So what would you ask the Princess?

On the eve of the big interview, Graham Ball consults some experts
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The Independent Online
PANORAMA'S interview with the Princess of Wales tomorrow night will probably be judged the biggest television event of the year, if not the decade. But what will they ask? Where do you begin an interview with the most gossiped-about woman in the world?

The initial surprise in media circles at the choice of Martin Bashir, a relatively inexperienced Panorama investigative reporter, to handle the interview gave way to a more sceptical overview by the weekend. For what was hailed by some as the journalistic equivalent of the Grail, a genuine scoop, might turn out to be something of a poisoned chalice for the tirointerviewer.

The problem for Mr Bashir is one of style: too tough and he will be branded a beast by the tabloids; too soft and he will be dismissed by fellow professionals as little more than an opportunist poodle. So how would his more experienced colleagues and commentators handle this far from straightforward career- making - or credibility-breaking - assignment?

Step forward Bel Mooney, author, broadcaster and wife of Jonathan Dimbleby, whose own now notorious interview with the Prince of Wales 18 months ago, in which the Prince for the first time admitted his own adultery, has already been suggested as the catalyst for the Princess's decison to bare her soul.

Ms Mooney was in no doubt. "I would like to put three questions to her. First: 'What do you think are the origins of your compulsive attention- seeking?' Second: 'Do you really think you can go on manipulating public opinion to make intelligent people believe you to be an innocent victim who has never strayed from the path of marital virtue?'

"Lastly, I'd ask her: 'Would it not have been wiser to have gone to a psychiatrist rather than a journalist?' "

The media's best-known psychiatrist, however, Professor Anthony Clare, would not offer the Princess an invitation to sit In the Psychiatrist's Chair, his Radio 4 interview programme.

"I view the whole exercise with grave misgivings," said the deceptively soft-voiced Irishman who has reduced several of his interview subjects to tears on air. "People sometimes ask me if there are any questions that are in effect out of bounds, and the answer is, yes, there are limits. One of these limits in interviewing people in the public eye concerns the likely damaging effect on innocent and vulnerable family members.

"Interviewing Princess Diana without asking questions that were sensitive and potentially harmful to her children would be very difficult. I believe these questions to be crucial to the interview; not asking them would make the interview a waste of time." Yet many other high-profile interviewers - women especially - did not share Professor Clare's reticence. Joan Bakewell, of BBC 2's Everyman, took a similarly straightforward line to that of Ms Mooney. "These are the questions I'd like to see Princess Diana answer: 'Do you want to be, and do you think you could now be, made Queen?'

" 'Are you now in or have you in the past taken part in an adulterous relationship, and do you feel entitled to be unfaithful to your husband?' Last of all, I'd ask: 'Which do you think is the best therapy for keeping slim?' "

Esther Rantzen was intrigued by the prospect. "It's a fascinating idea; so many questions spring to mind. One of the most important I'd like answered is: 'Who do you believe bugged your and your husband's telephone calls? And if they hadn't done so, could you have possibly maintained a marriage, as so many people do who don't have their private calls blazoned all over the newspapers?'

"Also I'd want to know whether or not she blamed herself for anything, and if she was aware of all the solid good she has done for so many charities. Can she still hold on to that fact when all the scandal and headlines are crashing about her head?"

Penny Junor, the author of biographies of both Diana and Charles, adopted a more sympathetic tone. "I believe that Diana is still suffering from the effects of bulimia, but among the questions I'd most like to put to her are: 'Have you ever been truly happy? Why did you marry the Prince of Wales, and would you take him back?'

"But it's my guess that she's rather a sad interview."

Sympathy for Diana came too from agony aunt Virginia Ironside, whose "Dilemmas" column appears in the Independent. "The question I'd most like her to answer is: 'What did you feel when your mother left home?' I'd also like to know how she feels when her sons are with Charles, and how she imagines her life will be when they have grown up.

"I suppose the problem would be that the answers to those questions would reveal too much about Diana the woman, and would be construed as damaging, but as I believe the whole Royal Family is doomed I don't suppose it would make much difference now."

Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman was not surprised at not getting an invitation to Kensington Palace. His adversarial style of interrogating hard-boiled politicians has won him the admiration of television professionals and the grudging respect of his quarries. "Well, yes, it is the sort of scoop anyone would kill for," he said, "but as for coming up with the one particular question you'd want to ask ... frankly it's not on.

"There are in truth hundreds of questions to ask, and the great luxury Martin Bashir and Panorama have is that presumably they've got 40 minutes to ask them all. Frankly, if you can't nail her in that time you never will.

"I'm certainly not going to attempt to tell him how to do his job; I think we've all got to sit back and watch it and see. Of course I've got a pretty good idea of the sort of things I'd put to her, and I suspect that they're pretty much the same as everyone else in this business.

"But, to be honest, I'm not really interested in reading what the overpaid media people think. I'm far more interested in hearing what the ordinary members of the public have got to say. I'd like to know what the landlord of the Prince of Wales pub would ask her."

What members of the literary rather than the media establishment would ask is less clear. The usually acerbic Auberon Waugh, who last year asked if she was "a mad, sexless, manipulative monster", was charmed by Diana in September when she presented the prizes for his magazine the Literary Review's poetry award. He said: "Oh gosh, isn't it silly? I've no idea what I'd ask. I haven't the faintest idea what I'd say, but I expect something would come to me in the event. It's all rather curious."

The normally loquacious Rumpole of the Bailey author John Mortimer had even fewer words on the subject. "I wouldn't put any questions to Princess Diana because I really haven't got the slightest interest in her," he said. "I don't think I'll even bother to watch the Panorama programme tomorrow night.

"Let's face it, Princess Diana is rather like the Bloomsbury set - and we've all had quite enough of them, haven't we?"

Leading article, page 20

Four questions to start with

What are the origins of your compulsive

attention-seeking? - Bel Mooney

Do you feel entitled to be unfaithful to your husband?

- Joan Bakewell What sort of life will you have when your children have grown up?

- Virginia Ironside Have you ever been truly happy?

- Penny Junor