Royal Corner

A Princess Deceived

As the long-awaited report is released into how Martin Bashir and the BBC obtained their historic interview with Princess Diana, we finally get to see how deep the late-princess was deceived.

MAY 20th, 2021

Princess Diana being interviewed by Martin Bashir for her BBC Panorama Interview - © BBC


t was the interview which shocked the world, igniting a firestorm inside the heart of the British Monarchy. Princess Diana had been married into The Royal Family - Britain’s biggest and most iconic brand - for fifteen years, and in an exclusive interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC’s Panorama programme, she exposed what life was really like inside ‘the Firm’.

Shocking allegations of loneliness, jealousy, affairs (including the now historic line from the Princess: “Well there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”) and the belief that Prince Charles wasn’t fit to be King, the interview was a spray of bullets against the Crown which are still felt today, almost twenty-six years later.

Martin Bashir pictured at the launch of 'Celebrity: The X Factor' in 2019 - © Getty Images

The interview made headlines for weeks on end, winning plaudits for its “journalistic integrity”. Martin Bashir became an instant celebrity and household name, his interview skills highly sought after. His acclaim would lead to a major interview with Michael Jackson, which would eventually open up former allegations against the megastar of sexual abuse of minors. Jackson would be found innocent on all counts, and yet Martin Bashir effectively vanished from public life, appearing now and again to discuss his interview with Princess Diana.

The last public appearance he made in discussing the life of the late-Princess of Wales was in 2017 when appearing on ABC’s The View in the US to promote a documentary he was presenting. Called 'The Last 100 Days of Diana', the programme was revealing the events leading up to her tragic death. When prompted to discuss his famous interview with Princess Diana the journalist willingly accepted the compliments from the hosts, but quickly moved back to the documentary he was promoting.

Five years later, it is clear why Bashir was sheepish in providing intimate information of his interview with Diana. In vivid detail, we now know the level of deception, manipulation and forgery Bashir administered to a paranoid and vulnerable Princess Diana. These immoral tactics resulted in partly coercing her into an interview, which although many agree she would have always eventually done, eventuated in a media storm which forced her divorce from Prince Charles and saw her eldest son deeply upset and betrayed.

The lies, which were callously spun by Bashir, verge from the insane to the downright cruel. In a handwritten note made by Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, the reality of the former BBC journalist’s deceit is fully exposed. This deception includes informing Earl Spencer that the Queen was ‘very ill with heart problems’ and was a ‘comfort eater’; Camilla was ‘depressed, but quiet for the time being’; his beloved sister’s private letters were being opened, her phone tapped and car tracked, her own bodyguard was plotting against her, and close friends of the Princess were betraying her. It is this latter lie which led to the forging of bank statements as a way of convincing both Spencer and his sister that her closest friends and security were selling her secrets to the press.

If these details of deception aren’t shocking enough, Bashir continued spouting his lies to an already paranoid Princess Diana. Amongst claims of Prince Charles conducting an affair with Tiggy Legge-Bourke, her son’s nanny, Bashir also informed Spencer that the Prince of Wales was planning the ‘end game’ for the Princess and her family - a claim which has since easily been disproved.

Yet perhaps the most heartless accusation included Diana’s eldest son, Prince William. Bashir claimed that the second-in-line to the throne was ‘spying’ on the Princess on behalf of her estranged husband with a watch which could ‘record her’. Of course this was completely untrue, but none-the-less, this lie and the countless others told by Bashir actively coerced Diana into agreeing to an interview which in the last few months of her life became “her biggest regret”.

Former BBC Director General and Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, Tony Hall. - © Getty Images

Today the BBC Director General, Tim Davie, on the publication of Lord Dyson’s report into the conduct surrounding the interview, apologised to Princess Diana’s younger brother Earl Spencer, and reportedly sent letters of apology to Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Charles. “I would like to thank Lord Dyson. His report into the circumstances around the 1995 interview is both thorough and comprehensive. The BBC accepts Lord Dyson’s findings in full.” He said in a statement.

“Although the report states that Diana, Princess of Wales, was keen on the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process for securing the interview fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect. We are very sorry for this. Lord Dyson has identified clear failings.

“While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way. The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew.

“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology. The BBC offers that today.”

Although Tim Davie has nothing to do with the Panorama interview directly, there are others who did, including Tony Hall, former Director General of the BBC, who was Director of BBC News and Current Affairs at the time of the interview. Today he also addressed the report’s findings, saying: “I have read Lord Dyson’s report, and I accept that our investigation 25 years ago into how Panorama secured the interview with Princess Diana fell well short of what was required.

“In hindsight, there were further steps we could and should have taken following complaints about Martin Bashir’s conduct. I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt, basing that judgment as I did on what appeared to be deep remorse on his part.”

