An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales

"An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales" is an episode of the BBC documentary series Panorama which was broadcast on BBC1 on 20 November 1995.[1] The 54-minute programme saw Diana, Princess of Wales, interviewed by journalist Martin Bashir about her relationship with her husband, Charles, Prince of Wales, and the reasons for their subsequent divorce.[2][3][4] The programme was watched by nearly 23 million viewers in the UK, which was 39.3% of the population.[5] At the time, the BBC hailed the interview as the scoop of a generation.[6][7]

"An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales"
Panorama episode
An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales.jpg
A still from the interview
Presented byMartin Bashir
Produced byMike Robinson
Cinematography byTony Poole
Editing bySteve Hewlett
Original air date20 November 1995 (1995-11-20)
List of episodes

In 2020 BBC Director-General Tim Davie apologised to Earl Spencer, the brother of the princess, because Bashir had used forged bank statements to win his and Diana's trust to secure the interview.[8] Former Justice of the Supreme Court Lord Dyson conducted an independent inquiry into the issue.[9][10] Dyson's inquiry found Bashir guilty of deceit and of breaching BBC editorial conduct to obtain the interview.[11][12]

BackgroundEdit

 
Diana in 1995, the year the interview was recorded
 
Kensington Palace, the site of the interview

Martin Bashir's interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, was conducted in Diana's sitting room at Kensington Palace on 5 November 1995; the room later became the playden for Princes William and Harry.[2][13][14] The camera and recording equipment had been brought into the palace under the pretence of a new hi-fi system.[14] In addition to Bashir, Panorama producer Mike Robinson and a cameraman, Tony Poole, were also present.[2] To ensure the secrecy of the interview, the final transmission tape was kept under constant surveillance and security guards were present during its editing. In the week following the recording of the interview, the BBC's controller of editorial policy, Richard James Ayre; the head of weekly television current affairs programmes, Tim Gardam; and Panorama editor Steve Hewlett watched the interview at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne.[2]

The Board of Governors of the BBC were deliberately kept unaware of the interview by Panorama executives and by the Director-General of the BBC, John Birt. The chairman of the board of governors, Marmaduke Hussey, was married to Lady Susan Hussey, a confidant of Queen Elizabeth II and a Woman of the Bedchamber. It was feared that the interview may have been discredited ahead of broadcast or possibly never shown if Hussey had been aware.[14] The official royal liaison person between the BBC and the British royal family, Jim Moir, was also kept unaware.[2] The film director David Puttnam had advised Diana against the interview and subsequently said that he would "never forgive John Birt for not explaining to Diana the implications of what she was doing and for not alerting [Marmaduke] Hussey".[14]

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother brought forward the date of an operation on her hip to the week of the broadcast of the interview with the expectation that should she die, Diana's interview would receive substantially less coverage in the media. Ironically, some derogatory comments about the Queen Mother from the Princess were removed from the final cut.[15][16]

ContentEdit

Diana spoke of her early expectations of her marriage to Prince Charles and how she "desperately wanted it to work" in light of her own parents' divorce. The constant presence of the media and their focus on her led her to perceive herself as a "good product that sits on the shelf...and people make a lot of money out of you". The effect of the initial trip to Australia and New Zealand in 1983 was that she returned as "...a different person, I released the sense of duty...and the demanding role I now found myself in". She was uncomfortable with being the centre of attention over her husband and had found an affinity with people who'd been "rejected by society".

Diana said that she had felt enormous relief at her pregnancy with William but that she subsequently suffered from post natal depression, which led her to be labelled by others as unstable and mentally unbalanced. She thus began self harming and became bulimic, both of which intensified following Charles's resumption of his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. She famously noted, in reference to her husband's relationship with Parker Bowles, that "there were three of us in this marriage". Diana felt that she had been compelled to perform her role as Princess of Wales and that her behaviour had led friends of Charles to indicate "that I was again unstable and sick and should be put in a home of some sort...I was almost an embarrassment".

Diana claimed that she never met Andrew Morton but that she allowed her friends to speak to him. His subsequent book, Diana: Her True Story would lead to Diana and Charles agreeing to a legal separation. Diana confirmed the accuracy of the Squidgygate tapes of a telephone conversation she had with James Gilbey; however, she denied the charges of having an affair with him and harassing Oliver Hoare. Diana said that she was in a unique position as the separated wife of the Prince of Wales, and that she would "fight to the end, because I have a role to fulfill and I've got two children to bring up". She confirmed her extramarital affair with James Hewitt and was hurt at his cooperation for a book about their relationship. Diana spoke of her difficulty at coping with constant media attention, which she labelled "abusive and ... harassment".

