The Kensington Palace gate slowly opens.
Three men introduce themselves: they are technicians and come to install a stereo system, apartments 8 and 9. We are in the heart of London, Sunday November 5, 1995. The guard has been notified.
On the first floor, Diana welcomes them.
Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales has given her staff the day off for the evening.
The trio is, in reality, a television crew.
A cameraman, a production manager and a journalist.
They work at the BBC, the public television channel.
And they came to film, in the greatest secrecy, an exclusive interview with the princess.
The shooting takes place in one of the many salons of the royal residence. The journalist's name is Martin Bashir, he wears very large glasses. She put on a navy blue blazer and outlined her large, clear eyes with a thick line of black pencil. The projectors diffuse a soft light. Started at 9 p.m., the recording lasts ninety minutes. For Diana, 34, this is the first river interview of her life. And the last. For Martin Bashir, it is “the scoop of the century”.
It is also the culmination of an incredible plot, as an investigation revealed on May 20.
For six months, the British magistrate John Dyson questioned the witnesses and reconstituted, in detail, the events which allowed Martin Bashir, journalist “without scruple”, to “dupe” the Princess of Wales in order to obtain her confessions.
A Machiavellian plan carefully concealed by the BBC for a quarter of a century.
Read also25 years before Meghan, the shock interview with Princess Diana shook the English monarchy
“Give me fifteen minutes. The phone rang at Althorp Manor in Northamptonshire on August 24, 1995. The message, addressed to Earl Charles Spencer, Diana's younger brother, came from a Martin Bashir, a reporter for "Panorama", l BBC investigative show airs every Monday evening. Bashir is not, he says, seeking an interview or information. It is even the opposite. The informant is him! Althorp, the historic home of the Spencer family, saw Diana grow up. This is where his brother welcomes the author of the strange missive. A journalist himself, Charles Spencer has a habit of taking notes, and he keeps everything.
The revelations promised by Martin Bashir come in the form of account statements.
First, those of the former head of security for the princess's brother.
Martin Bashir points out transfer lines.
The man received 4,000 pounds sterling (or about 5,000 euros) from a news outlet, and 6,500 from a company whose name says nothing to his interlocutor.
It is, in fact, announces the journalist to Charles Spencer - livid -, of the British intelligence services.
Money for information.
Lord Spencer has been spied on.
A clandestine meeting
But there is worse, continues his visitor. Other records prove that the Princess of Wales is also betrayed by her relatives. Patrick Jephson, his private secretary and main collaborator, would exchange information with the secret services on behalf of the royal family. It's serious. The journalist left, Charles Spencer makes two phone calls. The first to the editor of the program "Panorama": "This Martin Bashir, can we trust him? The answer is unequivocal: "This is one of my best elements. At 32, he is considered a very eye-catching “junior” reporter. No one can resist him, according to one of his colleagues. He has a knack for making people talk. Charles Spencer's second call will be for his sister.
To convince Lady Di to respond to an interview, the BBC reporter first got in touch with her brother Charles Spencer (left).
Keith Butcher / Shutterst / SIPA
A clandestine meeting takes place on September 19, 1995, in an apartment in the upscale district of Knightsbridge, London.
Lord Spencer, Martin Bashir and His Royal Highness meet there.
The journalist is feverish, it is he who speaks.
The princess remains silent.
For his part, Charles Spencer blackens eight pages of his notepad listening to the 32 allegations made by their informant.
Some are plausible: "Prince Charles hopes that Diana will ask for a divorce", or "his driver monies information from the newspapers".
But there are all the others. “Prince Charles is said to have had an affair with the children's nanny. Pregnant, she had a miscarriage. Or else she had an abortion. When things are going too fast, Lord Spencer just writes the key words: "Diana, correspondence peeled." Telephone tapping. Car tracked down. Danger. There is the one that might make you laugh: "William, the eldest son of Charles and Diana, received a Christmas watch as a gift from his father to save Diana." And the one in bad taste: "Buckingham wants to
the Spencer family." "
The journalist continues, for an hour and a half. Count Spencer has made up his mind. Swindler, nutcase, or both, Bashir is a "dangerous" man. Absolutely to be avoided. He apologizes flatly to his sister. Too late. Princess Diana took a bite of the hook. No one has to know. She invents him a code name, "Doctor Jarman". He is her great secret, her “mole”. In the midst of the revelations with which he feeds him at each of their numerous meetings, he slipped an idea: to carry out an interview. Diana is overwhelmed with requests. Three years after separating from Prince Charles, she is arguably the most photographed, most famous woman in the world, subjected to constant media harassment. She sells. Until obsession. The tabloids want to know everything. Diana is followed, pursued.
