Fresh findings that a BBC staffer used dubious means to scoop an interview with the late Lady Diana have led to harsh criticism from her sons Princes William and Harry and put the spotlight back on trial-by-media coverage of celebrities. Interestingly, the controversy has been reignited at a time when revelations by Harry and his wife Meghan have set the cat among the pigeons again in the royal household.
What Is The BBC Interview Controversy?
In 1995, Princess Diana and Prince Charles had been separated three years after their marriage fell apart over Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles. As Diana herself would reveal, her falling out also affected her position within the royal household.
“People’s agendas changed overnight. I was now separated wife of the Prince of Wales, I was a problem, I was [seen as] a liability, and how are we going to deal with her? This hasn’t happened before."
Embattled and isolated, it was the UK public broadcaster BBC’s Panorama programme that saw Diana come out with massive revelations about her time with Charles, the royal household and what was wrong with her marriage. But, as would become evident right after that interview was aired, everything was not hunky-dory regarding how the BBC reporter Martin Bashir had secured the interview.
In what can be considered as the reporter playing on his subject’s anxieties to manipulate her into giving him the interview, Bashir was alleged to have shown forged documents to Diana’s brother Charles Spencer that suggested the palace staff was being paid to keep an eye on Diana.
Allegations against Bashir had emerged after the interview was first aired with Matt Wiessler, then a BBC graphic designer, claiming that it was he who had created fake bank statements of payments to royal household staff.
BBC launched an internal investigation in 1996 into the Diana interview but it concluded that while documents were forged, they were not linked to Diana’s decision to give the interview.
Why is the interview back in the news again?
When the personalities involved are members past and present of the British royal family, their domestic affairs are never too old to stop being of interest to the media and the public. A documentary on the Diana interview — Diana: The Interview That Shocked the World — was aired last year by the UK’s Channel 5 and was set to become available on Netflix this year before that was postponed.
In November last year, BBC reopened its investigation into the Diana interview, asking retired British judge Lord Dyson to prepare a report. The new probe ruled that Bashir had indeed shown fake bank statements to Charles Spencer that “deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana".
The report gives a clean chit to Wiessler, noting that he is “an entirely reputable graphic designer", but holds that Bashir’s actions were not above board in how he went about obtaining the interview. It also censures the BBC’s 1996 internal inquiry into the interview, saying that it “covered up… facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview".
Dyson further pointed out how BBC had failed to make amends and mention the issue to its viewers, thus falling short of “the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark".
While BBC has tendered an unconditional apology and also wrote to Princes William and Harry, the two sons of Diana have come out strongly against the public broadcaster. William blamed BBC for contributing “significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation" and said that if “BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived". He also criticised “leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions" and said it was his “firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again".
Harry, who along with wife Meghan Markle, has faced self-admitted difficulties with the royal household, lauded the BBC’s move to own up to its mistakes, but said that it “deeply concerns" him that “practices like these — and even worse — are still widespread today".
Interviewer Bashir, who last week quit his post as BBC’s religion editor last week citing health reasons, has apologised for obtaining fake bank statements but said they did not influence Diana’s decision to chat with him on tape. He added it was “saddening" that the row over the fake documents had “been allowed to overshadow the princess’ brave decision to tell her story".
So, what were the revelations made by Diana in the BBC interview?
Mainly, it was her rocky marriage to Charles that formed the main substance of the interview that was conducted in Kensington Palace. Her comment that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded" in reference to Camilla’s presence in Charles’ life, and revelations about her romantic affair with British army officer James Hewitt are seen as having finally led to the couple divorcing in 1996. Charles and Camilla would marry in 2005 in what was a second marriage for both of them.
Diana also spoke of her problems with bulimia and depression in the interview that reportedly “blind-sided" the royal family and gave a glimpse to the public of how not all was well with the House of Windsor, as the British royal family is also known. Diana died in a car crash in 1997 along with her boyfriend Dodi al Fayed.
A quarter of a century down the line from the Panorama interview, Harry and Meghan found themselves in a similar position as that of Diana after an interview with Oprah Winfrey in which the couple talk about, among other things, racism within the household and how they felt trapped in the British royal family.