I've never had any money! said Elizabeth Emanuel, the British designer and former couturier to Princess Di.

She ought to have had money, you think. She, along with former husband and business partner David Emanuel did, of course, the dress: that enormously puffy, every princess' dream of a wedding frock.

It was the over-the-top 80s interpretation of romance and happily-ever-after and marrying your prince. Well, ha. We all know how that turned out.

"We weren't perfect. Diana wasn't perfect. The dress wasn't perfect." No, it did, like the dream, rather crumple.


Emanuel has been here this week, at the invitation of the British Council. She made a "rugby-inspired" frock for the Westfield Style Pasifika fashion show. What a funny invitation, I thought, for a famous designer.

But she was delighted because she loves the All Blacks (she has renamed, temporarily, her Little Black Dress collection the All Blacks collection), she loves the haka, she is swooning over New Zealand.

She met the PM. He was "so laid-back" she had to keep reminding herself: "This is the Prime Minister!"

Everyone, she said, had been just lovely. I was glad to hear it, because she's met a few swine. How many? "There were too many of them, to be honest. I attract them." But that was in the past, she said. She's an optimist. "I do feel, if I believed in horoscopes and the planets and all that stuff, that things have changed actually. Well. In the last year." Does she believe in horoscopes and planets? "I think I do now."

You can see that she might. Because alongside the fairytale story of the prince and the princess and the happily-ever-after that most certainly wasn't, was the story of Elizabeth and David Emanuel, love's young dream, husband and wife fashion designers who had made it big, and so young.

They were already married when they were accepted at the Royal College of Art; her graduation collection was sold to Browns, "and that was the most famous boutique then and Bianca Jagger was one of our first clients and she was so hot then. In fact, when she got divorced from Mick Jagger, she was actually in our studio in Brook Street having a fitting when they came and served the papers on her. We did her whole court outfit. It was fabulous."

It was all fabulous. She told me a fantastic story about Elizabeth Taylor and waiting four hours to see her for a fitting and about how you'd mind if it was anyone else, but not when it was Liz. She says she was lovely and sweet but then, except for the swine who would come later, she does seem to think the best of everyone. And Liz did rather make up for the waiting by letting her try on the famous Krupp diamond: "The size of a rugby ball!"

So it was all fabulous, and she and David were almost as famous as their most famous customers and had a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery and then, well, then things became a little less fabulous.

She and David separated in 1990, barely by then, it sounds, able to stand the sight of each other. They used to do interviews and the photographer would ask them to smile at each other and "we wouldn't be speaking ... we'd had a big argument or something. And the only reason we were staying together was that we had this business together and we had children." [Oliver, now in Dubai in, she thinks, "one of those big finance, banking things", and Eloise who is training to become a barrister.]

There was, she says, a lot of pressure to be the happy duo and they saw each other "24 hours a day", so you can imagine they might have wanted to take each other's eyes out with the dress-making scissors.

That damned dress. Did she ever think it was cursed? "You know, it was just one of the things that changed our lives and it was absolutely incredible to have been a part of that and whatever happened after that."

Still, how strange to have been living alongside the royal fairytale while you're supposed to be living your own, both couples so much in the public eye. "They were the same star signs! I'm Cancer and David was Scorpio; Prince Charles is Scorpio; Diana's Cancer. Isn't that weird?"

Don't bother asking her about private conversations with Diana. She really loved her and - it's a very intimate relationship you have with a designer, she's seen you in your knickers, for one thing - she's keeping mum. "She was so important, it was like losing a family member." I tried to make her say something horrible about that rotten Charles, but no luck there either.

She was such a big name and then, as she said, about two minutes after we sat down: "In the 90s my name was taken off me ..." She means she lost the rights to use her name. What a peculiar thing to lose. "Yeah, for a designer to lose your name is the kiss of death basically. It really is the end of your career in many cases."

It wasn't quite the end of hers. "No, I just hung on by the skin of my teeth. And it's very difficult because in order to survive in fashion you need to get into licensing and, you know, you do any kind of collaboration with a store, or whatever, they want your name. They need your name. So basically, it's very difficult."

