Money wrangle over Princess and the Beeb

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The Independent Online

The Princess of Wales and the BBC could be heading for an embarrassing legal wrangle over the earnings from tonight's royal television interview.

BBC sources insisted yesterday that the Princess and the corporation had not agreed a deal over the worldwide rights to the interview which is likely to generate upwards of pounds 2m.

It is understood that the Princess expects a high proportion - thought to be as much as 75 per cent - of earnings from the interview to go to charities of her choice.

In addition to earnings from a BBC video of the interview, which could be a best-seller if it hits retail shelves before Christmas, there are also high earnings likely to accrue from international syndication rights sold to other television stations around the world.

One copyright barrister told the Independent last night: "If all of this was not legally fixed before the interview took place, then both parties are looking at a mess."

Last year the Prince of Wales's interview with Jonathan Dimbleby included a deal that saw a large slice of its earnings going to the Prince's favourite charities. The Princess, according to close friends, clearly expects the same deal.

As Sunday's newspapers provided Panorama with saturation publicity and speculation over the programme's contents and impact, the BBC spent the weekend issuing denials about the precise content of the 60-minute interview with reporter Martin Bashir.

A BBC source also revealed that during the production and editing of the interview, the edit suites used by the programme makers had been debugged in an attempt to prevent leaks of the Princess's comments.

The debugging was carried out at the BBC's White City studios in west London at the end of last week, as news of her first solo public interview generated international interest in its possible content. The anticipated audience worldwide for the interview is now put at 200 million people.

Despite the insistence of Tony Hall, the BBC's head of news and current affairs, that only eight people have seen the interview - five senior executives, including the director general John Birt, and three of the Panorama team - leaks of what Prince Charles's estranged wife has said on camera, and even off-camera, were splashed across every national newspaper.

The Princess is reported to have said, during the interview which was recorded on Guy Fawkes' night, that she does not want a divorce, is not seeking to destroy the Royal Family, and is not angry about the Prince's admission of adultery with Camilla Parker Bowles, revealed in the television interview with Jonathan Dimbleby last year.

She is said to have denied she is seeking to destroy the monarchy. "Why should I wish to destroy my children's future?" And there is to be no royal divorce. "No. There are two children involved here." On the break- up of her marriage she is reported to have said almost casually: "It's sad when a marriage breaks up, but there it is. These things happen."

If leaks of the interview are accurate she will tell Mr Bashir, "I don't want pity. I have more dignity than that, I'm strong, here to serve, and happy to do it."

The comments are a clear signal that the Princess does not intend to step back from the forefront of public life as the wife of the heir to the throne - nor lose the prestige and power which goes with it. There is also the underlying message that she will now set her own royal agenda.

The existence of the programme was kept from Marmaduke Hussey, the chairman of the governors of the BBC. It is thought this was a deliberate move both to prevent Mr Hussey stopping its transmission - his wife is lady- in-waiting to the Queen - and to ensure that he could not be blamed by Buckingham Palace for the breach of protocol.

Also, in a thinly-veiled rebuke, Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, wrote yesterday: "Privacy can be compromised if we voluntarily bring our private life into the public domain.

"Those who do that may place themselves beyond the PCC's protection and must bear the consequences of their actions."