It was 26 years ago, but I vividly remember the night Princess Diana gave an interview to BBC journalist Martin Bashir. I was allowed to stay up late to watch it — after my parents deemed it a “historical moment.” So I, along with 23 million other Brits (probably not all in paw print pajamas), watched, aghast, as a wide-eyed Princess Diana gave her first-hand account of the soap opera that had been played out in the British tabloid press — the breakdown of her marriage.
As a child, I never considered how Martin Bashir managed to obtain an interview with arguably the most famous woman in the world. Now the truth has come out, and it’s ugly. This article by John Ware candidly documents how Bashir gained access to Princess Diana through deception and false documents. It’s a disturbing story, and this particular account of it is written by a journalist with direct insight, with Ware also having worked at BBC Panorama — the program that aired the 1995 interview. Published by the BBC themselves, whether as an act of contrition or an attempt at redemption, the piece explores their failings — ones that led to a “ticking time bomb about public trust” that has “now detonated.”
Asked by Gardam why he had compiled the graphics in the first place, Bashir said it was simply to record and file the information – an implausible reason for getting a graphic designer to work all night, paying him £250 of licence fee payers’ money and getting the documents couriered to Heathrow, when jotting down the details in his notebook would have sufficed.
Nonetheless, however improbable this may seem today, Diana’s letter appears to have reassured management. “All could now relax for Christmas,” said Suter at the time. “We had had a scare, but we had got through it.” But for Earl Spencer, the letter doesn’t exonerate the BBC. “Diana is dealing from a position of having been lied to. She didn’t know that the whole obtaining of the interview was based on a series of falsehoods that led to her being vulnerable to this,” he told me.
However, if management thought that was the end of it, they were mistaken. On 21 March, the Mail on Sunday told Spencer they were investigating how Martin Bashir had been introduced to his sister and secured his scoop interview. In order to convince Spencer of his credentials, the newspaper alleged that Bashir had shown him bogus security service documents about bugging phones at Kensington Palace. Clearly the Mail were on to something, but were wrong about the content of the documents.
Distrustful of the tabloid press, Spencer called the BBC to find out more. Spencer was put on to Hewlett and told him he had introduced Bashir to Diana “on 19 September on the back of extremely serious allegations he had made, against various newspapers, named journalists, named senior figures at St James’s Palace, and unnamed figures in the secret service.”