Princess to earn BBC a royal mint

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The Independent Online
LOUISE JURY and

MARIANNE MACDONALD

The world is set to be stunned by the astonishingly frank interview given by the Princess of Wales to the BBC, it emerged yesterday.

As the corporation began sifting bids from every major broadcaster in the world for the rights to show the Panorama programme, informed speculation pointed to the Princess having pulled no punches talking to reporter Martin Bashir.

It is understood that she has spoken on all the key questions of her family, separation and future in the hour-long interview which the BBC believes will prove a riveting insight into the Charles and Diana story.

Worldwide interest in the documentary was described yesterday as "unprecedented" by one television insider, even though details of the interview are known only to a handful and are not being revealed prior to Monday's screening.

Tony Hall, managing director of news and current affairs, said the tape had been seen by only eight people, including John Birt, the director general, but not Marmaduke Hussey, the chairman of the governors whose wife is lady-in-waiting to the Queen.

He revealed that the Princess gave the final go-ahead about two weeks ago, after several meetings with Mr Bashir during his research for a programme on the constitution. Filming took place without any Royal aides or press officers present on 5 November, when the Queen was in New Zealand.

There were no constraints. "The only request we had from the Princess was that she was to tell the Palace first that she had done the interview," Mr Hall said. "It was a proper interview over a wide range of issues including the role of the princess and her future role."

The BBC is sensitive about being seen to benefit commercially from the programme, which has dismayed Buckingham Palace, but sources suggested the bidding could bring in millions.

A BBC spokesman conceded the straightforward format of a head-to-head interview made the sales virtually "all profit". Other recent successes have notched up significant sales abroad but were more expensive to make. The People's Century history documentary series has brought in pounds 5m, but that was only half the production cost. The adaptation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice has been licensed to nine countries so far, with contracts worth pounds 500,000.

A BBC source added: "[The interview] could end up being seen by more people in the world than any other programme has been before."

But the spokesman said that although it was in discussion with a "large number of foreign broadcasters," the BBC did not expect to finalise any sales before Friday. CBS, one of the major American channels, confirmed it wasamong the bidders.

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