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An independent investigation found the BBC “failed to meet its high standards of integrity and transparency,” and reporter Martin Bashir acted “fraudulently” to secure his explosive 1995 interview with Princess Diana.
The famous Panorama interview was the first time any member of the royal family had openly spoken negatively about his life – and Diana held nothing back.
She said royal life drove her to bulimia and self-harm and no one in the royal family helped her, instead rejecting her behavior and branding her “unstable”. She admitted to having an affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Talking about her estranged husband Prince Charles’s longstanding affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, she said, “There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded.”
She also doubted Charles’ ability to be king and doubted that she would ever be the queen of the land, saying that instead she “would like to be a queen of people’s hearts”.
The aftermath of the interview, which was followed by more than 20 million people, was seismic. It secured Diana’s place in the eyes of the world as the unwarranted victim of a callous monarchy and torpedoed public opinion of the royal family, especially Charles. And shortly after the broadcast, the Queen ordered Charles and Diana, who had been separated for more than two years, to officially file for divorce.
But on November 2, 2020, weeks before the 25th anniversary of the interview, the Daily Mail published a letter from Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, accusing the BBC of “sheer dishonesty” and unethical behind-the-scenes maneuvers secure the interview.
Following his public statements, the BBC opened an independent investigation into the circumstances of the interview.
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Earl Spencer and his nephews, Prince William and Prince Harry, follow the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, at her funeral on September 6, 1997.
According to this investigation, the results of which were released Thursday, Bashir “fooled” Earl Spencer with false information in order to get an introduction to his royal sister, which he then used to get her to agree to an interview. When this information first came out, the BBC covered up investigations into how [Bashir] ensured the interview and the accuracy of the methods he used. “
To gain Earl Spencer’s trust, Bashir hired an ignorant BBC graphic artist to prepare bank documents showing that a former employee had been paid by a newspaper group. The report also states that Bashir prepared additional bank statements showing that two of Diana’s current executives were paid by the same newspaper group (implying that the payments were made in exchange for sales of private information to the tabloids) . After the meeting at which Bashir showed these documents to Earl Spencer, he introduced the reporter to his royal sister.
“By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to the interview,” wrote Lord Dyson, the former judge who conducted the investigation.
Dyson Investigation / BBC / Via bbc.com
Shortly after the interview first aired, the graphic designer who created the forged documents reached out to senior BBC executives with concerns about how they might have been used. This emerges from a Guardian story published on April 8, 1996 – the day after the Mail on Sunday broke news of the existence of the forged documents and accused the BBC of “conducting an undercover, cunning and misleading exercise” to secure the interview.
The BBC was conducting an internal investigation at the time that finally resolved Bashir and Panorama. She found that the documents were “in no way” used to get the princess to agree to an interview.
In his report, Lord Dyson described the BBC’s internal investigation as “totally ineffective”. Bashir, he said, had repeatedly lied to his superiors about the circumstances under which he received the interview, including not interviewing Earl Spencer but “accepting the report that Mr. Bashir gave them as true”.
“I am pleased that the BBC covered up facts in its press reports that it was able to ascertain how Bashir secured the interview,” said Lord Dyson.
The interview itself was conducted in secret; The Palace press team knew nothing about it until it was taped and only a handful of people on the BBC were made aware of its existence until the Panorama episode aired date was set. (Then-BBC Chairman Marmaduke Hussey was reportedly “extremely unhappy” that the network’s executives had not told him about the program in advance.)
The timing of the interview was also important. In her biography Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, historian Sally Bedell Smith writes that Diana “purposely” waited until Prince Charles’s birthday on November 14th to tell the palace that she should appear on Panorama – and the interview itself aired on November 20th, the 48th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip.
Despite the “fraudulent” maneuvering behind the scenes, Lord Dyson concluded that, at the time Diana was first introduced to Bashir, “was interested in the idea of a television interview” and “probably would have agreed to be interviewed by anyone.” become an experienced and serious reporter, whom she trusted even without the intervention of Mr. Bashir. “
“Whatever reservations she later had, Princess Diana was pleased with the interview at the time,” said Lord Dyson.
In a statement, Bashir, who last week retired from his position as the BBC’s religious editor, apologized for forging the documents but insisted that they “had no influence on Princess Diana’s personal decision to attend the interview” . He also forwarded a handwritten note to the investigation from Diana stating that he had neither shown nor given her any documents[n] me all information that was not known to me before. “
Dyson Investigation / BBC / Via bbc.com
Current BBC chairman Richard Sharp said the company had “unreservedly accepted” the results of the report, as expressed by its current director general, Tim Davie.
“Although the report says Diana, Princess of Wales, was interested in the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process of securing the interview fell far short of what the public rightly expected,” said Davie . “While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview from being secured in this way.”
“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can apologize completely and unconditionally. The BBC is offering that today. “
The BBC reported that the company had sent personal apologies to Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as Earl Spencer and Prince Charles.
On Thursday, Earl Spencer said he believed his sister could still be alive if she hadn’t agreed to be interviewed by Bashir, saying that his reporting tactics made Diana believe she couldn’t trust the people around her.
Bashir, he said, was “very good at heightening people’s fears” and creating the impression that he was “going to save you in a difficult and dangerous world”.
“She didn’t know who to trust, and when she died two years later she was left with no real protection.”
Harry and William both made statements blowing up the media in response to the results of the investigation Thursday.