That infamous BBC ‘Panorama’ interview with Princess Diana is back in the headlines 26 years on, with an inquiry expected to reveal British journalist Martin Bashir “employed deceitful methods” to gain the princess’ trust.
Airing in November 1995, Diana’s brutally honest interview made headlines around the world when she declared “there were three of us in this marriage”, in reference to the Prince of Wales’ infidelity with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
The candid interview rocked the palace at the time, with the Princess dropping bombshell after bombshell. It was even alleged that after it aired, the Queen reportedly sent a letter to both Charles and Diana advising them to divorce. In the interview, the late princess discussed the toll her marriage was having on her mental health, detailing how she felt misunderstood and had days where she didn’t want to get out of bed.
In late 2020, former supreme court judge Lord Dyson was brought in by the BBC to carry out an investigation into Bashir, and how the relatively unknown reporter secured a world exclusive interview with the princess. It is understood the six-month-long inquiry will condemn senior BBC executives at the time over allegations of a cover-up, as well as criticising Bashir.
According to The Telegraph, a report on the findings of the inquiry is expected to be released on Thursday (UK time), with one source describing it as the BBC’s “phone hacking moment”, in reference to the scandal that engulfed the News of the World a decade ago. The source said the inquiry “will be a true eye-opener”.
It is understood that the inquiry will conclude that Bashir employed deceitful methods to obtain the interview, including breaching editorial guidelines by allegedly “faking” bank statements that were shown to Diana’s brother Charles Spencer and allegedly used to win over his trust and gain access to his sister. According to the late princess’ brother, the bank statements showed key members of Diana’s staff were on the payroll of major news outlets and leaking stories to the press about her.
The Telegraph reported that Spencer supplied documents to the inquiry, which had been presented to him by Bashir, including a list of allegations (purportedly from Bashir) that Diana’s telephones had been bugged and she was being followed.
In 1995, Richard Ayre was the BBC’s controller of editorial policy, and told The Telegraph that he gave evidence in the inquiry in January, stating that mocking up the statements would have classified as a breach of editorial policy. “The use of deceit in making factual programmes would have been permissible only in the case of investigating serious crime … and where prima facie evidence of the guilt of that person being investigated had already been obtained,” Ayre told the publication.
“Those circumstances clearly don’t apply to an interview with the Princess of Wales. It would not have been acceptable to use significant deceit in this case.”
In the years following, Bashir interviewed Michael Jackson, who later complained of feeling tricked by the interview, while actor Robert Downey-Jnr, walked out mid-interview due to Bashir’s questioning.
It’s unknown whether Kensington Palace will be shown the findings from the inquiry in advance, though it is expected that Prince William, 38, is likely to comment, having previously said the inquiry was “a step in the right direction”. “It should help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the Panorama interview and subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time,” he said.
Diana’s younger son, Prince Harry, who recently quit the royal family, has remained silent on the matter. However a source close to the prince has revealed he’s “getting regular updates”, the ABC reports.