Diana spoke of her wish to be an ambassador for the United Kingdom. On the future of the monarchy she said that, "I do think that there are a few things that could change, that would alleviate this doubt, and sometimes complicated relationship between monarchy and public. I think they could walk hand in hand, as opposed to be so distant". She mentioned showing William and Harry homelessness projects and meeting people dying of AIDS. Diana said it was not her wish to divorce but did not think she would ever be queen, or that many people wanted her as queen; however, she wished to be a "queen of people's hearts, in people's hearts".

Diana felt that the royal household saw her as a "threat of some kind" but that "every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it's the strength that causes the confusion and the fear". When asked if the Prince of Wales would ever be king, Diana said, "I don't think any of us know the answer to that. And obviously it's a question that's in everybody's head. But who knows, who knows what fate will produce, who knows what circumstances will provoke?" and that, "There was always conflict on that subject with him when we discussed it, and I understood that conflict, because it's a very demanding role, being Prince of Wales, but it's an equally more demanding role being King".[3][17]

AftermathEdit

Birt subsequently wrote in his memoirs that, "In effect the Diana interview marked the end of the BBC's institutional reverence—though not its respect—for the monarchy". Birt had previously liased with Robert Fellowes, Baron Fellowes and Robin Janvrin while negotiating the BBC's access to the British royal family and wrote that he "had been sorry to hurt such good people".[14] The BBC soon lost its sole production of the Queen's Royal Christmas Message in the wake of the interview, though Buckingham Palace denied that it was the reason, saying the new arrangements "reflect the composition of the television and radio industries today".[18][19][16]

In Simon Heffer's opinion, by going public about her marital issues, Diana's only purpose was "to manipulate public opinion ruthlessly, and to cause whatever damage she could to her husband and his family".[20] Sarah Bradford believed Diana was a "victim of her own poor judgment" as she lost social privilege by doing the Panorama interview.[21] However, according to former BBC Royal Correspondent, Jennie Bond, Diana told Bond in late 1996 that she did not regret the interview. She is reported to have said: "Suddenly it seemed right, particularly with a divorce on the horizon. I thought that would mean a gagging clause. And I felt it was then or never."[22]

2020 investigationEdit

Allegations and concernsEdit

In November 2020, interest was renewed in the circumstances of the interview on its 25th anniversary, with documentaries on the interview being broadcast by all the UK's non-BBC terrestrial channels, comprising ITV ("The Diana Interview, Revenge of a Princess"),[23] Channel 4 ("Diana: The Truth Behind The Interview"),[24] and Channel 5 ("Diana: The Interview That Shocked The World").[25]

Following these documentaries, the BBC director-general Tim Davie apologised to Earl Spencer, the brother of the princess, for the use of forged bank statements falsely indicating people close to her had been paid for spying.[8][7] The falsified documents had been created by one of the corporation's freelance graphic designers, Matt Wiessler. However a 1996 internal BBC investigation concluded that the falsified documents were not used to secure the interview and cleared Bashir of any wrongdoing. The inquiry, following a Mail on Sunday account of the falsified documents,[26] was headed by Tony Hall, who later became BBC director-general and was succeeded by Davie in 2020. Hall acknowledged having never interviewed Wiessler for the 1996 internal inquiry.[27] Wiessler's house had been burgled a month after the interview aired and two CDs containing the graphics he had created for Bashir were stolen.[28] Wiessler said in 2020 that work dried up for him after the 1996 inquiry cleared Bashir, and said he had been made the scapegoat.[29] Similarly, former BBC producer Mark Killick was removed from Panorama after voicing his concerns about the falsified documents.[30]

Earl Spencer, another individual who was not interviewed in 1996, rejected the apology and demanded an inquiry.[31] Spencer told Davie he possessed records of all his contacts with Bashir, which apparently imply the journalist told the princess false information to gain her trust.[8] Spencer charged that Bashir had made false and defamatory claims about senior members of the royal family and that, without the falsified documents, he would not have introduced Bashir to his sister. Davie announced on 9 November the corporation was in the process of commissioning an independent inquiry.[32] Michael Grade, a former chairman of the BBC, said that the allegations left "a very dark cloud hanging over BBC journalism".[7][32]

At the time of the revelations about his interview with the princess, Bashir, who had been rehired by the corporation in 2016 as its religion and ethics correspondent, was seriously ill from the after effects of COVID-19 and was recuperating after undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery.[29] The BBC has said Bashir's ill health had impaired its ability to investigate the controversy any further until his recovery.[33] The Daily Mirror published a photo of Bashir taken on 6 November with the headline: "Martin Bashir visits takeaway after BBC says he's 'too ill' to respond to Princess Diana claims".[34]

On 13 November 2020, it was reported that the BBC had found the note from Diana which cleared Bashir of pressuring her to give the interview.[35] Bond wrote in The Sunday Times that the princess told her in a private meeting in 1996 that she did not regret the broadcast. Diana said she feared a gagging order in her imminent divorce settlement, meaning it might have been her only chance to give an interview.[22]

Independent inquiry and outcomeEdit

On 18 November 2020, the BBC announced an independent investigation into how the interview was obtained, to be headed by former Supreme Court judge John Dyson.[9][10] The following day, Prince William released a statement supporting the inquiry, saying that the investigation was a "step in the right direction" and that "it should help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the Panorama interview and subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time."[36] It was also reported that Prince Harry was "aware" of the inquiry and was receiving updates on the situation.[37]

On 4 March 2021, the Metropolitan Police announced that they would not begin a criminal investigation into the allegations after a "detailed assessment" and consulting with the force's lawyers, independent counsel and the Crown Prosecution Service.[38] Later in the same month, Bashir told the BBC inquiry that he was not responsible for spreading smears about the royal family to convince the princess to sit for the interview, and that it was probably Diana herself who was the source of those claims.[39] Among the smears were allegations of Prince Edward being treated for AIDS, the Queen suffering from cardiac problems and her intention to abdicate, and that the Prince of Wales was having an affair with his children's nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke.[39]

Bashir argued that bringing up such allegations in front of Diana would have exposed him as a "complete fantasist" and narrowed down the chance of doing any interviews with her.[39] He added that Diana had revealed to him that she spoke with mystics and clairvoyants who could have been the source of the false information given to her.[39] Later in March, it was alleged that Bashir himself had provided Diana with a faked abortion "receipt" for Legge-Bourke, which made Diana believe that she had become pregnant following an affair with Prince Charles.[40]

Bashir departed the BBC in May 2021, citing health issues.[41] Later that month, it was reported that Dyson's inquiry found Bashir guilty of deceit and breaching BBC editorial conduct to obtain the interview.[42] In Dyson's report, the 1996 probe led by Hall into initial complaints about the programme was described as "woefully ineffective" and the BBC was criticised for covering up the matter despite knowing how Bashir had secured the interview.[30] In a statement, Hall admitted that he was wrong to give Bashir the "benefit of the doubt" during the initial investigation that cleared Bashir and the BBC of wrongdoing.[43] Following the report's release, he resigned from his position as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery, stating that his continuing presence there would be a "distraction".[44][45] Tim Suter, a former BBC executive who was part of the 1996 internal investigation, also stepped down from his position in the board of Ofcom.[46]

ReactionsEdit

Diana's sons issued their own statements following the conclusion of the inquiry, with William condemning the actions of BBC leaders and employees, stating that the lies told to his mother had contributed to her sense of "fear, paranoia and isolation".[47] He argued that the interview had created a "false narrative", and due to its questionable legitimacy it should never be aired again.[47] Harry also blamed the media and the paparazzi, adding that the "ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices" was the reason that Diana lost her life.[47] Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, made a connection between the interview and the succeeding chain of events that led to his sister's death two years later "without any form of real protection".[48]

BBC Director-General Tim Davie offered "a full and unconditional apology" and the corporation wrote apology letters to Princes Charles, William and Harry, as well as Earl Spencer.[49][50][51] Designer Matt Wiessler also received an apology from the BBC but described it as "too little, too late", accused the corporation of "turning their back" on him, and added that none of the senior figures responsible for the coverup had apologised to him personally.[30][52][53] Davie also wrote to the BBC staff, stating that they needed to "learn lessons and keep improving".[52] Former director of BBC News James Harding apologised as well and added that the responsibility for rehiring Bashir in 2016 "sits with me".[52]

Bashir apologised through his own statement, saying that using fake documents was "a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret", but added that he would still "reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview".[49] Speaking to The Sunday Times, Bashir stated that, "Everything we did in terms of the interview was as she wanted", and he had not harmed Diana "in any way".[54] He also added that Earl Spencer's attempt to hold him responsible for the subsequent tragedies in Diana's life was "unreasonable and unfair".[54] The note written by Diana in December 1995 was published as a part of the inquiry in which she said, "Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of".[50] The report also concluded that, "By his deceitful behaviour ... Mr Bashir succeeded in engineering the meeting that led to the interview. But it is important to add that Princess Diana would probably have agreed to be interviewed".[48] Diana's biographer Andrew Morton also stated that there was "no question at all that Diana was going to speak her mind", but that Bashir "scared her half to death" by making her believe that she was being watched by MI5 and, as a result, she chose him as the interviewer.[55]

