Nearly 25 years ago to the day, HRH Princess Diana gave an interview for BBC journalist, Martin Bashir, for a Panorama special. The interview was revolutionary in more ways than one, but it’s widely acknowledged as a ground-breaking moment in the history of investigative journalism due to the successful clandestine planning, the royal’s unprecedented candour, and for the earth-shattering accusations it disclosed.
Diana changed the face of the media in countless ways. During the height of her fame, consumer print journalism had reached its peak in sales. Lady Di was on the front cover of almost every tabloid and glossy gossip magazine on a weekly basis.
In this pre-social media era, the press and paparazzi were an insatiable force who used intrusive methods to bag stories, leaving no detail of her private life unturned.
Eventually, the media’s craze and the public’s obsession with this woman contributed to the fatal crash in the Paris underpass on the 31st August 1997. It’s believed that the high-speed pursuit of the paparazzi behind her car resulted in the crash.
But, Diana’s relationship with the media was ambivalent to say the least. At times, when at her most vulnerable, she appeared to relish in the attention with her sultry doe-eyed stare.
But, she also used her media attention to help other causes. She was candidly outspoken about mental health, she was admired for building rapport with the British public, and she advocated charity campaigns for AIDS and HIV.
The interview has remained influential in the 25 years since it aired. But now, new information has come to light, with recent allegations suggesting even more illicit happenings
Diana’s influence on the media industry was revolutionary. Her interview with Bashir however, undoubtedly had the most long-lasting effect on the world of journalism.
The interview is historically famous for exposing a taboo topic that had, thus far, only been the focus of tabloids: the Prince’s infidelity with Camilla Parker-Bowles and Diana’s own affair and consequential mental suffering.
Equally radical were Bashir’s clandestine meetings with the princess. In an even riskier move, the Royal Family were only informed of the documentary by Diana, herself, just hours before its release.
The interview has remained influential in the 25 years since it aired. But now, new information has come to light, with recent allegations suggesting even more illicit happenings facilitated the covert interview.
According to claims made by the late princess’ brother, Earl Spencer, forged bank statements used by Bashir were used to lure Diana into the interview.
After increasing pressure, the BBC has pledged to hold an investigation into whether there was any breach of regulations, but Spencer is calling for an official inquiry. If Bashir and the graphic designer he employed to make the counterfeits, Matt Wiessler, are guilty of fraud, they could face legal charges.
He was already concerned for his sister after a series of suspicious incidents had led to Diana’s own unease. She often feared she was under surveillance
The forged statements implicated that senior staff within the royal household were being paid to disclose information about Diana. One suggested a payment made by the press, while the other showed a payment to the employee made by a mysterious offshore account presumed to be secret security services.
Bashir showed these to Spencer to win his trust, consequently securing the interview. Only last week, Spencer made the forthright claim that he would never had introduced Bashir to his sister if it weren’t for his being shown the statements.
The targeting of Spencer was deliberate. He was already concerned for his sister after a series of suspicious incidents had led to Diana’s own unease. She often feared she was under surveillance.
While it wasn’t unusual for the press to tap into phone calls to secure scoops, as they had done with Charles and Camilla in the early 90s Squidgygate phone-hacking scandal, Diana suspected more serious and threatening monitoring was at play.
The then BBC Director of News, Tony Hall, defended Bashir’s professionalism and was adamant that he had committed no inappropriate action
Spencer was suspicious that a former member of his own staff was leaking information. This employee was the name Bashir used on the statement.
While knowledge of the statements was revealed in early 1996 and covered by the press, no legal action was taken at the time. Back then, the BBC issued a statement implying the documents were only made as precautionary evidence in relation to the greater storyline, but never used.
They also claimed, and still maintain, that Diana wrote an approving letter to express her happiness with the interview, which the BBC have used to suggest her assenting satisfaction with the way the interview was carried out. Conveniently however, the BBC have since said the letter from Diana cannot be found.
The then BBC Director of News, Tony Hall, defended Bashir’s professionalism and was adamant that he had committed no inappropriate action. He stated that graphic designer, Wiessler, however, was to be removed from his position at the BBC. Instead Wiessler left on his own accord.
Since recent revelations, the BBC has made an official apology for the fake statements, but insists they played “no part in her decision to take part in the interview”. The organisation now states that Bashir made no use of the statements at all, and that Diana had in fact never seen them.
In a documentary for ITV, ‘The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess’ which aired earlier this week, graphic designer Wiessler maintained his innocence, claiming he was only doing his job and had no knowledge of what the statements were actually for, although he did eventually become suspicious.
Wiessler says he was used as a scapegoat by the BBC, forced to endure constant harassment from the press and was also the target of a burglary, where computer disks with copies of the statements were stolen. He accuses the BBC for whitewashing the entire incident to protect senior staff.
The actions of Bashir and the incompetent response from the BBC clearly show evidence of corruption, deceit, and the manipulative exploitation of the Spencers
The machinations are significant because they’re considered to have swayed Diana’s decision to go ahead with the interview. Not only did they confirm her fears of surveillance, but they helped backup the credibility of Bashir.
Bashir himself has been unable to make comment in light of recent events. He is said to be seriously ill after undergoing a quadruple heart bypass, which has been further complicated due to his contracting COVID-19 earlier this year.
While the details of these fake statements may seem trivially insignificant in the grander scheme of current events, the actions of Bashir and the incompetent response from the BBC clearly show evidence of corruption, deceit, and the manipulative exploitation of the Spencers.
The role the documents played in Diana’s death has also been questioned. Whether or not the interview raised her high-profile ever higher, resulting in persistent stalking by the press before her death, or whether a more menacing conspiracy is responsible, perhaps, if she or her brother had never seen those statements, the interview would never have gone ahead.
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