Her voice continues to reverberate over the years. Even now, the phrases she uttered that night are unforgettable: "There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded," "A queen of people's hearts," and this third-person warning, "She will don't go quietly & # 39 ;.
Princess Diana's 60 minutes on Panorama remains the most hypnotic and fascinating interview ever seen on British television. With the 25th anniversary coming up next month, the fascination for this most remarkable piece of TV history is unbroken.
Three major documentaries were commissioned to mark the milestone: Channel 5 was the first out of the blocks last weekend, Channel 4 will air its programming next week, and there is also a retrospective of ITV.
Even now, a quarter of a century in retrospect, the words "Diana" and "Panorama" make courtiers shudder. The spotlight that the program shone on both the monarchy and its individuals was forensic and shocking.
Princess Diana's 60 minutes on Panorama remains the most hypnotic and fascinating interview ever seen on British television. With the 25th anniversary coming up next month, the fascination for this most remarkable piece of TV history is unbroken
Nobody and nothing was forbidden; Diana didn't even spare her own reputation. In an exciting exchange with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, she admitted that she had been unfaithful to Army officer James Hewitt.
"Yes, I adored him," she said. "Yes, I was in love with him."
For Prince Charles, the exam was hugely exciting as his estranged but not yet divorced wife questioned his eligibility to be king, while she publicly put Camilla Parker Bowles at the center of their attention as the reason their marriage collapsed.
Since the night of the show on November 20, 1995, when Diana spoke in that soft, well-modulated voice, the content and consequences of the film have been discussed endlessly.
The credits for Panorama's blockbuster had barely stopped rolling when Newsnight put together a panel on BBC2 to tell us what it all meant.
Nobody and nothing was forbidden; Diana didn't even spare her own reputation. In an exciting exchange with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, she admitted that she had been unfaithful to Army officer James Hewitt. "Yes, I adored him," she said. "Yes, I was in love with him"
Charles' old friend Nicholas Soames could hardly hold back his disdain for an interview he described as "terribly awful", suggesting that the princess was in "advanced stages of paranoia," an observation he later made John Major was rebuked by the then Prime Minister.
With typical generosity, Newsnight declined to speak of Diana's sensational admission of adultery. The consequences were quick and ruthless. Within a month, the Prince and Princess of Wales were ordered for divorce by the Queen and the BBC was stripped of its cozy exclusive arrangement as the palace's preferred broadcaster in order to keep the programming a secret.
With the harrowing break between Prince Harry and the royal family over his and Meghan's exile in Los Angeles, the lessons of Diana's interview seem as relevant today as they were two and a half decades ago.
The speculation about the program – why Diana did it and what she wanted to achieve with it – continues to be exciting. As reported in the Channel 5 documentation, many aspects of the operation are still puzzling.
With typical generosity, Newsnight declined to speak of Diana's sensational admission of adultery. The consequences were quick and ruthless. Within a month, the Prince and Princess of Wales were ordered by the Queen to divorce and the BBC was stripped of its cozy exclusive arrangement as the palace's preferred broadcaster in order to keep the programming a secret
The most intriguing question is: what happened to all that footage that the Panorama team captured and never used? The crew was locked up with her in Kensington Palace for many hours. Were disapproving remarks made by Diana on other members of the royal family – possibly, as was suspected, by the Queen Mother – left on the cutting room floor?
Some numbers associated with the program suggest that 20 minutes of the interview has gone. If so, what happened to the master tape and where is it now? The extraordinary secrecy in the creation of the documentary naturally contributed to its legend.
But its power to fascinate us still resides in the woman who was the focus. No public figure in living memory has fascinated the nation like Princess Diana.
Her decision to hide her collaboration with Bashir and his team met with almost universal criticism. She has been accused of being fraudulent and devious.
It was an amazingly well-kept secret, and all the more incredible considering that Diana was a woman who loved gossip. This has been the paradox at the heart of the whole story.
She didn't tell anyone, not her family, not her friends, not her co-workers. As someone who knew her well then and saw and spoke to her often in the weeks leading up to the show, I understood her thinking. Had she confided in what she was up to, both she and the BBC would have been under unbearable pressure.
"It would have either been pulled completely or turned into something completely different," she told me. "You just wouldn't have let it."
On the evening of filming – November 5th, Bonfire Night – Apartments 8 and 9 in Kensington Palace, Diana's home, were free from domestic servants. Only the princess was there to open the front door for Martin Bashir and his two colleagues, a cameraman and a sound producer.
The engineers had already visited the palace and, under the guise of installing a new hi-fi system for the princess, identified the optimal location for the interview and the necessary technical equipment such as lighting.