Elizabeth II doesn't want to hear about this "nutty" anymore
She is also an isolated woman.
Her sons - William, 13, and Harry, 11 - are in boarding school and she is terrified of being taken away from her care.
“At that time, she became totally paranoid, remembers Marc Roche, journalist specializing in the British monarchy.
The soil is favorable for Martin Bashir, and he understood it well.
The BBC reporter weaves his web.
He scares her.
Listening to him, Diana is surrounded by enemies who want her dead.
And she listens to him.
“Martin Bashir has pressed all the buttons, retains Andrew Morton, author of the only authorized biography of the princess. He made her believe she was in the establishment's sights. " A target. "She was not doing this interview to have fun, as we have been able to say, but to ensure her survival", insists Andrew Morton.
“There were three of us in this marriage, it was a bit much.
»In a perfectly jaded tone, Diana launches her legendary line.
It must be said that she and Martin Bashir have been rehearsing for five weeks.
Charles's infidelity, his own, his bulimia, his post-partum depression, his suicidal thoughts… Diana unwraps everything.
This Monday, November 20, 1995, Prince William watches the show from the living room of his head teacher, in shock.
And with it, 23 million viewers remain stunned.
Last May, the journalist (here, in 2011) resigned his post as head of religious coverage at the BBC.
Mark Allan / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty
No member of the royal family has ever poured out like this. Diana even goes so far as to express doubts about Charles' abilities to be king. For Marc Roche, “an atomic bomb has just exploded in the very heart of the monarchical system”. "Has she gone mad?" The front page of the "Daily Mirror" sums up the amazement of the newspapers.
The press is not kind to Diana but, in the street, it is different. In one night, Prince Charles, the future king, becomes the most hated man in the country. The people sided with one who would like to be called "the queen of hearts". The queen, the real one, does not watch the “Panorama” program, she has let it be known. She just doesn't want to hear from this "nutty" anymore. A courier in uniform will deliver a letter from Elizabeth II to her daughter-in-law, and the same to her son. In short, "divorce"! A final break.
If the princess keeps Kensington Palace, she is deprived of her title of Royal Highness.
“Diana begged the Queen not to take it away from her.
In vain, reports Marc Roche.
She will no longer have any contact with the palace.
"Panorama" and Martin Bashir created a void around her.
Even his staunch private secretary, Patrick Jephson, is resigning.
His brother is devastated.
His sons, upset, are angry with him.
William hated the show, as much as he hated Martin Bashir when he met it.
He said to his mother, “He is not a good person.
So Diana ends up cutting ties with the journalist.
The home of the graphic designer who denounced it being robbed
Matthias Wiessler is not far from sharing the prince's opinion. Graphic designer in the drafting of "Panorama", he suspects Martin Bashir of scheming. Three months before the broadcast of the shock interview, the journalist arrives at his home. He has urgent work to give him. The two men have already collaborated. But, this time, the request is unusual. Bashir asks him to create, from scratch, bank statements. Work must be ready at dawn. This is the first time that the graphic designer has found himself in this situation, with a job to be done that he does not understand, at home, without his professional equipment. But Martin Bashir is a respected man in the editorial staff. In the morning, the mission is accomplished.
Five months after the interview was broadcast, the journalist is questioned in the greatest secrecy, in an office at Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, in London. Tony Hall, the managing editor, awaits his explanation. Martin Bashir was singled out by Matthias Wiessler, who believed the bank papers he made on his orders were used as bait to meet the princess. He therefore expressed his suspicions to "Panorama" officials. "Not at all, there is no connection between your work and Diana," he is assured. The graphic designer could have been content with it, if his home had not been burgled immediately afterwards. Nothing was touched, but two floppy disks are missing. Those that contain bank statements.
Startled, Matthias Wiessler throws the whole story to the “Mail on Sunday” newspaper. Only then, under the threat of a huge scandal, the BBC resolves to summon Martin Bashir. In front of his director, he admits - after having lied three times - to be the one who showed these documents to Charles Spencer. But he denies having wanted to influence him. In addition, the journalist claims to have met Princess Diana "before" his brother. And it was they, he says, who provided him with the bank statements.
