Martin Bashir: The princess, the reporter and the BBC

21 May 2021 | James Porteous | Clipper Media

An independent inquiry by Lord Dyson, a former senior judge, found journalist Martin Bashir used deception to secure the interview and then lied to BBC managers.

Princess Diana: What is the Martin Bashir interview row all about?

The BBC has made an “unconditional apology” over the way it got an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, more than 20 years ago. Getty Photos

An independent inquiry by Lord Dyson, a former senior judge, found journalist Martin Bashir used deception to secure the interview and then lied to BBC managers.

Who was Princess Diana?

Princess Diana was the mother of Prince William and Prince Harry.

She married the Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne, in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, in 1981.

But the couple separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996.

How did Princess Diana die?

The princess died in 1997, after the car she was in crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, in Paris.

Her companion, Dodi Al Fayed, with whom she had been holidaying, and their chauffeur, Henri Paul, died when the car crashed.

Mr Al Fayed’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, survived.

Analysis indicated Paul had 175 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, compared with the limit, under French law, of 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres. This equates to his having drunk more than a bottle of wine.

As he tried to speed away from photographers following the car, he lost control and smashed into a concrete pillar.

What did Princess Diana tell Panorama?

The interview, broadcast in late 1995, was a huge scoop for the BBC – never before had a serving royal spoken in such candid terms about life in the Royal Family or relationships with other royals.

In the interview, Princess Diana:

  • admitted having an affair
  • said Prince Charles’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (now his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall) had made her feel worthless
  • spoke of there being “three of us” in the marriage
  • said she had had bulimia and self-harmed
  • suggested Prince Charles might not be able to adapt to being king
  • said Prince Charles’s staff were waging a campaign against her

More than 20 million people watched the interview and it caused huge controversy.

Shortly afterwards, the Queen wrote to Prince Charles and Princess Diana telling them to divorce.

Who is Martin Bashir?

There was a fair amount of surprise when it was revealed Mr Bashir, a relatively junior BBC reporter with no known royal background or contacts, had the interview. But the revelations overshadowed questions over how he had achieved it.

Martin Bashir interviewed Princess Diana for Panorama in 1995

A few years later, he went to work for ITV’s Tonight With Trevor McDonald programme and then various US television networks.

He returned to the UK in 2016 and was reemployed by the BBC, as religion editor, a post he resigned from because of ill health in mid-May.

What does the report say about Martin Bashir’s actions?

The report says Mr Bashir used deception to secure the interview.

He showed Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, forged bank statements appearing to show payments by a newspaper group to a former member of his staff.

The report says this was to gain Earl Spencer’s confidence so he would introduce Mr Bashir to Diana.

Mr Bashir has admitted having the bank statements mocked up by a graphic artist working for the BBC.

However, when questioned by BBC bosses, he repeatedly denied showing these documents to Earl Spencer.

The report says Mr Bashir “lied and maintained the lie until he realised that it was no longer sustainable. This was most reprehensible behaviour which casts considerable doubt on his credibility generally”.

Charles and Diana married in 1981

What does the report say about the BBC?

The BBC comes in for strong criticism in the report.

After the forged bank statements were revealed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper, in early 1996, an internal BBC inquiry cleared Mr Bashir, Panorama and BBC News of wrongdoing.

The director of news who conducted the inquiry was Tony Hall, now Lord Hall, who later became the BBC director general.

However, the Dyson Report says this inquiry was inadequate because it failed to interview Earl Spencer – something it calls “a big mistake”.

It says it did not treat Mr Bashir’s account with “necessary scepticism and caution”, given that he admitted faking bank statements (itself a serious breach of BBC rules) and could give “no credible reason” why.

The report also says the BBC covered up facts about how Mr Bashir secured the interview.

It criticises the corporation for giving evasive responses to press inquiries, and says “without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”.

What has been the response to the findings?

The BBC says the report identified “clear failings” and that while it now has better procedures in place, “those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way.

“The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew.”

Martin Bashir has apologised for the fake bank statements – which he said were “a stupid thing to do” – but said they had had no bearing on Princess Diana’s decision to grant him an interview.

In a statement Lord Hall has admitted he was wrong to give Martin Bashir the “benefit of the doubt” at the time.

Prince William has responded to the Dyson investigation that revealed the cover up over allegations that Martin Bashir used forged documents to leverage an interview with Princess Diana.

Prince Harry says heavy drinking masked pain of mum Diana’s death

PA Media

The Duke of Sussex has said he used to drink a week’s worth of alcohol in a day to try to deal with the trauma of his mother’s death.

Prince Harry was also willing to take drugs to “feel less like I was feeling” more than a decade after she died.

The duke was talking to US talk show host Oprah Winfrey in their new streaming series on mental health.

He also spoke of the anxiety and panic attacks he had as a senior royal, and his experience of his mother’s funeral.

Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash while being pursued by photographers in Paris in August 1997.

Speaking to Oprah for the Apple TV series The Me You Can’t See, Harry described being aged 28 to 32 as “a nightmare time in my life”, in which he had panic attacks and severe anxiety.

“I was just all over the place mentally,” he said.

“Every time I put a suit on and tie on… having to do the role, and go, ‘right, game face,’ look in the mirror and say, ‘let’s go’. Before I even left the house I was pouring with sweat. I was in fight or flight mode.”

He added: “I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs, I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling.”

He said he would drink a week’s worth of alcohol on a Friday or Saturday night, “not because I was enjoying it but because I was trying to mask something”.

Prince Harry and his family standing beside his mum's hearse at her funeral
image captionPrincess Diana’s funeral was nine days before Harry’s 13th birthday

Prince Harry famously walked behind his mother’s coffin at her funeral, alongside his brother, father, uncle and grandfather.

“For me the thing I remember the most was the sound of the horses’ hooves going along the Mall,” he said.

“It was like I was outside of my body and just walking along doing what was expected of me. Showing one tenth of the emotion that everybody else was showing: this was my mum – you never even met her.”

The prince, 36, has campaigned for discussions around mental health to be normalised, and started speaking in detail about his personal experiences recently.

In March, he and his wife Meghan were interviewed by Oprah about their life in the Royal Family, and its impact on their mental health.

And on a podcast last week, Prince Harry said he was determined to “break the cycle of pain” of his upbringing when parenting his own children, and shared that he had gone to therapy.

Prince Harry and Meghan being interviewed by Oprah
image captionPrince Harry and his wife, Meghan, being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey earlier this year

The duke said the happiest time of his life was his 10 years in the Army, as there was no “special treatment” for him.

He left the Army aged 30, and met his wife-to-be Meghan on a blind date a year later.

The duke said family members previously told him “just play the game and your life will be easier”.

“But I’ve got a hell of a lot of my mum in me,” he said. “I feel as though I am outside of the system – but I’m still stuck there. The only way to free yourself and break out is to tell the truth.”

The streaming series sees Prince Harry, Oprah, Lady Gaga, Glenn Close and others tell their own stories about mental health and wellbeing.

It was first announced in April 2019, almost a year before Harry and Meghan announced they were stepping back as senior royals in January 2020.

Martin Bashir: The princess, the reporter and the BBC

Twenty-five years ago, the BBC’s Panorama programme landed a scoop rivals the world over wanted – an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. Her son and heir to the throne, Prince William, has now launched an unprecedented attack on the corporation over that interview.

The programme, which attracted a UK audience of 23m, was a career-defining moment for reporter Martin Bashir.

But after accusations resurfaced last autumn that Bashir misled the princess to gain her trust, the BBC established an inquiry led by the former Supreme Court judge Lord Dyson. That inquiry has judged Bashir to be “unreliable”, “devious” and “dishonest.”

Bashir was investigated by the BBC at the time by Tony Hall, who went on to become the BBC’s director general. Hall found that Bashir was “honest” and an “honourable man”. Dyson has condemned Hall’s inquiry as “flawed” and “woefully ineffective”.

Until now, the full story behind the scoop has remained hidden for a quarter of a century.

The interview became one of the 20th Century’s seminal TV events. As the separated wife of the future King of England, Princess Diana spoke of adultery, palace plotting, mental and physical illness, and how Prince Charles was unfit for the job.

“Do you really think a campaign was being waged against you?” Martin Bashir asked Princess Diana, having spent the preceding weeks amplifying the alarm bells in her head about just such a campaign. He claimed uniquely placed sources were telling him about dirty tricks by journalists, royal courtiers, the intelligence services, and even her friends.

“Yes, I did,” replied Diana.

 worked on Panorama in 1995, and I had heard the rumours that Bashir had used deception to land his scoop, but nothing more. The details only began to resurface last autumn, on the 25th anniversary of the interview. The BBC released to ITV and Channel 4 some of the information journalists had been seeking for years.

At the same time, Princess Diana’s brother Charles Spencer disclosed that he’d kept contemporaneous notes of his meetings with Bashir, and the claims he made.

Lord Dyson’s report represents the BBC’s formal response to the allegations against Martin Bashir and the failure of Tony Hall’s 1996 inquiry to get to the bottom of this affair.

However, so serious were last autumn’s renewed allegations of misconduct that the current Panorama team decided this needed to be investigated by the programme itself to restore public trust in Panorama’s journalism and independence.

Lord Dyson photo and quote: “What Mr Bashir did was not an impulsive act done in the spur of the moment. It was carefully planned... What he did was devious and dishonest.”

We’ve talked to almost all the witnesses who have given evidence to Lord Dyson and many more besides, including detailed testimony from Earl Spencer.

Like Lord Dyson, we have also seen internal BBC documents that not only show Bashir repeatedly lied, but also acknowledge that there was a serious breach of journalistic ethics and BBC rules. And yet the BBC management board was told by Hall that he was certain Bashir had not set out to deceive, while Hall’s note intended for the corporation’s governing body said he was an “honest and honourable man”.

Lord Dyson says: “What Mr Bashir did was not an impulsive act done in the spur of the moment. It was carefully planned… What he did was devious and dishonest.”


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