all my friends. I'm like that."
He feels it would be particularly unfair to talk in detail about the Princess now that she is dead.
"If I had said some things about her before 1997, she could have responded to them but, since she is not here, it would be very unfair to make a comment about her."
He does not expand further, but there is nothing to suggest the couple parted on bad terms or that he felt critical of her behaviour.
He does not, however, think that a fountain in London built in the Princess's memory does her justice.
"Creating a fountain is not how you should remember a great person. You put great people up as high as possible. Look at Nelson."
Dr Khan also reveals that his marriage to a young Muslim woman has ended after just 18 months. He married 29-year-old Hadia Sher Ali, a Pakistani descendant from Afghan royalty, in a lavish ceremony in Pakistan last year.
Whether she found it impossible to follow in the Princess's formidable footsteps as his lover, or whether Diana cast a shadow over their relationship even in death, he will not say.
"I got married in May 2006 but separated recently - in November [last year]," he says. "There were multiple reasons for the separation, not just one. I really cannot tell you what all these reasons were."
It is reasonable to speculate, however, that he feels freer to talk about the Princess now that his short marriage is over: loyalty to his wife would have prevented him discussing Diana while they were still together.
These days Dr Khan spends most of his time working as a surgeon in Malaysia. When he is in Pakistan, he lives in his own spacious yet modestly decorated colonial-style house in Jehlum, the arid central Punjab district that is a two-hour drive from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
It could not be more different from the small but chic Chelsea flat he lived in while working in Britain. His other family members, including his sister, live in the surrounding housing "colony", which also has servant quarters.
The Khans are deeply religious, and his wall-hangings include a painting that has an inscription of verses from the Koran.
Dr Khan, who left Britain last November, pursued his relationship with Diana from 1995.
She stayed at his central London home, and he at her apartment in Kensington Palace. They always tried to keep their relationship secret, however.
It is understood that at one point the Princess was so smitten with Dr Khan that she contemplated converting to Islam so they could marry.
Yet she abandoned the idea when he decided their relationship could not work in the long term.
Although Dr Khan will not talk about why their affair ended, his father - who graduated from the London School of Economics in 1956 - gave an insight into the reasons in an interview with this newspaper last year.
Abdul Rasheed Khan said that his son had told the family: "If I married her [Diana], our marriage would not last for more than a year. We are culturally so different from each other. She is from Venus and I am from Mars. If it ever happened, it would be like a marriage from two different planets."
Last year Dr Khan resigned as a consultant from Bart's and the Royal London Hospitals after some 12 years with the NHS. He returned to Pakistan and hopes to set up a hospital in Jehlum.
He says he has not been asked to appear as a witness at the current inquest; he never met Dodi Fayed and can shed no light on how the couple died in a car crash in Paris in the early hours of August 31, 1997.
"I emailed them [the coroner's office] a letter on December 23 but, when I did not hear from them, I wrote again and told them that my earlier statement [to the Lord Stevens inquiry into the Princess's death] should be considered as my last. I do not know what else I can say.
"But I hope the inquest clarifies everything," he continues. "So much has been spent on this inquiry, using taxpayers' money, that I hope it will come out with clear answers. I really hope that everybody will be allowed to move forward."
Dr Khan was interviewed as part of the Lord Stevens' inquiry, which concluded that the car crash was an accident.
The surgeon told officers that the Princess had considered moving to Pakistan after he had told her it was the "only way he could see them having any sort of a normal life together".
The report added: "He knew that the Princess considered this an option for a while. She even went to Pakistan to speak to Jemima Khan about life there. However, after a while she no longer talked about Pakistan and although she did not actually say so, Hasnat Khan got the impression that she no longer considered living there a possibility."
Dr Khan also revealed to the inquiry that, at the end of 1996, Diana asked Paul Burrell, the former royal servant, to talk to a priest about them marrying in secret.
The report said: "Mr Khan thought it was a ridiculous idea. He believed that she wanted to get married but had not thought about the implications. They had an argument about it."
Over the past three months, Dr Khan's name has come up several times at the inquest into the deaths of the Princess and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed.
In the past, Mohammed Fayed, Dodi's father, has insisted that his son and the Princess intended to marry.
Mr Fayed has claimed that the couple were murdered by MI6, the intelligence service, on the instructions of the Royal Family, notably Prince Philip, in order to prevent them from marrying. The claim has been ridiculed by the Royal Family.
Some of the Princess's closest friends, on the other hand, are convinced that her relationship with Dodi Fayed was merely a summer fling - possibly even to make Dr Khan jealous.
Rosa Monckton, one of the Princess's closest friends, who holidayed with Diana in the Greek islands just two weeks before her death, told the inquest last month that Diana was still infatuated with the surgeon.
Ms Monckton said the Princess had been "deeply upset and hurt" when Dr Khan broke off their relationship in the summer of 1997.
"She was very much in love with him. She hoped that they would be able to have a future together. She wanted to marry him," she told the hearing.
During their holiday, the Princess spent far more time talking about Dr Khan than Dodi Fayed, the inquest heard.
Ms Monckton said: "It was clear to me she was really missing Hasnat and I think Dodi was a distraction from the hurt she felt from the break-up."
On Monday, the inquest in London, which has already seen several twists and turns, is likely to hear more sensational evidence from another man who played a central role in the Princess's life: Paul Burrell.
The former royal butler became a confidant of the Princess after her separation from Prince Charles and she apparently described him as her "rock".
However, he was accused of betraying her when he wrote lucrative books that revealed secrets about her private life. He was not invited by her family to a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of her death last year.
Mr Burrell, who has flown in from his home in Florida to attend the hearing, is likely to be questioned under oath on two of his most remarkable claims.
First, he is expected to be asked about a letter given to him by the Princess in which she claimed Prince Charles was plotting to kill her, written in October 1993, 10 months after the Wales's separation was announced.
His second claim comes from a three-hour meeting he had with the Queen soon after the Princess's death.
Mr Burrell alleges that the Queen had warned him that there were forces at work in Britain that could threaten him.
He claimed the Queen looked him in the eye and said: "There are powers at work in this country about which we have no knowledge... be careful, Paul, no one has been as close to a member of my family as you have."
Not for the first time during the inquest, senior members of the Royal Family, including the Queen and Prince Charles, are this weekend preparing themselves for another potentially embarrassing week.
Unsurprisingly, Dr Khan says he is pleased to have escaped the attention of journalists this time round.
"While living in the UK, you cannot avoid all this and one way or the other you tend to come under pressure."
Still, he is optimistic that the inquest will give him and the Princess's family closure.
"I hope it will clarify everything and everybody should move on. It is good for everyone - for the [Royal] family, for the two princes and for the public. I think it should just be settled for everyone's sake.
"I really have tried to move on. But it keeps coming back for whatever reasons."
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