Martin Bashir: when did BBC journalist interview Princess Diana, what did she say, and why was it controversial?

Sarah Palin criticised Bashir for his ‘unethical press behaviour’ after an inquiry concluded that he had used ‘deceitful’ methods to secure the Diana interview

MPs have questioned current and former BBC executives regarding the circumstances surrounding journalist Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana.

Earlier this year, an independent inquiry ruled that Bashir used “deceitful” methods in order to land the interview with Diana.

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Lord Brit, former Director-General of the BBC, told the DCMS (digital, culture, media and sport) committee that Bashir had perpetrated “one of the biggest crimes in the history of broadcasting”, and called him a “serial liar on an industrial scale”.

The interview aired in November of 1995 (Photo: PA)
The interview aired in November of 1995 (Photo: PA)

After the Dyson report concluded that Bashir had acted inappropriately last month, Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, reportedly told Fox News that Bashir has been “caught so many times engaging in typically unethical press behaviour”.

This is everything you need to know about the interview - from when it was aired to what the Princess of Wales said.

When did the interview with Diana air?

The interview, which was an episode of the BBC documentary series called Panorama, was broadcast on BBC1 on 20 November 1995, when Diana was 35 years old.

The episode was titled “An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales” and saw journalist Bashir sit down with Diana and discuss a wide range of topics regarding her life and being a member of the royal family.

The programme pulled in over 20 million viewers in the UK, which, at the time, equated to 39 per cent of the population.

It lasted for 54 minutes, and was conducted in Diana’s sitting room at Kensington Palace.

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What did Diana say in the interview?

The interview explored a number of topics, including her relationship with her husband Charles, Prince of Wales, his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, her struggles with bulimia and also self harm.

Diana said that she “desperately” wanted her marriage to work, and that she thought she and Charles made “a very good team”.

When asked by Bashir whether she thought Parker-Bowles “was a factor in the breakdown of [her] marriage], Diana said: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

She also explained that following the birth of Prince Willliam, she became “unwell with postnatal depression”.

Diana said that it was around this time that she began self harming.

She said: “You have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it's the wrong help you're asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you're in the media all the time you've got enough attention, inverted commas.

“But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales.

“So yes, I did inflict upon myself. I didn't like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn't cope with the pressures.”

The Princess of Wales also confirmed that she had an affair with former cavalry officer in the British Army James Hewitt.

When asked by Bashir why she had decided to go ahead with the interview, Diana said: “Because [she and Charles] will have been separated three years this December, and the perception that has been given of me for the last three years has been very confusing, turbulent, and in some areas I'm sure many, many people doubt me.

“And I want to reassure all those people who have loved me and supported me throughout the last 15 years that I'd never let them down. That is a priority to me, along with my children.”

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Why was the interview controversial?

At the time, the interview was extremely controversial given how open and frank Diana was regarding the inner workings and relationships of the royal family.

The interview has been the subject of fresh controversy, more than 20 years after it was initially broadcast.

An official inquiry into the interview concluded that Bashir used “deceitful” methods in order to land the interview with Diana, with Lord Dyson’s independent report concluding that he acted inappropriately and was in “serious breach” of BBC guidelines.

The Dyson report found that Bashir had commissioned fake bank statements in order to help gain the trust of Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer. These documents appeared to show payments by a newspaper group to one of the earl’s former employees, Alan Waller, and two former members of the royal household.

What other controversial interviews is Bashir known for?

As well as the Diana interview, Bashir has also conducted a number of interviews with high profile figures.

In 2003, whilst working at ITV, Bashir interviewed singer Michael Jackson for the documentary Living with Michael Jackson, which was part of the Tonight with Trevor McDonald series.

Bashir interviewed Jackson over the span of eight months, from May 2002 to January 2003, exploring different aspects of the singer's life.

This programme was also rather controversial, with Jackson stating that the documentary showed him in a negative light.

In response, Jackson released a second interview called Take Two: The Footage You Were Never Meant To See, which was presented by Maury Povich and contained footage that was omitted from the Bashir documentary.

In 2003, Bashir also presented a documentary, called Major Fraud, which told the story of British Army major Charles Ingram who allegedly attempted to cheat his way to the million pound prize on an episode of quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

The following year, Bashir interviewed Victor Conte, the controversial founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO). BALCO supplied a number of high profile athletes from the US and Europe with a performance enhancing steroid which, at the time, was undetected called tetrahydrogestrinone.

In the interview with Bashir, Conte admitted to running doping programmes.

Bashir has also held interviews with many others, including Louise Woodward, a British au pair who was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of a baby she was caring for in America, and the five suspects in the Stephen Lawrence case.