Media: How Martin joined the ranks of the rich and famous

Martin Bashir has made his name interviewing celebrities, now he's one in his own right.
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The Independent Culture
WE HAVE on The Independent's computerised cuttings library 462 news stories which include the name Martin Bashir. Of those, 455 are dated after November 1995, when the unknown investigative reporter became famous worldwide for his interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.

His story count was boosted further thanks to his interview last week with Louise Woodward and, as with the Diana interview, many of the stories have been less than flattering.

The general consensus of TV reviewers and commentators was that his interview with Woodward was at best gentle.

Little emerged about Louise's character and he failed to pursue some of the most interesting avenues of questioning. Certainly, when Woodward seemed to be hinting that she had opinions of her own as to how baby Matthew sustained his head injury, he changed tack.

It is also said that he allowed Louise to have the cameras stopped when she started to cry at one point, despite the fact that her lack of visible emotion was a key feature of debate about her guilt.

But, as with the Diana interview, much of the speculation has centred on how Bashir secured his scoop.

Last week, one newspaper even reported that Bashir had promised to get Louise into King's College to study law and find her summer work at the BBC in return for the interview.

The BBC, naturally, denies offering anything for the access it received and maintains that Bashir's work on the story gained him contacts with the family and his efforts secured the interview.

Rivals are less generous: "Knowing Sue Woodward (Louise's mother) as I do," says one TV head who has worked with the family. "She wanted her Little Princess interviewed by the man who interviewed the other Princess. She is very media-savvy. She has done programmes for ITV, for Channel 4 and now she wanted Louise to get the kind of status that only Bashir could bring. Still, good luck to him."

Of course, Bashir can hardly be blamed if the journalistic scoop of the decade - securing an interview with Princes Diana - continues to pay-off. But being dusted with the glitter of celebrity has certainly changed the nature of his career.

Until the Diana interview, he was a solid investigative reporter concentrating on specialist investigations. He spent two years working on programmes about Terry Venables' business affairs and on a Department of Trade and Industry enquiry into Richard Budge, the man who bought most of Britain's coal mines.

He went to Panorama in 1992 after three years as a social affairs reporter on Public Eye, having joined the BBC in 1986 as a reporter for London Plus and Newsroom South East. Before that, he had mainly worked as a freelance sports reporter for Radio 4.

He comes from London, is married with three children and has a degree in English and History. None of which could have prepared him for the kind of media spotlight he has endured for the last three years.

At first his celebrity affected him mainly negatively. "I know he went through some awful things immediately after the Diana interview," says one colleague. "Tabloid reporters were trying to pay his neighbours to talk about his private life and there were people going through his dustbins." At one point around the Diana interview he was forced to go into hiding from the press while his wife was pregnant.

And then there was the reaction of some within the BBC to his great scoop. "He was always an insecure person, something of an office gossip," says another former colleague. "Although that makes him just like most TV journalists."

That kind of journalistic insecurity and gossip is what is blamed for what has been described as a smear campaign. Within six months of his Diana interview the Mail on Sunday was claiming that he had secured the interview by creating a dummy bank statement belonging to the former head of security for Diana's brother Lord Spencer. The Lord was in legal dispute with his former employee and it was alleged that somehow the Diana interview was made possible because Spencer was grateful for the bank statement and his help.

The BBC had looked into the case of the fake documents and cleared Bashir of any impropriety.

Yet Bashir and the BBC's explanation that Diana just "volunteered" for the interview, while he was researching a bigger programme about the future of the monarchy, cut little ice with either Buckingham Palace or many insiders at the time. One friend describes the interview as "gained through a chapter of accidents well-exploited", which may be all we ever know about how it happened.

But the Diana scoop was not all bad news. He won a Royal Television Society award and a Bafta. And he has moved into more than just reporting.

He has presented an education series with Carol Vorderman, some episodes of the late night discussion programme The Midnight Hour, and he currently has his own sports series running on Radio 4, Late Tackle. Meanwhile, he has continued doing Panorama programmes. These have all tended to involve "exclusive interviews" - whether of Louise Woodward, of yachtsman Tony Bullimore or of the headmaster of the Ridings School in Yorkshire.

However Martin Bashir secured his interview with Diana, the consequence has been that he has been turned into that most rare of broadcasters: a "celebrity" celebrity interviewer.