‘I loved her’: Martin Bashir insists BBC Diana interview was not harmful to princess

Former BBC journalist distances himself from issues of isolation and paranoia that affected Princess of Wales

Matt Mathers
Sunday 23 May 2021 03:44 BST
Prince William issues scathing criticism of BBC after Bashir-Diana interview inquiry

Martin Bashir has insisted that the “deceitful behaviour” he used to secure an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, was not harmful to her and that he and his family “loved her”.

An independent inquiry led by Lord Dyson, which looked into how Mr Bashir gained access to the princess, found that he used deception – in the form of false bank statements – to land the 1995 interview and then lied to his BBC managers.

Lord Dyson’s inquiry concluded there was a “serious breach” of the BBC’s editorial rules, transgressions which the corporation later covered up.

Speaking publicly for the first time since Lord Dyson's findings, Mr Bashir apologised, saying that he “never wanted to harm” Princess Diana with his Panorama programme. “I don't believe we did,” he claimed.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Bashir maintained that Princess Diana was never unhappy about the content of the interview and said they continued to be friends after the broadcast, with the princess even visiting his wife Deborah at St George's hospital in Tooting, southwest London, on the day Deborah gave birth to the couple's third child, Eliza.

Mr Bashir, who resigned from his role as religion editor of the BBC earlier this month, said he was “deeply sorry” to the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, but disputes William's charge that he fuelled his mother’s isolation and paranoia.

He said: “Even in the early 1990s, there were stories and secretly recorded phone calls. I wasn't the source of any of that.”

However, Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, has said he “draws a line” between the interview and his sister's death, claiming Mr Bashir's actions led her to give up her royal security detail.

Mr Bashir told The Sunday Times he believed that “to channel the tragedy, the difficult relationship between the royal family and the media purely on to my shoulders, feels a little unreasonable”.

Mr Bashir said he regretted using the fake bank documents he showed to Earl Spencer, which purported to show payments into the accounts of members of the royal household and which he used as leverage for the interview, according to Lord Dyson.

The former journalist also claimed, however, that as a result of the scandal the content of Diana’s interview “has almost been ignored”.

He told The Sunday Times: “She was a pioneering princess. When you think about her expressions of grief in her marriage, when you think about the admission of psychiatric illness - just extraordinary! And her sons have gone on to champion mental health,” he said.

Mr Bashir's comments were published after former BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall quit as chairman of the National Gallery following heavy criticism of him in the Dyson report, over his botched inquiry into how the interview was obtained.

His resignation also followed a wave of questions over whether he was involved in rehiring Mr Bashir as religion editor. On Friday the former director of BBC News, James Harding, sidestepped questions on whether the then director-general Lord Hall – who led the original “woefully ineffective” investigation – had had any role in the rehiring.

In an awkward interview aired on BBC News on Friday, Mr Harding said he was sorry Mr Bashir had returned to the corporation because it had made things “more difficult for everyone”.

But he was visibly uncomfortable when asked if Lord Hall had informed him of the earlier investigation into Mr Bashir. “What I was saying is that BBC News hired Martin Bashir, and so the responsibility for that sits with me,” he said.

On Saturday evening, the government was planning an intervention to restore trust in the BBC following the scandal, according to a report by The Observer. The plan is said to form part of the government's review into the BBC next year.

Ministers are expected to be hauled before MPs in the House of Commons on Monday to answer questions about the Dyson report, the paper reported.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, previously warned that ministers would pay close attention to whether “further governance reforms at the BBC are needed in the mid-term Charter review”.

William has condemned the BBC for its failings around the interview with his mother, which he said fuelled the “fear, paranoia and isolation” she suffered in the final years of her life.

Prince William said he felt “indescribable sadness” after the Dyson inquiry laid bare the BBC’s cover-up of Mr Bashir’s actions, while Prince Harry said it was a “culture of exploitation and unethical practices” in the media which “ultimately took her life”.

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