He concludes: “Throughout my 35-year career at the BBC, I have always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre. While Lord Dyson does not criticise my integrity, I am sorry that our investigation failed to meet the standards that were required.”

Princess Diana pictured with Prince William in the months before her death in 1996. - © PA Images

Although Lord Dyson does not criticise Lord Hall’s integrity, it is hard to ignore some of the report’s details and conclude differently. A 1996 investigation into the obtaining of the interview has now seemingly been revealed as a coverup. Lord Dyson clearly states in the report that ‘without a credible explanation from Mr Bashir for what he had done and in the face of his serious and unexplained lies, Lord Hall could not reasonably have concluded that Mr Bashir was an honest and honourable man who had told the truth and he should not have done so.’

With this knowledge and the acceptance of continued and deceptive lies told by Bashir, how possibly could Tony Hall conclude that the journalist was “honourable and honest”? And more so, at the time of the interview’s airing, Hall sent a letter to Bashir, writing: ‘You should be very proud’ of the ‘scoop of the year’.

The damage of the interview had repercussions for Diana, as well as her sons. Prince William watched in horror from his bedroom at Eton as his mother exposed her affair with James Hewitt, her self-harming and struggle with bulimia. It led to the Prince refusing to speak to his mother for almost a month, leaving Diana devastated. William’s refusal to see his mother never came from a lack of understanding Diana’s experience however, but more so that he didn’t trust “that bad man”, as he reportedly described Bashir.

In a statement in response to the reports, Bashir continued to deny his lies helped seal his interview with Diana, saying: “This is the second time that I have willingly fully cooperated with an investigation into events more than 25 years ago. I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret. But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently.

“I also reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview. It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the princess' brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced, and, to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago. She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that's why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.”

Some would rightly argue that Bashir raising the subject of mental health is astonishing, considering the damage his lies did to the mental wellbeing of the Princess and her two sons. But, we must also acknowledge whether these manipulations and falsehoods peddled by Bashir would have stopped the Princess from eventually airing her grievances in public? The answer is no, and whilst this report does not devalue her own turbulent experiences and hardships as a member of the Royal Family, it does question the length in which he and the BBC went to obtain the trust of a woman who was so obviously questioning her inner circle of confidantes.

Princess Diana pictured at Great Olmond Street hospital in 1997. - © Getty Images

It is pretty clear that Bashir found Diana at a time of immense personal struggle; a woman looking for answers to her suffering and becoming more and more paranoid. Bashir’s greatest crime is that he took advantage of this, moulded Diana’s mental state and exploited it for personal gain to make headlines. In the end, it may have cost Martin Bashir his job and reputation, but for Diana, some of her closest confidantes believe it cost her her life, including Earl Spencer. “The irony is that I met Martin Bashir on the 31 August 1995, because exactly two years later she died - and I do draw a line between the two events,” he said in an upcoming BBC Panorama documentary on the interview.

Some believe that Bashir’s actions resulted in Diana expelling vital security detail due to a lack of trust perpetuated by the journalist’s lies. This, in turn, led to her lacking protection as the mother of the future king, and on the faithful night of the car accident in Paris which killed her, without Royal protection officers, she wasn’t advised to stay at the Ritz Hotel where she would be safe. Instead, Dodi Al-Fayed’s security allowed the couple to try to escape the chasing paparazzi leading to the car accident which claimed her life.

Of course, there are others who disagree, believing that driver Henri Paul, who was drunk and under the influence of prescription pills, was unfit to be driving the car, which was also speeding. Diana and Dodi were also not wearing seatbelts in the fatal crash.

Irrespective of personal opinions, whether Bashir’s comments directly or indirectly resulted in the death of Princess Diana are questions we’ll sadly never have the answers for. Yet, what we do know is that what was arguably the most seismic interview of the twentieth century was not obtained by moral or decent journalistic standards. Martin Bashir and the BBC at the time deceived a princess in crisis. They targeted her, her family, and most devastatingly groomed her insecurities. In a note included in the report, handwritten by Diana, the princess writes: ‘December 22, 1995. Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of. I consented to the interview on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter. Diana.’

And whilst the Princess may have thought that was the case, it would be interesting to see how all these years later, would she still feel the same, now knowing the level of deception Bashir enshrouded her in. Once again, these types of questions highlight the tragic nature of Princess Diana - we’ll never know the answer.

Ultimately the BBC acted inappropriately, they betrayed their ethical and moral standards and the trust of a beloved princess. Martin Bashir may have given Diana an opportunity to use her voice unshackled, but in the end he caged her with lies and falsehoods. The damage of that interview cannot be undone, and even now Diana’s words resonate with destructive and formidable power. But now that we know how they were obtained and ultimately where some of her allegations stemmed from, perhaps we can understand, now more than ever, how vulnerable Diana truly was, and that in the end, from her interview, there were sadly no winners.

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