Why Princess Diana’s 1995 BBC Interview Is the Center of a New Royal Controversy

Prince Harry joined his brother Prince William in expressing his support for an investigation into the BBC and journalist Martin Bashir for the 1995 Panorama interview in which Princess Diana said “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” The line referenced Prince Charles’s affair with his longtime love Camilla Parker-Bowles, his mistress before they married in 2005. Diana sat down with Bashir just months after Charles admitted his infidelity and claimed his marriage had irretrievably broken down in a separate TV interview with Jonathan Dimbleby.

Earlier this week, Prince William said an investigation into the methods used by Bashir and the BBC to obtain the interview with the Princess of Wales was a “step in the right direction” and should “help establish the truth behind the actions” that led to Bashir’s interview with William and Harry’s mother.

The new investigation comes days after Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, accused the BBC of gross negligence and misfeasance, arguing Bashir exploited both him and Diana by falsifying documents in order to gain their trust to secure the interview that rocked the monarchy. ITV also aired an explosive documentary, The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess, which charts numerous instances of questionable, unethical, and possibly illegal actions Bashir used in order to obtain the interview with the Princess of Wales.

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In the ITV documentary, Matt Wiessler, a graphics artist employed by the BBC’s Panorama program from 1986 to 1995, reveals his regret over preparing forged documents, including fake bank statements, for Bashir to show the Princess of Wales and Lord Spencer. The documents were allegedly made to convince Diana and her brother that people inside her orbit, including some of her closest confidants, were being paid by MI5 and MI6, the U.K.’s security services, to spy on her. This was completely false.

Wiessler said he prepared two sets of bank statements, one with a payment of £4,000 pounds ($5,200) and another with a payment of £6,500 pounds ($8,650), all paid to Charles Spencer’s then-security director. Lord Spencer also revealed ahead of the documentary’s release that Bashir presented further documentation that Diana’s Private Secretary Patrick Jephson was being bribed, as was Richard Aylard, who worked for Prince Charles. The allegations were completely untrue, and Lord Spencer claims they’re another example of the lengths Bashir went to in order to secure the interview with Princess Diana under false pretenses.

Wiessler told ITV, “I’ve agreed to talk to you because I’m this guy that’s remembered for forging the document and I want to clear my name. Martin asked me to make up a couple of bank statements about people being paid to do surveillance that he needed the following day. And he did say that they were just going to be used as copies…I had never been briefed in that way before.”

Wiessler told the ITV program that shortly after he made the documents, he feared something was amiss and relayed his concerns to his BBC bosses. A burglary took place at his home weeks later, and two discs he used to create the documents disappeared the night of the Panorama Christmas party.

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Diana greets her brother, then-Viscount Althorp, in 1985.

Tim GrahamGetty Images

The BBC opened an investigation into Bashir’s actions in 1996, long before any of Spencer’s allegations were made public. Richard Kay, a longtime confidant of Diana, also revealed in the Daily Mail in early November that in meetings Charles Spencer had with Bashir, he made other false claims in order to prey on Diana’s concerns about her activities being monitored as her marriage with Prince Charles was crumbling.

Lord Spencer took detailed notes of his meetings with Bashir, and U.K. outlets have also reported that he may have kept audio recordings of their meetings before Charles introduced Bashir to Diana. In addition to the forgeries, Spencer says Bashir made a series of damning allegations, all false, to encourage Diana to participate in the interview

Among the made-up claims were implications that Prince William and Harry’s beloved longtime nanny, Tiggy Legge Bourke, was having an affair with Prince Charles. Bashir manufactured a letter sent to Lord Spencer preying on rumors that the Princes’ nanny was engaged in “recurring intimacy” with a “particular individual.” According to documents seen by the Daily Mail, Bashir also claimed the Queen had heart problems and Prince Edward was being treated for AIDS—all completely false.

Charles Spencer has demanded an apology and tweeted recently, “Many people are, quite understandably, asking why I’ve waited till now to come forward with the truth about how the @BBCPanorama with my sister came about. While I knew that Martin Bashir used fake bank statements and other dishonesty to get my sister to do the interview what I only found out 2 weeks ago, thanks to journalist Andy Webb’s persistent use of the Freedom of Information Act, is that the BBC also knew. Not only knew about it, but that they covered it up.”

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Bashir, who spent many years working as a Nightline anchor at ABC News and later at MSNBC, and is now the religion editor at the BBC, has not commented on the escalating scandal. The BBC has said he has been “seriously unwell” after recent heart surgery and COVID; however, U.K. outlets questioned this after the U.K.’s Mail on Sunday published photographs of Mr. Bashir returning to his home with takeout.

ITV also spoke to Paul Burrell, Diana’s longtime butler, and royal biographer Andrew Morton, who confirmed how concerned Diana had been about her actions during that period and feared she was being secretly monitored after her separation from Prince Charles.

Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton told the ITV program, “Diana certainly was very concerned about the Secret Services, about MI5, about MI6. There were bizarre things going on inside the households of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Her bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, who left her service…felt that he was being followed. Her confidante, Richard Kay, a Daily Mail journalist, he was burgled several times and he took to employing a private detective. My own office was broken into, so there’s a catalogue of things.”

Paul Burrell confirmed Diana’s fears she was being watched: “The princess did suspect that she was being followed, that she was being watched. She was under surveillance, whether it was phone hacking or spying,” he said. “There were occasions when we pulled up the floorboards and unscrewed the end of the telephones to see if there are any listening devices. The princess wasn’t paranoid, but she was concerned.”

