Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, has lambasted the BBC for contributing “significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation” felt by his late mother, Princess Diana, in the years before her death, in a rare emotionally charged statement by a royal against the public broadcaster.
The Duke’s comments come after the BBC offered an unconditional apology over the controversial 1995 interview by BBC journalist Martin Bashir with Diana, in which she detailed the breakdown of her relationship with Prince Charles. An inquiry had found that he used “deceitful” methods to secure the landmark interview.
The Duke also accused the BBC of commercializing a “false narrative” about his mother.
“But what saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived. She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions,” he said.
“It is my firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again. It effectively established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialized by the BBC and others.”
The original interview was featured on Panorama, which is still on air and showed a documentary about the controversy on Thursday.
William’s brother – Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex – issued an equally emotional statement after the report, saying, “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life.”
Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have fought battles of their own against British tabloids in court.
“To those who have taken some form of accountability, thank you for owning it. That is the first step towards justice and truth. Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these— and even worse—are still widespread today. Then, and now, it’s bigger than one outlet, one network, or one publication,” he said.
“Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed. By protecting her legacy, we protect everyone, and uphold the dignity with which she lived her life. Let’s remember who she was and what she stood for.”
BBC makes a ‘full and unconditional apology’
BBC Director-General Tim Davie said Thursday the interview “fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect.”
“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology. The BBC offers that today,” Davie said.
Bashir responded in a statement Thursday that it was “saddening” the controversy had “been allowed to overshadow the princess’ brave decision to tell her story,” according to PA Media news agency.
Bashir stepped down from his role as the BBC’s religion editor last week, citing health reasons.
The journalist apologized Thursday for using the fake bank statements but said they had no bearing on Diana’s decision to take part in the interview.
“It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret,” Bashir said in a statement. “But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently.”
“I also reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview.”
Bashir added that he remained proud of the interview.
The Dyson report comes at a highly volatile moment for the BBC, which is a giant of public broadcasting but increasingly under pressure from politicians.
Its publicly funded model faces growing scrutiny from the government, including from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
What did the report find?
The report was commissioned by the BBC and written by retired high court judge Lord Dyson. It found that Bashir had shown fake bank statements to Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, which “deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana.”
“By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview,” the report notes, adding that this behavior was in breach of BBC guidelines.
Bashir has long been alleged to have used forged documents that suggested the palace staff were working against Princess Diana and being paid to spy on her, CNN anchor and correspondent Max Foster has previously reported.
Matt Wiessler, a former graphic designer for the BBC, said he mocked up false bank statements after Bashir reached out to him.
The new report notes that Wiessler was worried that he “might have played a role in obtaining the interview by deception” and raised his concerns with the BBC shortly after the interview aired. The report says that Wiessler is not facing any criticism for accepting the commission, and describes him as “an entirely reputable graphic designer” who freelanced for the BBC.
The broadcaster launched an internal inquiry in 1996 and concluded that documents had been forged but didn’t play a role in Diana’s decision to participate in the interview.
Bashir initially claimed that he had not shown the documents to anyone but admitted otherwise in March 1996, Dyson found.
The report is critical of both Bashir’s behavior and of the way the 1996 probe was carried out by the BBC.
It concludes that “without justification” the BBC “covered up… facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview.”
Dyson added that the BBC also “failed to mention the issue at all on any news programme and thereby fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”
The BBC’s former director-general Tony Hall, who was in charge of news and current affairs at the time of the controversy, said Thursday that he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt,” according to PA Media.
The 1995 interview was a seismic moment in British public life.
During the event, Diana told Bashir that there were “three of us” in her marriage to Charles, referring to Camilla Parker Bowles, whom the heir to the throne would later marry.
Buckingham Palace was blindsided by the interview and thrown into crisis by Diana’s comments, which cast a rare light on the inner workings of the royal family.