BBC interview did not harm Diana, claims Martin Bashir
Journalist defends 1995 Panorama special saying he and Diana stayed friends after the broadcast
Martin Bashir says Diana was not unhappy about the contents of the 1995 interview.
Sun 23 May 2021 00.35 BST
Martin Bashir has said he “never wanted to harm” Diana, Princess of Wales with the Panorama interview, adding: “I don’t believe we did.”
The journalist’s reputation is in tatters following Lord Dyson’s report that he used “deceitful behaviour” to land his world exclusive 1995 interview.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Bashir maintained 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, south London, on the day Deborah gave birth to the couple’s third child, Eliza.
He told the newspaper: “I never wanted to harm Diana in any way and I don’t believe we did.
“Everything we did in terms of the interview was as she wanted, from when she wanted to alert the palace, to when it was broadcast, to its contents … My family and I loved her.”
He said he is “deeply sorry” to the dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, but disputes William’s charge that he fuelled her isolation and paranoia.
“Even in the early 1990s, there were stories and secretly recorded phone calls. I wasn’t the source of any of that,” he said.
Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, has said he “draws a line” between the interview and his sister’s death, claiming Bashir’s actions led her to give up her royal security detail.
Bashir, who left the BBC last week due to ill health, said: “I don’t feel I can be held responsible for many of the other things that were going on in her life, and the complex issues surrounding those decisions.
“I can understand the motivation [of Earl Spencer’s comments] but to channel the tragedy, the difficult relationship between the royal family and the media purely on to my shoulders feels a little unreasonable … The suggestion I am singularly responsible I think is unreasonable and unfair.”
Bashir commissioned documents purporting to show payments into the bank accounts of members of the royal household and showed them to Earl Spencer, according to Lord Dyson.
He said: “Obviously I regret it, it was wrong. But it had no bearing on anything. It had no bearing on [Diana], it had no bearing on the interview.”
He said he is now concerned the scandal will overshadow the content of what Diana said in the interview.
“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.
“I don’t understand what the purpose of this is ultimately? OK, maybe you want to destroy me, but outside of this, what’s the point?
“I did something wrong … but for pity’s sake, acknowledge something of the relationship we had and something of what she contributed through that interview.
“One of the saddest things about all of this has been the way the content of what she said has almost been ignored.”
Bashir’s comments come after former BBC director-general Lord Hall quit as chairman of the National Gallery after he was heavily criticised in the Dyson report for his botched inquiry into how the interview was obtained.
They won’t remind us, but the tabloids hurt Diana just as much as Panorama did
The BBC makes a convenient scapegoat when in reality all of us were part of the ecosystem that destroyed Diana
Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images
Fri 21 May 2021 13.05 BST
“It brings indescribable sadness,” ran Prince William’s statement on the damning report into Panorama’s interview with his mother, “to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.”
“Paranoia” – what a word to take you back. When Martin Bashir’s Diana interview aired in 1995, the MP (and friend of Prince Charles) Nicholas Soames was roundly attacked for describing Diana as in “the advanced stages of paranoia” and in the grip of “mental illness”. It’s fair to say his verdict didn’t come from a place of total support. Soames has since expressed regret for it, adding that he wasn’t a doctor. Now Diana’s elder son uses the same word – with few these days disagreeing how cruelly she was driven to it – while her younger son absolutely refuses to draw some comforting veil over her state of mental health.
The conclusions of the Dyson report are a shameful stain on the BBC, deeply compounded by coming 26 years after the offence, by way of cover-up and whitewash. How completely stunning that former director general Tony Hall judged Bashir “an honest and honourable man”, when anything more than cursory scrutiny marked him out so clearly – and I’m not a doctor – as a complete wrong ’un. It feels particularly gracious that Prince Harry’s own statement tacitly acknowledged the BBC for “taking some form of accountability” and “owning it”.
And so to people yet to take ownership of their own actions. I think we can live without today’s preposterous moralising from much of Fleet Street, who know very well the terrible things they and others did on countless occasions to get stories relating to Diana or her wider family. “Defund the BBC,” was last night’s pontification from former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie, who once put Diana’s covertly recorded private phone calls on a premium-rate line so readers could ring in and have a listen. And those were the good years. Half the stuff these guys did in pursuit of Diana stories is, mercifully for them, completely unprintable.
Alas, we will spend the next few days hearing of the BBC’s shame from some of the most shameless hypocrites in human history. The tabloids may not like Prince Harry’s reincarnation as a super-rich Californian wellness bore, but it does have the moral edge over pulling people’s medical records and hacking the phones of murdered 13-year-old girls.
But of course, few have rewritten their own history more than Fleet Street’s Diana-watchers. The overnight timing of the Paris crash meant the early editions of the Sunday papers had already been printed and contained, as usual, large amounts of unfavourable stuff about whatever else Diana had been up to the previous week. “Troubled Prince William will today demand that his mother Princess Diana dump her playboy lover”, ran an exclusive by the News of the World’s Clive Goodman, who probably scraped it from the “troubled” schoolboy’s phone. There were acres in similar vein across the titles. “The Princess, I fear,” feared the Sunday Mirror’s Carole Malone, “suffers from the ‘Open Gob Before Brain Engages’ syndrome – a condition which afflicts the trivial and the brain dead.” When Diana’s death was announced, the reverse ferrets were so total that it’s genuinely quite a surprise the Sunday Mirror didn’t next week salute itself as “the paper that broke the tragic news Di was brain dead”.
As for the editors, the person they secretly canonised was the driver, Henri Paul. Because once it was discovered he was over the alcohol limit, then what happened to Diana in the tunnel couldn’t have been anything to do with the ecosystem in which they (and the chasing paparazzi who supplied them) were such voracious feeders.
Twenty-four years later, a full-spectrum failure to acknowledge any of this means many of these same people now sit and venerate Diana in the course of slagging off her troubled son, Prince Harry (it’s what she would have wanted). They know very well the pain and turmoil of Diana’s final years, having been such a helpful part of it, yet cannot tolerate the understandably damaged child raised amid it.
And so it is that Prince Harry is now locked in his own grimly symbiotic relationship with sections of the British media. He won’t shut up, which is what they claim to want, but don’t, because his every SHAMELESS! AND! DISGRACEFUL! UTTERANCE! drives traffic. Attacks on Harry do huge business, so they continue. He, in turn, can point to those attacks as continued evidence of persecution. (Indeed, his livelihood might end up depending on wounded, marquee interviews. I’m not sure that long-term ratings lie in the Sussexes’ dull-sounding ideas for documentaries in which they themselves do not feature.) This is nearly as toxic a cycle as the one in which Diana was locked, and is unlikely to have a happy ending, or even a happy middle.
I once saw some old news footage in which the Queen and Prince Philip returned home from a royal tour after leaving their children for six months. A mere part of the welcome party, the unsmiling five-year-old Prince Charles waits dutifully – simply required to shake his mother’s hand. Anyone claiming this was entirely normal “in those days” has royal brain worms. Yet Prince Harry’s recent suggestion that neither he nor his father had an especially healthy childhood is regarded as some kind of grotesque blasphemy, mostly by people who would be quite happy to refer to the above vignette as child abuse were anyone other than the Queen involved. These days, what is expected of the royals has become so warped that it is perfectly standard to find MailOnline commenters fuming of Prince Harry “how DARE he bring his mother into this?”
Which brings us to the final group not to own their own actions: the great British public. Millions bought insatiably into Diana’s pain, and newspaper sales spiked for all the most obviously intrusive stories. The pall of blameless sanctimony that descended after her death was a stunning exercise in mass hypocrisy. People were simply incapable of imagining that they too had been part of the ecosystem, and those who pointed it out were demonised by deflection. Private Eye was monstered for its cover, which carried the headline “MEDIA TO BLAME” above a crowd of people outside Buckingham Palace. “The papers are a disgrace,” read one speech bubble. “Yes, I couldn’t get one anywhere,” ran its reply. “Borrow mine,” went a third, “it’s got a picture of the car.” WH Smith banned the edition from its stores, while taking money for the papers hand over fist.
From Diana to Harry, damaged people do damaged and sometimes very damaging things. But it’s important to remember, as far as the royal family is concerned, that the public likes it so much better that way. Royal pain sells far more than royal happiness. Panorama may have lied – but the sales tallies and the traffic figures and the ratings never do.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
Former BBC boss Lord Hall resigns from National Gallery after Diana row
As controversy rages over Panorama interview, Tony Hall says continuing in role ‘would be a distraction’
Sat 22 May 2021 14.18 BST
Tony Hall has resigned as chairman of the National Gallery amid the controversy over the BBC Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995.
The corporation’s former director general was severely criticised in Lord Dyson’s report for overseeing a flawed and “woefully ineffective” internal investigation into how Martin Bashir obtained the interview.
Lord Hall said his continued presence at the gallery would be a “distraction”.
The peer, who was director of BBC news and current affairs at the time that Bashir interviewed Diana, said: “I have today resigned as chair of the National Gallery.
“I have always had a strong sense of public service and it is clear my continuing in the role would be a distraction to an institution I care deeply about.
“As I said two days ago, I am very sorry for the events of 25 years ago and I believe leadership means taking responsibility.”
The report by Dyson, a former master of the rolls, found that Bashir had engaged in “deceitful behaviour” by commissioning fake bank statements to secure the interview. It also found that Hall was aware the journalist had told “serious and unexplained lies” about what he had done to persuade the princess to speak to him.
When other media began asking questions about how the programme had secured the world exclusive, Dyson said the corporation “covered up in its press logs” what it knew.
The report said: “Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”
Sir John Kingman, deputy chair of the National Gallery’s board of trustees, said: “Tony Hall has been doing a superb job as chair of the National Gallery, where he is much respected and liked. The gallery is extremely sorry to lose him, but of course we entirely understand and respect his decision.”
Dr Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, thanked Hall for his work at the institution. He said the former BBC director general had “demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the gallery and it has been a great pleasure to work closely with him as we have faced the challenges of Covid and as we prepare to mark the gallery’s bicentenary in 2024”.
Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, is reported to have written to the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, asking the force to investigate the BBC and saying his sister had been the victim of blackmail and fraud.
A spokesperson for the Met said it would not be adding to its previous statement, which confirmed a further assessment following publication of Dyson’s report.
The force said this week: “Following the publication of Lord Dyson’s report we will assess its contents to ensure there is no significant new evidence.”
On Thursday, Prince William and Prince Harry also condemned the BBC over the Panorama interview. William said the corporation’s failures contributed to the fear their mother felt in her final years, and Harry said it was part of a “culture of exploitation and unethical practices that ultimately took her life”.