The Truth About Princess Diana’s Infamous Interview with Martin Bashir

This bombshell interview caused some serious drama—and is continuing to cause drama today as an investigation reveals just how much lying and covering up was involved.

Princess Diana was in a desperate situation in 1995. Her marriage to Prince Charles was unraveling over his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, she had been in love with another man herself, and she was questioning the role of the monarchy in modern life.

But when she revealed those shocking details during an interview with television journalist Martin Bashir, viewers were gobsmacked that a member of the buttoned-up royal family would divulge such information to the world. The December 1995 interview has become infamous, and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s bombshell interview with Oprah in March 2021 drew no shortage of comparisons to it.

Now, an investigation by a former UK Supreme Court Justice is helping to reveal the full extent of the corruption and unethical practices involved in that interview with Diana. Here are more fascinating facts about Princess Diana.

The interview

The interview, aired in November 1995, showed a tearful Diana revealing to Bashir that “there were three people in this marriage.” She was referring to Prince Charles’s longtime love for Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana and Prince Charles were separated at the time, and she admitted that she had an affair with cavalry officer James Hewitt. She also questioned her estranged husband’s fitness to be king. To get a deeper sense of her private life, take a look at these rare photos of Princess Diana.

In November of 2020, a documentary called “The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess” publicly alleged that Bashir had outright lied to Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, in hopes of getting him to encourage her to talk to him. Spencer himself said he knew this to be true. That same month, the BBC appointed Lord John Anthony Dyson, a former senior judge, to conduct an inquiry around the interview, and he released his findings in May of 2021. What did he find? The interviewer Martin Bashir, as well as the BBC itself, were guilty of wrongdoing, deceit, and violations of journalistic integrity.

Martin Bashir falsified documents to secure a meeting with Diana

Martin Bashir was a relatively unknown junior BBC reporter before he got this breakthrough interview with Diana, and it skyrocketed his career. But the inquiry confirmed that he falsified documents to secure an interview with her. Specifically, he had a BBC graphic designer create false bank statements suggesting that people in the royal household, including Diana’s private secretary, were being paid to monitor Diana. He used these false documents to get Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, to introduce her to him, laying the groundwork for the interview.

The investigation also found that Bashir lied to his bosses at the BBC about how he secured the interview, and the BBC didn’t do nearly enough to confirm or disprove his claims.

The BBC was implicated too

There was controversy surrounding the interview as soon as it was released. In 1996, the BBC conducted its own internal probe around the interview—and the new report had a lot to say about that, too. It claimed that the BBC covered up details about Bashir’s behavior and that the probe was “woefully inadequate”: “Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.” Find out some more secrets people didn’t know about Diana until after her death.

Apologies and reactions

People on both sides of the issue have had a lot to say since the report came out. Bashir, who left his job as the BBC’s religious affairs editor in May because of health problems, called his falsification of the bank statements “a stupid thing to do” and “an action I deeply regret” in a public statement. However, he asserted that Diana made the decision to participate in the interview all on her own. And the report did find that while “Mr. Bashir succeeded in engineering the meeting that led to the interview…it is important to add that Princess Diana would probably have agreed to be interviewed.”

The BBC itself issued a mea culpa as well, with its Director-General saying, “While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology.” And its chairman, Richard Sharp, acknowledged the “unacceptable failures” of the company. The BBC issued personal letters of apology to Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry, and to Charles Spencer, and will revoke any awards that the interview won.

The people most affected by the fallout of the interview, of course, are William and Harry, and they made clear the harm this dishonesty caused them and their mother. William, the Duke of Cambridge, said that “the deceitful way the interview was obtained substantially influenced what my mother said,” and lamented that the BBC didn’t do more to uncover the dishonesty involved in the origins of the interview when she was alive.

Prince Harry connected the deceit to the similar practices that are rife in the British media today—something he and his wife Meghan Markle spoke out about in their own interview. “To those who have taken some form of accountability, thank you for owning it. That is the first step toward justice and truth,” he wrote. “Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these—and even worse—are still widespread today.”

William, too, said that “the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia, and isolation that I remember from those final years with her,” and Harry unequivocally stated that “our mother lost her life because of this.”

The scars Diana’s death left on her family, and the scrutiny surrounding the tumultuous final years of her life, are definitely not going away any time soon. Here’s why we’re still so obsessed with Princess Diana.

Sources:

  • The BBC: “Princess Diana interview: What did Martin Bashir and the BBC do?”
  • NBC News: “BBC’s Martin Bashir used ‘deceitful’ methods to secure Princess Diana interview, report finds”
  • NPR: “Princes William And Harry Say BBC Interview Led To Princess Diana’s Divorce And Death”
  • Associated Press: “William, Harry condemn BBC over ‘deceitful’ Diana interview”
  • Reuters: “Journalist lied to get Diana interview, BBC covered it up – report”

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.
Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.