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Princess Diana with Rosa Monckton in 1993.

Tim GrahamGetty Images

Rosa Monckton, one of Diana’s closest friends, also weighed in after Charles Spencer’s allegations came to light, saying Bashir’s “deceit” and “manipulation,” his “cynically exploiting her vulnerability” had changed the Princess. She became “jumpy,” and “obsessed with plots against her,” Monckton wrote in an editorial in the Daily Mail, and even paranoid of those closest to her. “We now know how Bashir fed my friend an appalling tissue of lies—lies that would undermine her confidence in friends, family, and palace courtiers, and win Bashir’s trust.”

Monckton said Bashir fanned the flames, encouraging her to question herself, especially when it came to the nanny rumors. “Diana’s delusions on the matter—which were unspeakably cruel not only to her, but also to Tiggy—were inflamed by the poison Bashir had been pouring in her ear,” Monckton wrote.

Several of those in Princess Diana’s inner circle have also shared details about how the relationship with Charles was under strain from the very beginning and was likely doomed from the start. Diana’s longtime astrologer, Penny Thornton, told ITV that Prince Charles told Diana “he didn’t love her the night before the wedding.” By that point the couple had only been in each other’s company 17 or 18 times. Charles famously raised eyebrows during his engagement interview with Princess Diana when he was asked by a reporter if they were in love and replied awkwardly, “Whatever ‘in love’ is.”

Thornton told the ITV documentary Charles made the comments because he didn’t “want to go into their marriage in a false premise. He wanted to square it with her and it was devastating for Diana. She didn’t want to go through with the wedding at that point. She thought about not attending the wedding.”

Burrell also provided further insight into the bitterness, recriminations and unhappiness that marked the Wales’s marriage. He told ITV that much of the staff was aware of Charles’s infidelity but kept it from Princess Diana

Burrell, who was often at Highgrove with Charles, recounted how Diana would call and ask where her husband was. “Every weekend Princess Diana and the children would spend the weekend at Highgrove, but during the week I was the butler for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove,” explained Burrell. “Now there were two very different lives at Highgrove—one a family unit and a single man’s life in the week. The Princess would ring me up during the week and say, ‘Where’s Prince Charles?’ and I’d say ‘I can’t really say, you’ll have to ask him.’”

Burrell told ITV the Prince of Wales was often secretly visiting Camilla Parker Bowles. “He’d say, ‘Well, I’m feeling awfully tired tonight. I think I’ll take an early night, I’ll have my dinner at 7 instead of 8.’ So I’d set up the dinner table and he’d eat alone, he’d light the fire and have his dressing gown on and watch the television—but as soon as I cleared the dinner the car was roaring down the drive.”

Soon after Diana’s Panorama interview aired, Queen Elizabeth wrote to both Diana and Charles urging the couple to announce their divorce. Fearing the public spectacle of Diana and Charles’s competing versions of events in their interviews, Her Majesty wanted an end to any further damage to the monarchy.

Rosa Monckton points out that Martin Bashir’s BBC interview had massive repercussions on Diana and changed the course of her life and death. Diana lost her title and the security that went with it.

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Prince William, Princess Diana, and Prince Harry in 1995.

Anwar HusseinGetty Images

Without directly accusing the BBC, the U.K. State broadcaster, and Bashir as specifically culpable for the events that led to Diana’s death, Monckton and Lord Spencer paint a damning picture of this sad chapter in the late Princess of Wales’s life, which may have had a different outcome had she not lost her security.

“People ask why this matters 25 years on. It matters because this Panorama interview, dishonestly achieved, probably changed the course of history,” Monckton wrote. “It matters because the mother of our future king was forensically exploited. It matters because HM the Queen instructed Prince Charles and Diana to begin divorce proceedings as a result of the interview. Which meant that decisions about their future were made hurriedly, with long-term implications not thought through.

“Among those decisions was the fact that Diana lost her royal title. Had she retained it, she would have still been in the embrace of the Royal Family when in Paris on August 31, 1997. And she would almost certainly not have been in the incapable hands of a speeding drunk driver employed by Mohamed Al-Fayed, who owned the Ritz Hotel where she and his son, Dodi, had dined,” Monckton writes.

On Friday, November 13, the BBC announced they had located a letter Princess Diana wrote, assumed to be lost, which they say would exonerate them in their actions related to Martin Bashir’s interview. The BBC announced lawyer Lord Dyson will lead an independent investigation into how Martin Bashir obtained his Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales

The BBC’s Director-General Tim Davie said, “The BBC is determined to get to the truth about these events and that is why we have commissioned an independent investigation…Lord Dyson is an eminent and highly respected figure who will lead a thorough process.” Lord Dyson promised a “thorough and fair” investigation, and pledged to start right away.

ELLE.com has learned from a source close to the Duke of Sussex that Prince Harry has been monitoring the escalating scandal closely from his home in Montecito, California and is in close contact with his uncle, Diana’s brother Lord Spencer, who has accused the BBC and Mr. Bashir of “sheer dishonesty” in their actions.

A source told ELLE.com, “You do not need a public statement to imagine how [Prince Harry] is feeling privately. People know how much his mother means to him. He has bravely spoken out in the past about loss and grief, and the immense impact it has had on him.”

A source close to Harry also condemned tabloid reports that tried to insinuate Prince Harry failed to support his brother and protect his mother’s legacy as “horrid and offensive”: “Sadly, some people are not just seeing this as a drive for truth, but also trying to use this as an opportunity to drive a wedge between the brothers.”

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