Incomprehensible, implausible, indefensible.
And yet, at the end of the interview, Martin Bashir is cleared.
In his report, the editorial director describes him as an "honorable and honest" man.
Instead, he even finds a new culprit: Matthias Wiessler.
Instructions are given to no longer make the graphic designer work.
And if the press asks questions, an official version is ready: Martin Bashir is the victim of a cabal, mounted by jealous colleagues.
The BBC has just buried the case.
What was said that day will be kept a secret for more than two decades.
An almost perfect conspiracy of silence.
The fall of Martin Bashir… and the BBC
Twenty-five years later, in early November 2020, Lord Spencer receives another journalist. Richard Kay, the royal pen of the "Daily Mail", has been invited to Althorp. On the living room table rests an imposing backrest. It contains 37 pages of messages, letters and notes, kept by the count. The "Panorama" case, seen from the Spencer side. The situation is not lacking in irony. He who has always hated the tabloid press, here he is having tea with one of his most famous representatives. And he is even preparing to offer him a resounding scoop. These personal records will be published three days later in the newspaper. In picture, the pages of the 32 tragico-sordid allegations of Martin Bashir. "As devastating as the show itself," notes Richard Kay in his article.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the legendary interview, all eyes are on the BBC.
The channel resolves to commission an independent investigation to shed light on the behavior of Martin Bashir and his hierarchy.
It is the end of a mystification of more than a quarter of a century.
On May 20, after six months of investigation, Judge John Dyson delivered his conclusions.
"What Martin Bashir did was not an impulsive act, a whim," writes the magistrate.
It was meticulously planned.
For John Dyson, the guilt of the journalist is beyond doubt.
He was "devious and dishonest," he said.
Martin Bashir, on May 19, at the time of the publication of the investigation revealing his deceptive methods to obtain the interview of the princess, in 1995. Paul Grover / Shutterstock / SIPA
The same man was named "Journalist of the Year" by the Royal Television Society in 1996. With “Panorama”, Martin Bashir also received a Bafta - the British Oscars - for best talk show. He is then "the one who managed to interview Princess Diana". Thanks to this feat of arms, he crossed the Atlantic to make a career in American television. By proxy, Diana will have allowed him to seduce another superstar. In 2002, Martin Bashir was invited to spend eight months with Michael Jackson, a great admirer of the princess.
His documentary, “Living with Michael Jackson”, caused a huge scandal. Some footage suggests unhealthy relationships between the singer and the children who live with him. Michael Jackson cries out for betrayal and manipulation. To prove it, he offers his version of the shoot, filmed by his personal cameraman. The montage reveals a honeyed and sycophantic Martin Bashir. This will not prevent Michael Jackson from being prosecuted for “sexual assault on minors”. Today, his family is calling for an investigation.
If the reporter continues his rise in the United States, his methods are mocked in Great Britain with a parody, "Lying to Michael Jackson", starring Rowan Atkinson, the famous Mister Bean, and broadcast on the BBC. However, in 2016, the channel re-hired the journalist with pots and pans as a… religious columnist. A few days before the release of the Dyson report, Martin Bashir, suffering from serious heart problems, resigns and offers a half-apology to the royal family.
Since then, other testimonies from celebrities or anonymous have been added to the list of tricks he would have used to satisfy his ambitions.
But its fall is also that of the BBC.
, informed of the journalist's actions, has indeed hushed up the affair", according to the judge.
Forgery, use of forgery, defamation… The police will have to decide whether to launch legal or criminal proceedings against the channel.
Prince William said that the way that the interview was obtained "substantially influenced" what his mother said and that it was responsible for making his parents' relationship worse pic.twitter.com/cSbzhI0iCA
- ITV News (@itvnews) May 20, 2021
On Thursday, May 20, in the evening, shortly after the publication of the report, the BBC broadcast a statement by Prince William.
In a voice full of anger, the Duke of Cambridge, usually discreet and impassive, expresses his "indescribable sadness".
"The failings of the BBC contributed significantly to fueling my mother's fear, loneliness and paranoia during the last years of her life," he accuses.
The family of Princess Diana see this interview as the point of no return in a cycle that ended with her tragic death two years later.
Prince William's speech was recorded on the front porch of his home in Kensington Palace.
Even where his mother had brought in a BBC team twenty-five years earlier.
This time the camera stayed outside.