By ALAN PERROTT



Alison Bell was a fun-loving, wannabe "it" girl who did whatever was necessary to further her career, say her former New Zealand colleagues.

The 37-year-old news presenter's immediate prospects now look increasingly doubtful after her arrest on Thursday on suspicion of supplying Class A drug, cocaine. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Her boyfriend, Princess Diana's former lover James "Love Rat" Hewitt, 46, was also arrested for allegedly possessing cocaine.

"Ali was certainly a party girl, no two ways about that, a lot of fun" said Brian Portland, the creative director at Wanganui radio station 2ZW while Bell worked there in the late 1980s.

Mr Portland was surprised to hear she is accused of dabbling in Class A drugs.

He remembered her as a bubbly, uninhibited person. On one occasion he said she began dancing on the staff room table while taking her clothes off.

"It was a bit like 'what is going to happen next with her?' I recall her bringing a bottle of Moet into the office. She was very generous, but now it looks like she's blown it."

John Diver, who worked with Bell at Wellington radio stations Moore FM and The Breeze during the 90s, said it was no surprise that the broadcaster had got herself in trouble.

"I found Alison to be a competent news reader, but her ego-to-talent ratio was in all other areas out of whack.

"She considered herself to be a bit of an "it" girl, yet even in wee Wellington she was hardly a member of the social elite. Even then, she liked to play on her alleged relationship with Prince Edward."

Bell dated the Prince after the pair met in Wanganui in the 1980s.

Mr Diver claimed Bell would have seen her relationship with Hewitt as a status symbol. The arrested pair met in April when they presented a radio show together on London station LBC. Bell has also worked for CNN.

"I have no doubt that Alison really wanted to be part of the 'in crowd' in London too, and should her path have crossed that of James Hewitt, I have no doubt she would have latched onto him, believing him to be a symbol of her status in whatever society she felt obliged to join," Mr Diver said.

Sources close to Bell said she left New Zealand in 1998 after her marriage to former car dealer and real estate agent Michael Bell collapsed.

The couple shared the same surname before getting married in 1997.

The telephone numbers for Michael Bell and his mother were disconnected yesterday and Bell's parents could not be reached.

The difficulties facing Bell and Hewitt worsened overnight with English newspaper The Sun publishing photographs apparently showing the pair buying and then using cocaine.

Under the banner headline "Wild-eyed and Legless" the Sun story featured a series of pictures taken by freelance photographer Dennis Gill on Thursday, just before he reported their activities to London police.

Bell, described by the Sun as Hewitt's girlfriend, was shown allegedly purchasing a bag of cocaine from a young man on the road outside the Cactus Blue bar in Chelsea.

Mr Gill said the man arrived 20 minutes after he watched her make a call on her cellphone.

"She walked away with him and came out into the street and handed him a wad of money," he told the Sun. "I saw him give the bags to her. She then walked away, put her finger in one of the bags and put it on her tongue as if she was testing the substance."

Afterwards, Mr Gill watched as Hewitt handed Bell some money. Mr Gill then called the police.

He said Hewitt appeared to be totally intoxicated. They had arrived at the bar at 2pm with another woman and had been drinking for five hours. Hewitt had been drinking tequila slammers with beer chasers.

Mr Gill, whose brother died of a drugs overdose, said Bell and Hewitt frequently kissed and he described the former cavalry officer rubbing her bottom as the other woman rubbed his leg.

"It was hard to believe this was the man who once charmed his way into the life of Princess Diana. His eyes looked wild, he was sweating and he was a mess. He was shaking like a leaf and on the verge of crying while the police were searching him. It was pitiful to see."

The pair spent 17 hours at Notting Hill police station before being released on bail. They were ordered to reappear in September.