Princess Diana: Why is controversial Martin Bashir interview being investigated?

More than two decades later, the Princess Diana interview that rocked Britain is facing major scrutiny

Chantal da Silva
Thursday 20 May 2021 09:26
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Lady Diana Spencer opens a car door as she holds her coat, London, UK, 13th November 1980.
Lady Diana Spencer opens a car door as she holds her coat, London, UK, 13th November 1980.
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An interview with Princess Diana that aired more than 20 years ago is now at the centre of an investigation being led by Lord John Dyson, a former senior judge.

Here, we break down what happened in the lead-up to and after the interview, as well as why it is being investigated now, decades after Diana’s death.

What happened in the BBC Panorama interview?

On 20 November, 1995, the year before Diana’s divorce to Prince Charles, the princess’s interview with journalist Martin Bashir aired on BBC current affairs show Panorama.

During the interview, Diana spoke candidly about both her and her husband’s extramarital affairs.

Referring to Charles’s extramarital affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles - who is now his wife, Diana said: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”.

She said that the relationship had made her feel worthless, with many going on to view the extramarital affair as the driving factor behind the couple’s divorce.

During the interview, Diana also spoke out about her own mental health, describing her struggles with bulimia and self-harm.

Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales at Westminster Abbey, London, for a centenary service for the Royal College Of Music on 28 February, 1982.

She also accused Charles’s staff of working against her and expressed doubts over whether her husband was suitable to take the throne.

More than 20 million people watched the interview, with its culmination sending shockwaves across Britain and around the world.

It was shortly after the interview aired that the Queen wrote to Prince Charles and Princess Diana telling them it was time for a divorce.

Why is the interview under investigation?

Now, years later, the interview is at the heart of an investigation being led by Lord Dyson.

The primary claim being investigated was lodged by Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, who has accused Mr Bashir of having lied to Diana in order to get her to do the interview in the first place.

When Mr Bashir did the interview, he was still a relatively junior BBC reporter. He was not known to have royal contacts or much experience in royal reporting.

However, the revelations that came to light during the interview were so explosive that little attention was paid to how it was secured.

Martin Bashir at a press conference for ‘Girls Gone Wild’ creator Joe Francis at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel on 13 March, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California.

Mr Spencer has accused Mr Bashir of having told Diana a series of lies about the Royal Family, which he said directly fed into her beliefs that the Prince of Wales’s staff had launched a campaign against her.

He said Diana had agreed to the interview under the belief that what Mr Bashir had told her was true.

Mr Bashir had also forged bank statements with the help of a graphic artist at the BBC that appeared to show payments by a newspaper outlet to a former member of the earl’s staff so that he would trust the reporter and introduce him to his sister.

That Mr Bashir forged the bank statements is not new, with the revelation being revealed by the Mail on Sunday and with an internal BBC inquiry clearing Bashir, as well as Panorama and BBC News of wrongdoing in 1996.

Now, questions are being asked around why the BBC cleared Mr Bashir and Panorama of wrongdoing, particularly before even speaking with Earl Spencer.

How did the inquiry come to be?

An independent inquiry was commissioned by the BBC after Earl Spencer went public with his allegations last year.

Lord Dyson was asked to lead the review and the BBC said Mr Bashir had been cooperating fully.

At the time, Tim Davie, BBC Director-General, said: “The BBC is determined to get to the truth about these events and that is why we have commissioned an independent investigation.”

“Formerly Master of the Rolls and a Justice of the Supreme Court, Lord Dyson is an eminent and highly respected figure who will lead a thorough process,” Mr Davie said.

In his own statement, Lord Dyson said: “This is an important investigation which I will start straight away. I will ensure it is both thorough and fair.”

What exactly is the investigation looking for?

When the BBC announced the independent inquiry, it outlined the questions that the investigation would centre around.

The broadcaster said the following questions would be explored:

  • “What steps did the BBC and in particular Martin Bashir take with a view to obtaining the Panorama interview on 20 November 1995 with Diana, Princess of Wales? This will involve a consideration of all the relevant evidence including (i) the mocked up bank statements purporting to show payments to a former employee of Earl Spencer (ii) the purported payments to members of the Royal Households; and (iii) the other matters recently raised by Earl Spencer not limited to the matters published in the Daily Mail on 7 November 2020.
  • Were those steps appropriate, having regard in particular to the BBC’s editorial standards prevailing at the time?
  • To what extent did the actions of the BBC and in particular Martin Bashir influence Diana, Princess of Wales’s decision to give an interview?
  • What knowledge did the BBC have in 1995 and 1996 of the relevant evidence referred to at paragraph 1 above?
  • Having regard to what was known at the time of its investigation in 1995 and 1996, how effectively did the BBC investigate the circumstances leading to the interview?”

When will the report come out?

According to the BBC, Lord Dyson’s report was handed over to the broadcaster on Friday, 14 May.

It is set to be published this week.

Where is Martin Bashir now?

Some years after his interview with Diana, Mr Bashir went on to work for ITV’s Tonight With Trevor McDonald programme.

He then worked for a number of US networks before returning to the UK in 2016 and joining the BBC once again as religion editor.

He resigned from that post citing ill health in May, however, after suffering long-term impacts from Covid-19.

It is unclear whether he will respond to the findings of the report once they come to light.

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