Martin Bashir: Why Was His Bombshell 1995 Princess Diana Interview Under Investigation?

The explosive Panorama interview is still making headlines 26 years later. Here’s what we know.

It was the bombshell royal interview that rocked the world decades before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s sit down with Oprah Winfrey, and 26 years on, Princess Diana’s Panorama appearance is still making headlines.

The findings of an investigation into how the BBC and Martin Bashir landed the infamous interview with the late Princess of Wales have been published, concluding they used deceitful methods to secure it.

Lord Dyson, the former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, led the inquiry into the circumstances leading to the explosive 1995 interview, which famously featured Diana saying: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage”.

Following the report’s publication, here’s an examination of the key players, topics and allegations that led to the verdict...

Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana in Kensington Palace for Panorama
Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana in Kensington Palace for Panorama
Tim Graham via Getty Images

Who is Martin Bashir?

Bashir began working as a journalist in 1986 but made headlines around the world in 1995 for his BBC interview with Diana for Panorama, which also won him a Bafta.

His other high-profile interviews have included the suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case, entertainer Michael Barrymore, Jeffrey Archer and Major Charles Ingram, dubbed “the coughing major”.

Bashir won a Bafta for the interview
Bashir won a Bafta for the interview
Fiona Hanson - PA Images via Getty Images

In 2003, he conducted a series of interviews with pop singer Michael Jackson for the controversial ITV documentary Living With Michael Jackson.

He later moved to the US where he co-anchored the current affairs show Nightline on ABC before moving to MSNBC, where he served as a political commentator until 2013.

What was said in the interview?

The bombshell interview saw the then-separated Diana publicly confirm she knew her husband had resumed his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, with the infamous line: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

She added: “Yes, I was [aware of Prince Charles’s relationship with Camilla], but I wasn’t in the place to do anything about it. [...] A woman’s instinct is a very good one.”

Diana also opened up about developing an eating disorder, and also accused Charles’s staff of working against her.

She said: “I had bulimia for a number of years. That’s like a secret disease you inflicted upon yourself because your self-esteem is lowered and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable.

“You fill your stomach up four or five times a day – some do it more – and it gives you a feeling of comfort. It’s like having a pair of arms around you, but it’s temporary.

“Then, you’re disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach and then you bring it all up again. It’s a repetitive pattern that is very destructive to yourself. [...] It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. I was crying out for help but giving the wrong signals. People were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger. They decided that was the problem. Diana was unstable.”

She also cast doubt on Charles’ suitability to succeed the Queen on the throne.

More than 20 million people watched the interview in the UK, but its impact was felt worldwide.

It also prompted the Queen to urge the couple to seek a divorce a month later.

A year after the interview aired, former BBC director-general Lord Hall, who was then head of news, led an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Diana’s appearance.

Why was the interview reinvestigated?

In November 2020, an independent investigation led by Lord Dyson – who formerly presided over the Court of Appeal – was launched to examine the circumstances in which Bashir secured the interview.

It came after Diana’s brother Earl Spencer alleged that he was shown “false bank statements” by Bashir and that these statements were used to help the reporter gain access to the princess.

Spencer, who provided introductions between Diana and Bashir, claimed that these statements detailed payments supposedly made to two members of the royal household by security services, suggesting the individuals were being paid to keep the princess under surveillance through phone tapping and car tracking.

Earl Spencer
Earl Spencer
Alex B. Huckle via Getty Images

The earl also alleged that Bashir made a series of false and defamatory claims about senior members of the royal family, which he claimed fed into Diana’s beliefs that Charles’ staff had a campaign against her.

He alleged Bashir repeatedly deceived him in order to win his trust, which eventually led to Spencer giving the journalist access to his sister.

When the investigation was announced, the BBC’s then 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.”

What did the BBC’s own internal investigation establish in 1996?

In 1996, the BBC held an internal investigation led by then BBC director general Tony Hall that examined the mocked-up documents relating to a former employee of the earl.

Bashir admitted providing other mocked-up documents that appeared to show stories were being leaked by one of Spencer’s own employees, prompting him to broker the pair’s meeting.

It is important to note these bank statements are different to the ones central to the earl’s latest claims, which related to payments supposedly made to two members of the royal household.

The corporation has previously said in a statement that its investigation found Bashir had “done wrong” – but it is not known what sanction, if any, he faced.

Bashir said he had asked graphic designer Matt Wiessler to make the documents relating to the earl’s employee.

BBC’s board of governors was told there had been “steps to ensure that the graphic designer will not work for the BBC again”.

Weissler claimed he was made “the fall guy” and a “scapegoat” by the BBC for Bashir’s actions and wants an apology. He told his story on a two-part ITV documentary.

Matt Wiessler
Matt Wiessler

The BBC also reached its verdict after examining a key piece of evidence – a handwritten note from Diana – to determine whether or not the princess had been misled.

The note suggested Diana did not see these false bank statements and that they played no part in her decision to give the interview.

In 2007, the BBC said a copy of the princess’s note was no longer in its possession and could not be produced for a Freedom of Information request However, following the launch of the independent investigation, the BBC said the note had been recovered.

What happened then?

Earl Spencer previously alleged the original inquiry was a “whitewash”.

While the BBC insisted he received an apology over the mocked-up documents relating to his former staffer, Spencer spoke out after the new independent investigation was announced

He tweeted: “When the BBC say they’ve ‘apologised’ to me, what they’ve apologised for is showing me false bank statements regarding to a lesser, unrelated matter. They haven’t apologised for the fake bank statements and other deceit that led me to introducing Martin Bashir to my sister.”

Former BBC chair Lord Michael Grade also said that there was a “very dark cloud hanging over BBC journalism” following the latest allegations.

He told the BBC Radio 4 programme The World At One: “We’ve got to get into the timeline of when knew what when. ‘Was the Diana letter also a forgery?’ is the question that needs to be asked.”

What did the new investigation aim to establish?

The investigation considered if the steps taken by the BBC and Bashir were appropriate and to what extent those actions influenced Diana’s decision to give an interview.

Amid questions around why the BBC cleared Bashir and Panorama of wrongdoing after its own internal investigation in 1996, the inquiry also investigated what knowledge the BBC had in 1995 and 1996 of the “mocked up bank statements purporting to show payments to a former employee of Earl Spencer [and] the purported payments to members of the royal households”.

Lord Hall, who led the BBC’s internal inquiry in 1996, previously told The Times newspaper he was “unaware” of the bank statements at the centre of the new claims.

He said in a statement to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “the focus of the original investigation was whether Diana had been misled”.

He said “this and any new issues raised will no doubt be looked at by the BBC’s new inquiry”.

What did the Royal family say about the independent investigation?

Prince William previously welcomed the investigation, saying it “should help establish the truth behind the actions” that led to the programme and the “subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time”.

The Duke of Cambridge said the independent probe was a “step in the right direction”.

His brother, Prince Harry, reportedly also supported the inquiry, although he has not spoken publicly about the matter.

Where is Martin Bashir now?

In 2016, Bashir returned to the BBC as religious affairs correspondent, before being made religion editor.

Prior to the investigation being launched last November, Bashir was “seriously unwell” with coronavirus-related complications.

Bashir pictured in 2019
Bashir pictured in 2019
Jeff Spicer via Getty Images

Earlier this month, Bashir quit the BBC on health grounds.

Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s deputy director of news, said in a message to staff: “Martin Bashir has stepped down from his position as the BBC’s religion editor, and is leaving the Corporation.

“He let us know of his decision last month, just before being readmitted to hospital for another surgical procedure on his heart.”

Munro’s message ended: “Although he underwent major surgery toward the end of last year, he is facing some ongoing issues and has decided to focus on his health.”

What was the outcome of the report?

The investigation published its findings on Thursday (20 May), saying that Bashir used “deceitful behaviour” and was in “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines.

It found that the documents falsely suggested individuals were being paid for keeping the princess under surveillance and that Bashir acted to deceive Earl Spencer and encourage him to arrange for Bashir to meet Diana, with the journalist therefore able to persuade her to agree to give the interview.

However, the report did say that Diana’s letter, which was included as evidence in the report, written on official Kensington Palace stationery and signed by her, says she consented to the interview “without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter”.

Lord Dyson’s report said the BBC also “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark” in its subsequent investigation.

The report said: “Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark by covering up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview and failing to mention Mr Bashir’s activities or the BBC investigations of them on any news programme.”

Responding to the report, Bashir said: “This is the second time that I have willingly fully co-operated with an investigation into events more than 25 years ago. I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret. But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently.”

His statement further added: “I also reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview. Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to Lord Dyson reinforces it. In fact, despite his other findings, Lord Dyson himself in any event accepts that the Princess would probably have agreed to be interviewed without what he describes as my ‘intervention’.

“It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the Princess’ brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced, and, to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago. She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that’s why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.”

Former director-general Lord Tony Hall, who was director of BBC news and current affairs when the Diana interview was screened, has apologised that the inquiry “fell well short of what was required”.

TV watchdog Ofcom previously said it would not launch its own investigation into the BBC Panorama controversy, but will follow the independent inquiry “closely”, while Scotland Yard also said in March 2020 that it would not launch a criminal investigation over the allegations.

The BBC previously delayed the broadcast of a Panorama investigation into the interview.

It was expected to air on BBC One on Monday but was postponed due to a “significant duty of care issue”, according to the broadcaster.

It will now air on Thursday, following the publication of Lord Dyson’s report.


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