AS I WATCHED the former first lady of New Jersey recount her story on

Oprah Winfrey

's show yesterday, I found myself thinking that I'd seen this kind of thing before.

Dina Matos McGreevey's story of being married to the gay ex-governor reminds me of the late Princess Diana. It sounds like a stretch but think about it: Both Dina and Diana were beautiful, naive women courted by powerful, ambitious men in government. Prince Charles had his eye on the throne; Jim McGreevey, on the New Jersey Statehouse and the White House.

Both men wanted a spouse who not only would look good next to them in photo ops, but also bear their children and go along with their programs. And they both needed someone who, initially at least, wouldn't probe too deeply or ask too many questions. Because both kept secrets. The public facade they both engaged in was one thing, but their private lives were something else entirely.

Unfortunately for Diana, her story ended all too soon in a tragic car crash, leaving Charles to eventually marry long-time girlfriend Camilla Parker-Bowles. Closer to home, Jim McGreevey is now happily ensconced in a relationship with another man. Dina's not even dating yet.

My heart goes out to this poor, duped woman. Listening to her interview on Oprah and having read her new book, "Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage" (Hyperion, $23.95), it's clear that she has been lied to repeatedly. She was a pawn. Jim McGreevey used her for his own political gain. Dina later stumbled across some of his writings in which he'd admitted as much.

And when his political career was over following his 2004 "I am a gay American" announcement, McGreevey dumped her like a used condom. The shell-shocked mother of his daughter was left to restart her life, after dedicating so many years to his career. In the final days before he officially left office, McGreevey still tried to get her to play along as first lady.

"How could Jim not talk to us all week, not worry about whether Jacqueline and I even had a place to live, and then ask me to go to a dinner?" Dina wrote.

It would be easy to dismiss her as having been in denial. She certainly came off that way during the news conference when McGreevey announced his resignation. Throughout it, Dina had the most peculiar grin plastered across her face. With Oprah, she revealed that McGreevey had instructed her to smile and pretend she was Jacqueline Kennedy.

When Winfrey questioned her about it, Dina said, "I have to tell you I was in shock. . . . I had not had time to absorb what had happened. I had three days to prepare for this moment. He had almost an entire lifetime.

"I smiled because I didn't want to break down as his world was falling apart. [Meanwhile] he was still choreographing the entire day," Dina recalled. "I was there for my daughter's father. And also, I had done nothing wrong. I had nothing to hide."

Nothing to feel guilty for, except possibly for missing the signs. Apparently, every single one of them.

"There were no red flags," Dina explained, referring to their sex life. "I had no complaints and he never complained to me. I thought we had a normal relationship."

But what about the young men, including that pushy Golan Cipel, who surrounded her husband?And what about the rumors that had dogged him for so many years?

"No one ever said to me that he was gay," Dina told Winfrey. "The old cliche that the wife is always the last to know is true. . . . I thought it was real. But he was a great actor."

And the person who wound up losing the most was his wife, just like Princess Diana. *

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