25 years since Princess Diana’s BBC Panorama interview made history - what did the public learn?

The interview first aired on 20 November 1995, 25 years later Sophie Gallagher asks what the watershed moment in British media meant for royal secrets

Sunday 11 April 2021 12:02 BST

In November 1995, Princess Diana was interviewed by journalist Martin Bashir on BBC One’s Panorama, speaking openly about her marriage to Prince Charles, infidelity on both parts, her depression, self-harm and eating disorder, and the inner workings of the royal family.

For the notoriously private firm, the appearance - the first ever solo TV interview for the Princess - was a rare moment of drawing back the curtain to reveal deep discontentment and unhappiness. Not least within Diana’s own marriage, a union she had joined at the age of 19.  

Broadcast on 20 November, the interview was watched by 23 million people on the night of its release, and millions more since. Such was the demand for the interview, the BBC made a reported $1m from a sale of the programme to ABC, one of America’s major networks. 

And it was explosive - confirming long-speculated reports about Diana’s mental health and exposing previously private issues. Following the interview the Princess of Wales further withdrew from public life.

But what were the biggest revelations? Over two decades years later, and 23 years after Diana’s death, the interview, and the secrets it exposed, have taken on ever-greater historical weight.

Diana had been unfaithful

Bashir asked the Princess about her relationship with James Hewitt, who claimed in a book to have had an affair with her. She confirmed it had “gone beyond a close friendship” and she had been unfaithful: "I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down."

You know, people think that at the end of the day a man is the only answer. Actually, a fulfilling job is better for me

“I desperately wanted [my marriage] to work, I desperately loved my husband and I wanted to share everything together, and I thought that we were a very good team.”

At the time of the interview Diana said she “lived very much on her own” at Kensington Palace. “I don't mind that actually. You know, people think that at the end of the day a man is the only answer. Actually, a fulfilling job is better for me,” she said.  

Prince Charles had been unfaithful 

Diana cast light on Prince Charles’ ongoing relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, revealing she knew her husband was “in love” with another woman.  

“A woman's instinct is a very good one; obviously I had knowledge of it from people who minded and cared about our marriage," she said before uttering the now infamous line: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Discussing Prince Charles’ confession about his adultery to Jonathan Dimbleby, she said: “ I was pretty devastated myself. But then I admired the honesty, because it takes a lot to do that.”

Diana didn’t want a divorce

Although the royal couple had separated - something which she confirmed that Prince Charles instigated - she did not want to move that forward to divorce proceedings. “I come from a divorced background [her parents], and I didn't want to go into that one again.

“I don't want a divorce, but obviously we need clarity on a situation that has been of enormous discussion over the last three years in particular. So all I say to that is that I await my husband's decision of which way we are all going to go.”

Diana had had postnatal depression

There had been widespread reports that Diana was suffering with mental illness. She confirmed that after the birth of Prince William she had postnatal depression.  

It gave everybody a wonderful new label - Diana's unstable and Diana's mentally unbalanced

“Which no one ever discusses," she said. "You have to read about it afterwards, and that in itself was a bit of a difficult time. You'd wake up in the morning feeling you didn't want to get out of bed, you felt misunderstood, and just very, very low in yourself.

“It gave everybody a wonderful new label - Diana's unstable and Diana's mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately that seems to have stuck on and off over the years.”

She said she had treatment to help but she struggled with her in-laws. “Well maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression or was ever openly tearful. And obviously that was daunting, because if you've never seen it before how do you support it?”

Diana had self-harmed

Diana confirmed further reports that she had been physically self-harming. “When no one listens to you, or you feel no one's listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it's the wrong help you're asking for." 

She confirmed she “hurt her arms and legs”. “People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you're in the media all the time you've got enough attention, inverted commas. But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales.”

Diana had bulimia

As well as self-harming, Diana said she had been suffering with an eating disorder - bulimia - for around two or three years. “You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don't think you're worthy or valuable. You fill your stomach up four or five times a day - some do it more - and it gives you a feeling of comfort.

“I'd come home and it would be very difficult to know how to comfort myself having been comforting lots of other people, so it would be a regular pattern to jump into the fridge.”

Diana said her bulimia was a “symptom of what was going on in my marriage”. “I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem - Diana was unstable.”

Diana felt unable to ask the royals for help

Bashir asked if Diana asked for help from any of the royals. She responded: “No. You, you have to know that when you have bulimia you're very ashamed of yourself and you hate yourself, so - and people think you're wasting food - so you don't discuss it with people.  

“And the thing about bulimia is your weight always stays the same, whereas with anorexia you visibly shrink. So you can pretend the whole way through. There's no proof.”

Diana had doubts about Prince Charles being king

When asked about Prince Charles, who is now the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, and his future likelihood of becoming king, Diana said: “I don’t think any of us knows the answer to that.  

“And obviously it's a question that's in everybody's head. But who knows, who knows what fate will produce, who knows what circumstances will provoke,” she added.

Diana was glad to have sons, not daughters

Bashir asked how she felt to find out she was having a son in 1982, to which she replied “enormous relief”. “I felt the whole country was in labour with me. And then William and Harry arrived - fortunately two boys, it would have been a little tricky if it had been two girls.

“But that in itself brings the responsibilities of bringing them up, William's future being as it is, and Harry like a form of a back-up in that aspect.” 

 I seemed to be on the front of a newspaper every single day, which is an isolating experience

Diana said she hoped that raising her children around her charity work would give them “an understanding of people's emotions, people's insecurities, people's distress, and people's hopes and dreams”.  

Diana had struggled with media attention since the start of the marriage

"At the age of 19, you always think you're prepared for everything, and you think you have the knowledge of what's coming ahead. But although I was daunted at the prospect at the time, I felt I had the support of my husband-to-be."

“The most daunting aspect was the media attention, because my husband and I, we were told when we got engaged that the media would go quietly, and it didn't; and then when we were married they said it would go quietly and it didn't; and then it started to focus very much on me, and I seemed to be on the front of a newspaper every single day, which is an isolating experience, and the higher the media put you, place you, is the bigger the drop.”

Diana thought the monarchy needed to change

Bashir asked: “Do you think the monarchy needs to adapt and to change in order to survive?” To which Diana replied: “I understand that change is frightening for people, especially if there's nothing to go to. It's best to stay where you are. I understand that.  

“But I do think that there are a few things that could change that would alleviate this doubt, and sometimes [the] complicated relationship between monarchy and public. I think they could walk hand in hand, as opposed to being so distant.”

She resented the implication that she had been intent on destroying the monarchy. “Why would I want to destroy something that is my children's future? I will fight for my children on any level in order for them to be happy and have peace of mind and carry out their duties.”

Diana thought the palace was working against her

Diana said after her and Charles split she no longer felt she had the support of the royal household. “People's agendas changed overnight. I was now [the] separated wife of the Prince of Wales, I was a problem, I was a liability (seen as), and how are we going to deal with her? This hasn't happened before.”

Diana said she thought letters were “being lost” or that visits abroad were “blocked” and things that had “naturally come my way” were being stopped. “Everything changed after we separated, and life became very difficult for husband's side were very busy stopping me.”

“She won't go quietly, that's the problem. I'll fight to the end, because I believe that I have a role to fulfil, and I've got two children to bring up,” she added.

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