If anything that Diana of Wales said has remained for posterity, it is her famous statement to the BBC, “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” The princess uttered the sentence in November 1995 before 23 million television viewers. That interview, considered in a survey of more than 3,000 Britons as the public broadcasting company’s “most memorable,” took place on the program Panorama, directed and hosted by the journalist Martin Bashir. The shocking prime-time conversation in prime time revealed that the marriage between the British heir and his wife was absolutely broken –and that it involved third parties. Bashir achieved a media milestone that was never repeated, despite the fact that Diana continued to maintain a high media profile. The couple divorced within weeks.
At the end of 2020, though, it became known that the BBC had woven a dense web of lies to convince the princess to speak. The company apologized and even launched an investigation into the broadcast. Now, the outlet has issued a series of apologies, payments and public statements, attempting to mend the irreparable damage. In a brief online statement, the company asked for public pardons from Charles of England, the eldest son of Elizabeth II and heir to the crown, and his sons, William and Henry. It also announced that it will compensate the princes’ then-nanny, Alexandra Pettifer (known as Tiggy Legge-Bourke) for the “serious personal consequences” of the interview, which suggested that she had had an affair with the prince. The amount of the payment was not specified.
Tim Davie, the BBC’s Director-General, explained that the corporation has decided to pay Pettifer a substantial sum. He continued: “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize publicly to her, to the Prince of Wales, and to the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex,” he said, referring to Charles of England and his sons, William and Henry, “for the way in which Princess Diana was deceived and the subsequent impact on all their lives.” “We deeply regret that the BBC did not get to the bottom of the facts immediately after the program aired, where there were visible warning signs that [the interview] had been inappropriately obtained. Instead, as the Duke of Cambridge himself said, the BBC failed to ask for more serious explanations. If we had done our job properly, Diana would have known the truth in life. But we let her down, the royal family down and our audience down,” Davie said. The princess died in August 1997, less than two years after the broadcast of the program. She never discovered the truth about Bashir, who has since left the BBC.
The entity’s general director —who made his career not in journalism but in marketing, working with corporations including Pepsi and Procter & Gamble— explained that, given the “shocking way” the interview was obtained, “the BBC will never show the programme again; nor will we license it in whole or part to other broadcasters.”
“It does of course remain part of the historical record and there may be occasions in the future when it will be justified for the BBC to use short extracts for journalistic purposes, but these will be few and far between and will need to be agreed at Executive Committee level and set in the full context of what we now know about the way the interview was obtained,” he said, ending by urging others to “exercise similar restraint” with the content.
The BBC gave “unreserved apologies” to Alexandra Pettifer for the “very serious and unfounded accusations that the applicant was having an affair with the Prince of Wales.” It acknowledged that those suspicions were likely raised as a result of Panorama’s strategy to secure the interview with Diana. Pettifer’s lawyer has said that she is “relieved” that the BBC accepts that the allegations are “completely false and baseless.” At the end of June, the BBC had already compensated Mark Killick, a producer who worked with Bashir on Panorama and who warned that the journalist was using false documentation, specifically bank statements, to coerce the princess to appear on the program. The chain ignored Killick’s accusations, accusing him of “being jealous” of the star journalist. The company also paid an unspecified amount to Diana’s former secretary, Patrick Jephson, for the damage caused. He donated it to charity, stating, “After more than 25 years it is a relief finally to reach a conclusion to this painful episode. I am grateful to Lord Dyson and the journalists whose tenacity has brought the truth to light.”
Lord John Dyson is the former magistrate of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. He carried out an in-depth investigation into the circumstances behind the interview, concluding, in May 2021, that the public corporation “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark” when obtaining it. In the report, broadcast in November 2020, Dyson noted that Bashir showed Lady Di’s brother, Earl Spencer, false bank statements that suggested that two of the princess’s bodyguards had been paid to spy on her. The journalist also alleged that Diana’s mail had been opened and her phone tapped, and that the British secret service had recorded Prince Charles and Jephson planning “the end.” The allegations fed the paranoia of Charles’s then-wife, encouraging her to speak publicly.
When the conclusions of the report were revealed, the BBC already sent private letters of apology to Princes Charles, William and Henry. Now it has made those apologies public. William said publicly that that interview contributed to his mother’s “fear, paranoia and isolation.” His brother Henry 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.” William then demanded that the program not be broadcast again. Now the BBC has heeded his words, seeking to close the public and private wound.