Prince William issued a statement Thursday blistering the BBC for contributing to his mother Princess Diana‘s “fear, paranoia and isolation” after a “rogue reporter” used deceitful methods to persuade her to sit for a 1995 interview that shocked the royal family and Britain to the core.
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to (Diana’s) fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her,” before she died in 1997, William said in the statement issued from Kensington Palace.
William’s brother, Prince Harry, issued a statement from his office in California where he now lives. He blamed “a culture of exploitation and unethical practices” for their mother’s death in a car wreck in Paris, when she was being pursued by paparazzi.
“Our mother was an incredible woman who dedicated her life to service,” Harry’s statement read. “She was resilient, brave, and unquestionably honest. The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life. To those who have taken some form of accountability, thank you for owning it. That is the first step towards justice and truth.”
The Duke of Cambridge, Diana’s elder son, issued his statement in response to the release earlier Thursday in London of an independent investigation of the BBC, its “Panorama” news show, and reporter Martin Bashir.
The Dyson Report found that Bashir used “deceitful behavior,” including creating fake bank statements, to secure the explosive interview in a “serious breach” of the public broadcaster’s guidelines, and then failed to competently investigate legitimate concerns raised in the aftermath.
William, 38, said it was “welcome” that the BBC accepted the report’s findings, but he was still “extremely concerned.”
He said the investigation showed that “BBC employees” had “lied and used fake documents”; made “lurid and false claims” about the royal family which played on his mother’s fears and “fueled paranoia”; displayed “woeful incompetence” when investigating complaints about the program; and “covered up” what they knew from their internal investigation.
“It is my view that the deceitful way the interview was obtained substantially influenced what my mother said,” William said in the statement. “The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others.”
“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,” William said. “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 he believes the “Panorama” interview of his mother, “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.”
“In an era of fake news, public service broadcasting and a free press have never been more important,” William added. “These failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down, and my family down; they let the public down, too.”
Harry, 36, who has said he and his wife, Duchess Meghan, fled their royal roles last year because of racism in the British media and intrusive tabloid behavior, said he, too, is deeply concerned about the practices highlighted in the BBC report.
“What deeply concerns me is that practices like these — and even worse — are still widespread today,” Harry’s statement read. “Then, and now, it’s bigger than one outlet, one network or one publication. 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.”
The BBC said in November it had appointed a retired senior judge to lead an investigation after Diana’s brother, Charles, Earl Spencer, made renewed complaints that Bashir used false documents and other dishonest tactics to persuade Diana to agree to the interview.
Spencer alleged Bashir showed him fake bank documents relating to his sister’s former private secretary and another former royal household member, with the aim of gaining access to the princess.
The interview, in which Diana famously said “there were three of us in this marriage” — referring to husband Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, now his second wife — was watched by millions and sent shockwaves through the country and the monarchy.
In early 1996, the BBC carried out an internal inquiry that cleared Bashir, “Panorama” and BBC News of wrongdoing. The new inquiry concluded that investigation was “woefully ineffective.”
The BBC’s chairman, Richard Sharp, said the corporation accepts the investigation’s findings, adding “there were unacceptable failures.”
John Birt, director-general of the BBC at the time of the interview, apologized to Charles Spencer in a statement.
“We now know that the BBC harbored a rogue reporter on ‘Panorama’ who fabricated an elaborate, detailed but wholly false account of his dealings with Earl Spencer and Princess Diana,” Birt said. “This is a shocking blot on the BBC’s enduring commitment to honest journalism; and it is a matter of the greatest regret that it has taken 25 years for the full truth to emerge.”
The investigation considered whether actions taken by Bashir influenced Diana’s decision to give the interview. It also looked into how much the BBC knew about the “mocked-up bank statements” that Charles Spencer claimed Bashir produced.
Bashir, 58, who resigned from the BBC last week due to “ongoing health issues,” apologized in a statement for mocking up the documents, but said he remained “immensely proud” of the interview, according to the BBC’s report on the investigation.
“The bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview,” Bashir’s statement said. “Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to (the investigators) reinforces it.”
The investigation published for the first time that letter from Diana, dated December 1995 and written in her distinctive handwriting on Kensington Palace stationary. Bashir told the investigators he found the note during a search of his home in November 2020, and gave it to BBC officials.
The note reads: “Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of.”
Sally Bedell Smith, the acclaimed American biographer of major royals who has written extensively about this episode and submitted testimony to the inquiry, said she agrees “completely” with the report by Lord Dyson.
She said she can’t explain why Diana wrote that note, except that Bashir seemed to have a “powerful” hold on the unhappy princess.
“There is no doubt that Diana was suspicious and you could even say paranoid before she met Bashir,” Bedell Smith told USA TODAY. “But as Charles Spencer told me (which is now on the record in the Dyson Report), ‘She was off on her own bat having had her various insecurities fed by Bashir very cleverly.’ “
“I agree completely with Lord Dyson’s conclusions, and that the fear and paranoia (Bashir) engendered in her led to the interview and its tragic consequences.”
Diana divorced from Charles in 1996 and died in a Paris car crash in 1997 as she was pursued by paparazzi. Charles married Camilla, now the Duchess of Cornwall, in 2005.
The Diana interview, plus a similarly bombshell documentary on Michael Jackson in 2003, catapulted the then-obscure Bashir to prominence and eventually to high-profile jobs in the United States, including as anchor on ABC’s “Nightline” and as a political commentator for MSNBC.
He was suspended and subsequently resigned from MSNBC in 2013 after he made on-air comments he later described as “unacceptable” about former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Bashir reported on religious affairs for the BBC since 2016. In October, the BBC reported he was “seriously unwell” with COVID-19-related complications.
Contributing: Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press, Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY