Now that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have burned through the meager share of controversy generated by their Oprah Winfrey TV special, it’s time to return our attention to what remains the gold standard of blockbuster royal interviews: the 1995 Princess Diana Panorama episode.
You’ll remember the episode as the moment—less than two years before her death—where Diana spectacularly set a torch to her in-laws, telling Martin Bashir that they drove her to the brink of suicide while carefully hinting that Prince Charles shouldn’t ever be king. You may also remember that last year in the Daily Mail it was claimed that Bashir had fraudulently convinced Diana to take part in the interview with a brace of faked bank statements that had been mocked up specifically to play to her worst fears.
An independent investigation led by former Supreme Court judge Lord Dyson has been underway since November to determine the circumstances that led to the interview. Details of the inquiry have begun to trickle out and, amazingly, they only succeed in making everyone look even worse than they already did.
The headline revelation is that, just as Diana had begun to express reticence about the interview, Bashir allegedly presented her with a forged abortion receipt, according to the Daily Mail. This was designed to convince her that Tiggy Legge-Bourke—then nanny to Princes William and Harry—had been having an affair with Prince Charles that had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. It was proof that they were in love, she was told, reinforcing her belief that Charles wanted to marry Legge-Bourke so badly that he planned for Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles to be “put aside” to do it.
Just as Diana had begun to express reticence about the interview, Bashir allegedly presented her with a forged abortion receipt.
Which, if true, is ghastly beyond words; creepy and predatory and almost audaciously villainous. Remarkably, Bashir is still employed by the BBC in a senior capacity—he is currently the corporation’s religion correspondent—but if any of these claims are found to hold water at all, it is almost guaranteed to be a career-ender.
Worse still, his defense has so far revolved around the argument that the fake bank statements were shown to Diana’s brother—Earl Spencer—only after he had made the introduction to Diana. But that claim seems to have been dealt a fatal blow by the man who actually forged them. According to the Daily Mail, graphic artist Matt Weissler, who was made the fall guy when this first emerged, has apparently admitted to the inquiry that he faked the documents three weeks before Bashir met Diana—not afterward, as he had previously claimed.
But the bigger story may yet be the BBC’s possible cover-up of the scandal. Despite initially denying that it had destroyed documents relating to the interview, the corporation has now admitted that relevant papers in four different files were either destroyed or “not retained” between 2004 and 2009. However, the missing documents cannot be identified because, the BBC claims, it holds no additional information on them. Again, if anything concrete can be pinned to it, this could end up being ruinous for the BBC.
Lord Dyson is expected to publish his final report in the next couple of months, potentially coinciding with the moment that William and Harry re-unite to unveil a statue of Diana in London. Whatever the verdict, expect fireworks.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL