The late Princess Diana was a media mistress, an unabashed spin doctor of her own wounded cause. This does not mean that her cause was illegitimate: To marry a man with little interest in loving hershe was sold a raw deal disguised as the saccharine frosting of her wedding cake.
Royal life was not the pleasure she had been promised, marriage was not the solace she had long sought, and womanhood was as terrifying and cruel as she had always feared. Diana might be eager, but she wasn’t unjustified. Which of course made the BBC’s use of her paranoia all the more tragic.
As depicted in latest season of The crownthe princess of wales was fanning the flames of her marriage’s collapse when martin bashir, a reporter from the bbc’s investigation Panorama unity, caught her desperation. Her former lover, James Hewitt, had published a book about her; another lover, Oliver Hoare, had driven her to engage in compulsive late-night phone calls. Prince Charles had revealed his infidelity with Jonathan Dimbleby in his own broadcast interview along with the revelation that he had never really loved his wife.
In short: Diana was hurt and she felt the company closing in on her. She had long suspected that her phones were tapped; that her staff betrayed her; that the whole palace brigade was in line to drive her out. Bashir clocked these sentiments after Andrew Morton’s biography Diana: Her True Story was published and headlines grew with reports that she had been mistreated and denied. In other words, she was vulnerable. But she was also on the defensive.
The princess was looking for a chance to strike back at her estranged husband, something with more spirit than the much talked about “revenge dress”. Bashir gave it to her, though through a stunning deception. Over the course of several months, he convinced her to do a television interview, one where she could air all her grievances without interference. But to seal the deal, Bashir hired a Panorama graphics to make fake bank statements, those who “proved” payments between News International – publishers of News of the World—and a one-time employee of Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother. Bashir created a false connection between his inner circle and the media, further catalyzing Diana’s fear that those closest to her were betraying her.
So she engaged in her own deception: She betrayed the palace’s unspoken rule of never speak. She knew the power of the media and she decided to use it. The BBC interview took place on a Sunday in 1995 at Kensington Palace after the staff had retired for the evening. The reporters and their camera equipment entered Diana’s living room under the guise of delivering a new hi-fi system. Diana later dropped a press release announcing that the broadcast would be broadcast on November 14 – Prince Charles’ birthday.
In reality the interview was broadcast on the 20th, but the effect was no less noticeable in the Prince of Wales’s camp. It didn’t go well with the BBC either. As The crown shows, the chairman of the BBC Board of Governors was Marmaduke Hussey, who was married to Lady Susan Hussey, a close friend of the Queen. The BBC director-general, John Birt, chose not to warn Hussey about the Diana broadcast, lest it be shelved because of its indictment of Prince Charles and the sovereign. As Tina Brown wrote in her 2007 book The Diana Chronicles“This time Diana’s ‘instinct for co-option’ had captured the institution which for the past half century had not only punctually negotiated its access to the royal family through official channels, but had also been the television partner of the monarchy for every state. occasion since the Queen’s coronation.”
The broadcast was earth-shattering: Lines like, “There were three of us in this marriage,” and “She won’t go quietly, that’s the problem,” resonate to this day. Twenty-three million Britons tuned in. While the Morton book had allowed Diana denial, there was no doubting what the Princess of Wales herself said, right on TV. Everything from her kohl-ringed eyes to her soft, choked laugh spoke to her inner turmoil as naturally as her inner strength. (Actress Elizabeth Debicki, to her credit, absolutely nails every second of her Panorama interview impersonation i The crown.) After the interview was broadcast, a Daily Mirror poll showed public support for the princess’s send-off at a stunning 92 percent.
“Diana’s media moves always predicted the zeitgeist,” Brown wrote in his 2022 book The Castle Papers. “Her bombshell interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir in November 1995 was a Oprah confessional without Oprah.”
That Panorama The interview was a hard-won moment, one that allowed Diana public support as she entered the world as a free woman. But it shook with the tragedies that necessitated its existence. She had been duped by Bashir, who was eventually discredited in an investigation by the BBC (though he claimed the fake bank statements “had no bearing on Diana’s decision to be interviewed.”) Princes William and Harry even publicly condemned the tactics used to secure the interview as “misleading“and”unethical” as late as 2021. Shortly after the interview aired, Diana would be forever separated from the man she loved: She and Charles were formally divorced the following year. As The crown correctly portrays, the BBC interview was both a tragedy and a revelation, a fitting if painful encapsulation of the woman herself.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, television, books and fashion.