Twenty-five years ago, Princess Diana made waves in a revealing interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir in which she noted that “there were three of us” in her marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales. The remarkable sit-down sent shockwaves through the royal family at the time.
That interview is now back in focus as the BBC announced this week that it would conduct an investigation into circumstances around how it was arranged and what, if any, was the network’s role in a possible breach of journalistic ethics.
William, Duke of Cambridge, who is notoriously media-shy when it comes to his late mother, said Thursday that he “tentatively welcomed” the BBC probe, adding in a statement, “The independent investigation is a step in the right direction.”
Diana, who died after a car crash in Paris in 1997, was spectacularly frank in the chat for “Panorama,” now the longest-running current-affairs show in the world.
But an ITV documentary that ran earlier this month featured a graphic designer who said he prepared fake documents that would make it look as if someone was paying for surveillance of the princess, who was separated from Prince Charles at the time.
Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, said Bashir showed him those fake documents, prompting him to introduce the journalist to the princess. Spencer wants an apology, according to ITV.
But 25 years is a long time, and many fans of shows like Netflix’s current hit “The Crown” may not be familiar with what made that interview such a landmark. It happened before the internet, at a time when newspapers, TV news and tell-all books held much more sway than they do today. And Princess Diana was perhaps the most famous woman on the planet, then still part of the privacy-obsessed royal family.
Diana told Bashir that she was aware that her husband had renewed his relationship with longtime love Parker-Bowles in 1986 but “wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.” She said it was “pretty devastating” to be married to a man who was in love with someone else.
Charles had already admitted the affair in a 1994 TV documentary after an embarrassing recording of a conversation with his lover went public early the year before. Camilla, who had divorced Andrew Parker-Bowles about eight months before Diana’s interview, wed the prince in civil ceremony in 2005, well after the princess’ 1997 death. But hearing about it so bluntly, straight from the princess, was startling.
“There were three of us in this marriage,” Diana famously told Bashir, “so it was a bit crowded.”
“Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him,” Diana told Bashir when he asked if she had cheated on Charles with James Hewitt, who had been a member of the royals’ Household Cavalry and was enlisted to give the princess riding lessons. The two were involved for years, breaking off in 1991. But the princess was very let down when Hewitt participated in Anna Pasternak’s tell-all book, “Princess in Love,” which came out in October 1994.
“He was a great friend of mine at a very difficult, yet another difficult time, and he was always there to support me. And I was absolutely devastated when this book appeared, because I trusted him, and because, again, I worried about the reaction on my children,” Diana said.
“And, yes, there was factual evidence in the book, but a lot of it was, comes from another world, didn’t equate to what happened. ... there was a lot of fantasy in that book, and it was very distressing for me that a friend of mine, who I had trusted, made money out of me. I really minded about that.”
“The pressure on us both as a couple with the media was phenomenal, and misunderstood by a great many people,” she said. In particular, the media and fan attention showered on her was problematic because it stirred “a lot of jealousy” on Charles’ part.
Diana spoke about her six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand with Charles, where “all you could hear was, oh, she’s on the other side” — meaning Charles was easier to access, but not who they wanted close up.
“Now, if you’re a man, like my husband a proud man, you mind about that if you hear it every day for four weeks. And you feel low about it, instead of feeling happy and sharing it,” she said.
The preference made Diana uncomfortable, she said, because she “wanted to share.”
“Diana: Her True Story” — published by biographer Morton in May 1992 — was one of the things that made ’92 Queen Elizabeth II’s “annus horribilus,” or “horrible year.” In the Bashir interview, Diana admitted she’d given her close friends the OK to talk to the writer.
“I was at the end of my tether. I was desperate,” she explained. “I think I was so fed up with being seen as someone who was a basket case, because I am a very strong person and I know that causes complications in the system that I live in.”
The book brought “what had been hidden — or rather what we thought had been hidden” — out in the open, Diana said, leaving the royal family “shocked and horrified and very disappointed.”
After Diana’s death, when he published an updated edition of the book titled “Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words,” Morton would reveal the existence of hours of taped conversations with the princess, which refuted her insistence to Bashir in 1995 that she had never met the biographer.
“I had bulimia for a number of years. And that’s like a secret disease,” Diana told Bashir. “You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable. You fill your stomach up four or five times a day — some do it more — and it gives you a feeling of comfort.
“It’s like having a pair of arms around you, but it’s temporarily, temporary,” she continued. “Then you’re disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again. And it’s a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself.”
Diana’s bulimia, which is prominently dramatized in Season 4 of “The Crown,” wasn’t the extent of her self-destructive ways while she was with Prince Charles. She also admitted she’d “hurt [her] arms and [her] legs,” a reference to her several suicide attempts.
“When no one listens to you, or you feel no one’s listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen,” she said. “For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it’s the wrong help you’re asking for.”
Separately, Diana revealed she had struggled with post-partum depression after William’s birth. “It gave everybody [in the royal family] a wonderful new label — Diana’s unstable and Diana’s mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately that seems to have stuck.”
What Diana wanted for her boys was a departure from the royal family’s traditionally buttoned-up approach to feelings.
“I want them to have an understanding of people’s emotions, people’s insecurities, people’s distress, and people’s hopes and dreams,” the princess said. At that point she’d already taken them to “homelessness projects” and to visit people living with AIDS, which was still a death sentence at the time.
“I’ve taken the children to all sorts of areas where I’m not sure anyone of that age in this family has been before,” she said. “And they have a knowledge — they may never use it, but the seed is there, and I hope it will grow because knowledge is power.”
Simply sitting for the interview without Royal Communications or the royal family giving their approval was a no-no. Diana and Bashir conducted the interview in secret at Kensington Palace following an introduction by her brother, Earl Spencer.
William, who was 13 when the interview aired, was particularly upset to find out only after the piece had been recorded.
“William was absolutely livid,” Diana’s close friend Simone Simmons told Vanity Fair earlier this month. “Of course it was in all the papers and William told me he was teased at school because of it. He felt really bad for his mum because of what she had gone through, but he was furious with her. People at school were calling her all sorts of names.
“The weekend after it went out they had a big row at Kensington Palace. William was furious and Diana was distraught. I was there the day after she spoke to him and Diana was in a terrible state.”