How she came to lose her name is a long, sad, strange story involving a character called Shami Ahmed, who had a successful high street label called Joe Bloggs. In 1997 she had no sponsor (and you can't make couture clothes without a rich sponsor) so she went through the Sunday Times' Rich List, settled on Ahmed and called him. Now that really does seem like a peculiar thing to do. She was the famous frock designer! She had dressed Di and Liz and Elizabeth Hurley. But she had no money. She was desperate.

Anyway, the thing turned sour almost immediately and he moved her studio from central London to Wembley and when she complained told her: "If you were a good designer you could design in a f***ing toilet".

He was a terrible rotter but she told me he went bankrupt so "I believe in karma now". She's still trying to get her name back after he bought it for 60,000 quid, of which she saw not a penny.

And then there was Fast Eddie, also known as Lord Eddie Davenport, who conned her out of what he knew to be her last 5000 quid. "So that says a lot about his character, don't you think?" Before his current residence at HM Prison, Wandsworth, Fast Eddie lived it up in his Portland Place mansion where he threw parties for the very rich and famous and used his Facebook page as a brag book, posting pictures of himself with, among many others, Mick Jagger and Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham.

He was put in the clink for seven years, for fraud, this month. He wasn't really, it almost goes without saying, a Lord. Did she believe he was? "You know, sometimes you just want to believe something."

I was interested to know what a conman is like. "First of all, he's a strange colour." Goodness, what sort of colour? "A kind of yellow, jaundiced colour. Maybe it was a suntan, I'm not sure, he didn't look very well." A strange colour! Well, she is a fashion designer, so there you go: never trust a yellow man.

Plenty of others got taken in by Fast Eddie but it's fair to say, and she does say it, that she's hopeless about the business side of fashion. She did make me laugh when I asked what the British Council got out of bringing her here and she said she thinks what they do is promote business between New Zealand and England.

I suppose we should have talked about fashion, but she seems as disinclined to talk frocks as I am. But this is what she was wearing: a beige jumper over black leggings and high-heeled black boots, from Marks and Sparks, and an amazing amount of blonde-streaked hair. She said she was asked for her autograph at Heathrow duty free and she's always amazed, after all these years, to be sometimes recognised at the supermarket when, "... I've got hair all over the place."

Her hair is always all over the place! She peers out from beneath it. It was like interviewing an Old English sheepdog. A very short one - she's five foot. She used to be taller; she's just discovered she's shrunk an inch and a half. But given her affinity for numbers, who could be sure?

She likes to wear Ugg boots and trainers and claims she sometimes goes to the shops in sweaters with holes. I thought, as she is a romantic and loves doing wedding frocks, that she might, at 58, get married again, to scriptwriter Tony Drew who she's been with for 18 years.

But she only likes doing other people's wedding frocks. She likes staying home on the couch watching the telly (plane crash shows because she's terrified of flying and no, it doesn't make any sense; and "those medical things about tropical diseases and parasites"), with her cats and Tony. "Notice the order."

She said: "Are you a cat person? How many do you have?" None, because mine died. Not many people are interested in a dead cat, I can tell you. She said, "Oh my God! That's awful. Tell me. People don't understand. I know what it's like. We lost our cat to a heart attack."

I showed her a picture and she said, "I'm going to show you my cats! Nobody wants to see my cats. They call me the cat lady." She showed me quite a few pictures, one of which was just the rear end of a cat. She has five, all strays. "They find a way through the cat flap."

She also loves pigeons. Nobody can love pigeons. She does, and feeds them at her London studio and "my neighbours hate me, absolutely hate me". She gives the birds names and her favourite is Poppy and he has one eye and one leg. She loves the thing. "Yeah. He's a survivor. It's amazing." It is rather. He's like her, a bit. "That gives me strength."

She said, at the end, "I'm glad you like cats. Thank you for sharing that with me." The publicist said: "You know she's going to call you the cat lady."

I am too, but who could not enjoy her? She's a slightly dotty dear and remarkably unjaundiced (unlike Fast Eddie.)

I do hope those planets have finally done whatever it is planets do. She deserves a bit of luck.