Despite the initial announcement in March that a criminal investigation would not be appropriate, the Metropolitan Police announced in May 2021 that they would assess Dyson's inquiry to look for "any significant new evidence".[56] Earl Spencer later wrote to the Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick, asking them to look again at the evidence and circumstances surrounding his sister's interview.[57] Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden all raised concerns about governance within the BBC.[56][58] Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Julian Knight said he was writing to Davie to find out why Bashir was rehired in 2016.[46][59] Home Secretary Priti Patel also hinted at a possible criminal prosecution alongside "changes to the institution, structure, governance, accountability".[55] However, some have argued that this response from the Conservative government and those opposed to the BBC is unwarranted and part of a political vendetta against the corporation: the government has previously been highly critical of the BBC's news coverage (in particular of Brexit) and planned to decriminalise non-payment of the television license which funds the organisation.[60][61][62]

In June 2021, an internal investigation led by BBC executive Ken MacQuarrie found that there were "shortcomings" in the process for rehiring Bashir as the religious affairs correspondent in 2016, but none of the individuals involved in the process knew about the deceitful methods used by Bashir to secure the 1995 interview.[63][64] MacQuarrie added that they had "found no evidence that Martin Bashir was rehired to contain and/or cover up the events surrounding the 1995 Panorama programme".[63][64] Knight stated that the rehiring process still raised "disturbing" concerns, and added that "the BBC considered rehiring Martin Bashir when there were high-level doubts over his integrity stretches incredulity to breaking point".[63][64]

Former BBC director generals – Tony Hall and John Birt, the incumbent Tim Davie, and the BBC chair Richard Sharp – appeared in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 15 June to answer questions about the interview.[65] During the hearing, Knight further criticised the decision to rehire Bashir, "a known liar", and added that there had been "a failure of morality".[66][67] Hall stated that the 1996 internal investigation which found Bashir as an "honest and honourable man" was the result of "wrong judgement", and that their trust in him was "abused and misplaced".[66] He also denied any attempts "to conceal anything".[66] Birt described the affair as "an absolute horror story", adding that they were all deceived by "a serial liar on an industrial scale" who perpetrated "one of the biggest crimes in the history of broadcasting".[65][66] Davie also stated that at the time of Bashir's rehiring in 2016, the 1996 report was the only official document that addressed the issues related to the interview but it did not show the wrongdoings revealed "at the level we found out from the commissioning of Lord Dyson".[66]

In September 2021, the Metropolitan Police announced that they would not be launching a criminal investigation into the interview after assessing the Dyson report.[68]

In an article in the Daily Telegraph of 9 October 2021, Tom Mangold asserts that the BBC manages its funds very carefully. Bashir could not have paid for the faked documents without a signature from Steve Hewlett who would have had to check what they were for and probably look at them. Mangold says that, as rumours of the faked documents emerged, he and two others went to Hewlett to warn him. He told them it was none of their business. Voices had been raised and Hewlett passed that off as jealous colleagues. The BBC briefed that lie to the press. During the BBC investigation into Bashir's behaviour, neither Hewlett nor Earl Spencer was invited to attend. A key internal memorandum by an editorial manager called Tim Gardam has disappeared from the BBC archives. Despite Freedom of Information requests, no internal document to or from Steve Hewlett has been published.[69]

AwardsEdit

Bashir and Robinson were the recipients of the BAFTA Award for Best Talk Show at the 1996 British Academy Television Awards for their work on the interview.[70] Bashir also won the Factual or Science Based Programme of the Year from the Television and Radio Industries Club, TV Journalist of the Year from the Broadcasting Press Guild, and Journalist of the Year from the Royal Television Society.[71][72][73]

In May 2021, after the conclusion of the Dyson inquiry that found Bashir guilty of deceit in obtaining the interview and the corporation of "incompetence" in their investigation, the BBC has decided to return all awards it received for the programme, including the BAFTA.[50][74]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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  61. ^ editorial (23 May 2021). "The Observer view on Lord Dyson's report on the BBC's Princess of Wales interview". The Observer. Retrieved 23 May 2021. The malice of many on the Conservative right is only too obvious. Editorial integrity is not their main concern. What they really want is to increase control over the BBC, direct its policy and personnel and influence its reporting. Leading Tories and their commercially self-interested Fleet Street cheerleaders have long claimed, absurdly, that BBC journalism is run by a leftwing cabal. They cannot abide what they perceive as anti-Brexit, unpatriotic stances. Now, in a sick reprise of the past, they seek to use Diana and her sons, coupled with Dyson's findings, as a club to batter down the doors of honest, independent reporting damaged by Bashir.
  62. ^ Landler, Mark (20 May 2021). "25 Years Later, BBC Apologizes for Diana Interview". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2021. The conclusions, though not unexpected, are a black eye for the BBC at a time when it has been under pressure from the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for its news coverage. The government has threatened to overhaul the compulsory license fee that finances most of the BBC's operations, and it faces competition from a fledgling news channel, GB News.
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