The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess, episode 2 review: an exposé that was all too tabloidy

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The Princess of Wales and Martin Bashir - ITV
The Princess of Wales and Martin Bashir - ITV

The problem with The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess (ITV) was that it tried to have it both ways. Diana, the Princess of Wales’s Earth-shattering 1995 interview with Martin Bashir – the one with the line “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” – was framed as a strategic triumph by a strong woman taking agency over her life (she had arranged for the broadcast to go out on the Prince of Wales's birthday, it was suggested). But the documentary went on to raise serious questions regarding the journalistic ethics by which the BBC obtained the interview. Hagiography? Exposé? ITV never made up its mind. 

The key allegation was that forged documents had been key to convincing the Princess to sit down with Panorama. And that there had been a cover up, with a BBC internal investigation “white-washing” away the charges. There was a scapegoat, too – the graphic designer instructed by Bashir to counterfeit bank statements at the centre of the controversy and whom ITV had now persuaded to speak publicly for the first time. 

The trail was a tangled one. Usual suspects talking heads such as Diana biographer Andrew Morton, former BBC Royal Correspondent Jenny Bond, and Diana’s butler Paul Burrell, chimed in constantly. The sheer accumulation of detail and conjecture was overwhelming. 

ITV was also unable to help itself from hyping the Panorama scoop 25 years after the fact. “One of the most important interviews in the 20th century,” said journalist Nick Fielding. Even ardent fans of Netflix’s The Crown – which, as coincidence would have it, is just about to return with a Diana-packed new season – may have felt that was pushing it a bit. 

The Diana Interview suffered further for bunging in all the truly damning material at the end of its two hours. Part one, which went out Monday, had been a “greatest hits” look back at the Prince and Princess’s disintegrating marriage. The opening 20 minutes of part two was just as tabloidy, as it breathlessly recounted the high drama unfolding the night of the interview. 

The Princess of Wales and Martin Bashir - ITV
The Princess of Wales and Martin Bashir - ITV

The Princess had arranged to be home alone when the BBC team arrived at Kensington Palace. When she stumbled over how to answer a question about her relationship with James Hewitt, Bashir helped her find the right words. Afterwards, on the drive back, he and his team fretted that they were being followed. 

Only halfway through did the mocked-up documents enter the frame. They were offered as evidence that the interview was obtained in questionable circumstances. Earl Spencer, the Princess’s younger brother, had suspected a former member of staff of leaking to the press. Enter Bashir with seemingly incrementing evidence. 

“The instructions he [Bashir] gave to the graphic designer were to produce bank statements, including the name of Earl Spencer's employee... and to show transfers of several thousand pounds,” said Fielding, who broke the fake documents story in the Daily Mail in 1996.

“Perhaps Earl Spencer would have been convinced that whoever had access to this kind of documentation could provide more information for him... which would enable him to get to the bottom of things,” continued Fielding. “And in exchange he may have been willing to approach his sister and recommend that this is the person to give the interview that everyone wanted.”

The big coup was securing the participation of the graphic designer, Matt Wiessler.

“I quite clearly felt that I was the one that was going to be the fall guy in this story,” Wiessler said. “All I want is for the BBC in this instance to come forward and honestly make an apology. Because it's had a huge impact.” 

The BBC told ITV that it was in the process of commissioning a “robust independent investigation”. It added that Bashir had not been interviewed due to ill-health (though he was photographed recently leaving a takeaway). 

Yet this high-minded investigation into journalistic best practice was surely undermined by all the praise heaped on the interview itself for pulling back the veil on Buckingham Palace and detailing the Princess’ mistreatment at the hands of the royals. 

“She blew the lid,” said journalist Rosie Boycott. “It is probably the most extraordinary thing that anyone in the Royal family has ever done.” 

That’s exactly the sort of slightly hyperbolic soundbite you would expect of a quickie highlights show churned out to cash in on the return of The Crown. But The Diana Interview aspired to being something more journalistically rigorous. In the end, it was a bit of a muddle. 

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