Martin Bashir apologizes to Princess Diana's sons: The controversy explained
The former BBC journalist tells Prince William and Prince Harry he's "deeply sorry" for that famous Diana broadcast from 1995. But he says the interview didn't cause her harm.
Daniel Van BoomSenior Writer
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UK journalist Martin Bashir has apologized to Prince William and Prince Harry after a former British Supreme Court judge handed down a report Thursday condemning Bashir and the
for a famous 1995 interview with Princess Diana in which she openly spoke about the stresses of being a royal.
After a six-month investigation, Bashir, the report found, used fake documents and false pretenses to score the interview with Diana. The report said the BBC's internal investigation that followed a year later was "woefully ineffective."
Several days after the report's findings grabbed headlines, Bashir spoke with the Sunday Times, telling Diana's sons he's "deeply sorry," but also stressing that he does not believe the interview caused her harm, as her sons have suggested.
"I never wanted to harm Diana in any way and I don't believe we did," he said. "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."
The interview of Princess Diana aired on BBC's Panorama on Nov. 20, 1995. A year prior, during a June 1994 TV interview, Prince Charles publicly admitted for the first time that he'd been unfaithful during his marriage with Diana. His affair with Camilla Parker Bowles had been revealed in a 1992 book, but was hitherto unacknowledged by the prince.
Diana's interview on Panorama was a rare tell-all which, like Harry and Markle's interview with Oprah, divulged the stressors of royal life. It also attempted to reshape the tabloid narrative that had surrounded her for years. Diana revealed she suffered from post-natal depression after the birth of William, which she said earned her the label of "unstable," and she admitted to self harm and bulimia. "I didn't like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn't cope with the pressures," she said.
The most famous excerpts of the interview were Diana's comments on her marriage with Charles. "There were three of us in this marriage," she said of herself, Charles and Camilla in a now famous line, "so it was a bit crowded."
Though Diana's comments were explosive, this new round of controversy surrounds the interviewer, Martin Bashir. How did Bashir, a then up-and-coming reporter, get the most coveted interview imaginable? That's been the subject of a six-month inquiry by John Dyson, a former British Supreme Court judge, the results of which dropped on Thursday.
The inquiry found Bashir used fake documents and false pretenses to organize the interview with Diana. Bashir had Matt Weissler, a BBC graphic designer, unwittingly doctor several bank statements, which Bashir presented to Diana's brother, Earl Spencer.
One purported to show Rupert Murdoch's News International paying a former security guard of Spencer's for information on the royals, and another purported to show payments from other, unnamed sources into the accounts of both Prince Charles and Lady Diana's respective private secretaries.
Bashir told Spencer he was working on a story about shady media practices, and asked the earl to introduce him to Diana.
"By showing Earl Spencer the fake statements and informing him of their contents," the report wrote, "Mr. Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana. By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr. Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview."
Bashir released a statement apologizing for "the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up," but he says the forged documents did not induce Princess Diana to participate in the interview.
"It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret," he said. "I also reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview."
Bashir left the BBC in 1999 but returned in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent, after over a decade working on US networks like MSNBC and NBC. He resigned last Friday, citing health issues.
What did the BBC know?
The second issue at hand is the BBC's investigation of malpractice. Graphic designer Weissler, upon seeing the interview between Bashir and Diana, alerted BBC higher-ups about Bashir's request to doctor bank statements. This led the BBC to internally investigate Bashir's practices in 1996, but the investigation cleared Bashir of any wrongdoing.
Bashir admitted to asking for doctored documents, Dyson's report says, but denied showing the documents to anyone. As part of the 1996 investigation, Bashir was also able to get a letter from Princess Diana backing up his story. It read: "Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of. I consented to the interview on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets."
What the investigation didn't consider, Dyson's report states, was that Bashir had shown the documents to Diana's brother, Charles Spencer. As part of Dyson's investigation, Spencer said Bashir showed these documents "to groom me, so that he could then get to Diana for the interview he was always secretly after."
Dyson went on to criticize the BBC for not reporting on accusations that Bashir had fraudulently obtained the interview, as other publications had done, and that it suppressed information it had obtained through the investigation against public interest.
The report handed down Thursday by Dyson called the 1996 investigation "woefully ineffective," and says that "Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity."
"We take no comfort from the fact that these are historic."
Have Princes William and Harry said anything?
Prince William recorded a video statement harshly condemning the BBC's practices.
"BBC employees lied and used fake documents to obtain the interview with my mother," he said, "made lurid and false claims about the Royal family which played on her fears and fueled paranoia, displayed woeful incompetence when investigating complaints and concerns about the program, and were evasive in their reporting to the media and covered up what they knew from their internal investigation."
William added that the interview contributed to the worsening of his parents' relationship, as well as her feelings of paranoia and isolation.
Prince Harry released a statement Thursday thanking "those who have taken some form of accountability," which he says is the first step toward justice.
"Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these -- and even worse -- are still widespread today," he said. "Then, and now, it's bigger than one outlet, one network or one publication."