The Royal Family & the BBC

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Nearly a year ago now, the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) admitted that the famous 1995 interview that the late Diana, Princess of Wales gave to Panorama correspondent Martin Bashir was the result of falsified documents and lies. A inquiry led by Lord Dyson uncovered – and confirmed – that Bashir fed information to the Spencer family that Diana’s staff was leaking information to the press, her security team was spying on her, her ex-husband was having an affair with their sons’ nanny, and – bizarrely – that The Earl of Wessex was HIV positive.

For those unaware, this interview is famously when Diana openly discussed The Prince of Wales’s infidelity with the now-Duchess of Cornwall, her infidelity, and – most importantly – cast doubt on Charles’s ability or desire to succeed his mother to the throne. Following this interview, the Queen “recommended” that Charles and Diana divorce. In other words, this interview had long-lasting consequences for its players, as well as The Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex.

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We know that Diana believed this information for two concrete reasons: 1) she famously confronted the nanny at a social gathering, which has been widely reported and 2) she did away with her Scotland Yard security following her divorce. There are some who believe that had she kept her public police detail she would never have been in the situation she was in Paris in August 1997. Among those “some” are her sons.

Following the release of the 2021 report, both William and Harry released statements. You can watch William’s here:

Harry’s statement read:

Our mother was an incredible woman who dedicated her life to service. 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. Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these—and even worse—are still widespread today. 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.”

-Prince Harry

So, let’s unpack this is a bit. Before I do, however, it should be stated for the good of the order that what Bashir did was objectively wrong and so, too, was the BBC’s coverup of it for years. William is correct that this report’s findings need to be acknowledged in future discussion of the Panorama interview.

From there, however, I have a few flags I’d like to offer up. My sense from both men’s statements is that they believe this interview wouldn’t have taken place in the absence of Bashir’s lies/falsified documents. I think this interview, even if with a different correspondent or at a slightly different time, would have taken place regardless. Diana had already participated in the Andrew Morton tell-all three years before – her participation in that book (if memory serves) was not yet public in 1995, but she was moving in the direction of speaking out regardless.

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There are conflicting reports as to how Diana felt about the interview after it aired. The general trajectory – and one which I believe is true – is that she was in fact very happy with the interview and was glad she did it. She had regrets once she learned how unhappy it made her sons (William famously wouldn’t take her calls after he watched it from Eton) and had mixed feelings on the extent to which it propelled her divorce, but those are separate emotions from a point of view on the product itself. The product she was pleased with, and no matter what, I think Diana was going to do a sit-down TV interview thanks to the same instincts that so moved her son and daughter-in-law 16 years later.

As such, I’m not in favor of BBC discontinuing access to it. For better or for worse (and we know how William feels, at least), the interview is Diana’s side of the story – her words, her opinions, and her actions. Hiding them is akin to saying she wasn’t in her right mind when she gave the interview, and I don’t believe that either. She knew what she was doing, however misguided she may have been. What’s tragic, of course, is that we have only heard Diana’s story when she was in the midst of a contentious separation. We have no idea what a Diana with the benefit of hindsight and a few more years of experience or wisdom would think.

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Finally, I want to say that William treads the correct line in his statement – the information Diana was fed played into her state of mind and paranoia in the mid-90s. Harry then crosses it in his, stating that it led directly to her death – an allusion, I assume, to her lack of royal protection. That’s too direct a line simply because there’s too many factors at play. The simplest reason for Diana’s death is the least satisfying – the driver of her car that night in Paris was drunk. Everything else is just circumstantial.

Six months after the release of Lord Dyson’s report, the BBC ran a two-part documentary called “The Princes and the Press” that covers William and Harry’s relationship with the media. It covers their exposure to the press via their mother in the 90s, and how they’ve managed it as adults both directly and in relation to their wives, Kate and Meghan. Within the documentary was also discussion of how the Royal Family (via their staffs) brief reporters, as well as claims that sometimes members of the family brief “against” one another. For example, leaking a negative story or offering up a negative quote anonymously. Coming out in November 2021, this was just eight months after the Oprah interview where Meghan made considerable accusations about how Kensington Palace staff didn’t protect her – or protected Kate at her expense.

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The Palace did *not* take kindly to this documentary and refused to participate, releasing only a strongly worded statement:

“A free, responsible and open press is of vital importance to a healthy democracy. However, too often it is overblown and unfounded claims from unnamed sources that are presented as facts and it is disappointing when anyone, including the BBC, gives them credibility.”

-Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Kensington Palace

This statement sounds more like the brainchild of Charles and William than the Queen, so I’d put a little more emphasis on the CH and KP of it all.

We’ll dig into the documentary in an upcoming post, but I wanted to set the stage a bit with where the Royal Family was with the BBC at the time of the episodes’ release. Context is always, always key with all things Windsor.

In the meantime, this article from Vanity Fair (which is in fact an excerpt from an upcoming book from Tina Brown) provides a really good rundown on how Diana’s relationship with the media impacted her sons. The book is due to be released later this month and I will *definitely* be covering.

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