Considered an unjustified woman after the explosive Andrew Morton biography which exposed the misery of royal marriage, Diana always had more support than her husband. But the establishment positioned itself behind Charles as heir to the throne. Mud throwing was the order of the day and some of it was downright scary
A few weeks later, when I was at the palace, evidence of the interview remained in the form of a forgotten camera tripod. Diana had made a feature of it, placed it in the window overlooking the courtyard of her neighbor Princess Michael of Kent and draped a black wig over it. Until then, of course, she was happy to talk about the cloak-and-dagger nature of the shoot. But history went back many weeks.
What went through the mind of the separated but still married Princess of Wales in the late summer of 1995? It had been three years since John Major rose in Parliament to solemnly announce that the heir to the throne and his wife were to part ways. The shock wasn't so much that they should part, but rather that, according to the Major, there would be no obstacle for Diana to be crowned Queen at Charles' side in due course.
Events over the next few years followed a pattern as both the prince and princess battled for public approval. Considered an unjustified woman after the explosive Andrew Morton biography which exposed the misery of royal marriage, Diana always had more support than her husband.
But the establishment positioned itself behind Charles as heir to the throne. Mud throwing was the order of the day and some of it was downright scary.
In particular, the leakage of two illegally recorded tapes: Squidgygate, in which Diana could be heard talking to her friend James Gilbey, and another of Charles and Camilla in a deep and intimate conversation. Both bands were very damaging to the royal couple.
As the wear and tear between the two increased, the so-called Waleses' War reached an epic point when the prince agreed to interview Jonathan Dimbleby in the summer of 1994.
Allegedly to mark the accomplishments of his Prince & # 39; s Trust charity, it became infamous for the moment he admitted his infidelity with Camilla. Suddenly a chasm opened up in support of the couple. Charles' admission seemed to confirm Diana's claim that he had betrayed his marriage vows to Camilla and the public overwhelmingly supported the princess.
But when reports of Diana's apparently obsessive relationship with art dealer Oliver Hoare, a married man, surfaced and claims that she had bombarded his wife with silent phone calls – something she insisted on in an interview with me that she hadn't – changed perceptions yourself again. Then, in the summer of 1995, more headlines surfaced about Diana's alleged inappropriate behavior. This time it was alleged that she had formed an extremely close friendship with the then married English rugby captain Will Carling.
Diana often told me at the time that she felt she was being followed and made notes of her movements. She changed her phone number frequently, had her home searched for eavesdropping devices, and asked me to do the same at my home. She believed our conversations had been overheard by eavesdroppers and our meetings spied on.
I had every reason to believe that she and a security specialist who once worked for Scotland Yard checked my house and office.
Enter Martin Bashir, a young reporter with a panorama. The opportunity to speak directly to the country was more than tempting for the princess. Still, she was careful and it took her some time to be convinced.
To date, the BBC man – now his religious affairs correspondent – has hesitated to shed much light on how he got into Diana's life. And why should he? His was one of the great journalists of all time.
He wanted to make a program on the constitutional position of the monarchy and the effects of royal separation. Coincidentally, another person in the company, Nicholas Witchell, was investigating a possible film about the future of the monarchy, and he had also made approaches for Diana.
Bashir first contacted Diana's brother Earl Spencer, who had found himself in a media storm in his private life and was alarmed by the number of leaks about intimate family details that had appeared in the tabloids. According to Diana's friend Simone Simmons, who was at Kensington Palace on the day the Princess first met Bashir, the original plan was to make a film about charity work.
Simone says, "She wanted to disclose the sums of money that went to the people who ran the charities, rather than being spent on the work they were set up to do."
The glasses-fitted and serious reporter and the princess hit it off. Diana was excited. I remember one day in early September 1995 she called me to say she had some big plans – but didn't say what.
It was around this time that she was constantly being asked to conduct television interviews. The now defunct London network LWT had made an offer, and Barbara Walters, the veteran American presenter, was keen to see Diana appear on her show 20/20 on the ABC network.
It was too late. Diana was now deeply involved in her collaboration with the BBC and definitely wanted to be patriotic. Some knew of their plans; For example, her royal sister-in-law Fergie knew a few details.
In the final film, there is little or nothing about their charity work and nothing at all about other high-ranking members of the royal family except for Charles. Could there have been remarks about the Queen Mother as suggested? Well why not The princess had announced her views on the royal matriarch on this infamous squidgy tape. She spoke of the strange looks she had received from the Queen Mother: "It's not hate, it's a kind of pity and interest that are mixed into one."
Meanwhile, the project has been surrounded by secrecy. Bashir insisted that if she let it out of her pocket, the whole thing would be canceled. It was also kept under lock and key with the BBC. The shooting lasted late into the night. How many takes were involved is unknown and the BBC never said. Industry experts suggest that the princess's polished performance and accomplished responses must have required multiple iterations.
According to Steve Hewlett, Panorama editor, the princess was not asked the questions in advance, nor was she shown the interview before it was shown. When asked why there weren't any questions about Will Carling, who'd made so much of the headlines, Hewlett insisted it was his decision. Hewitt, Gilbey and Hoare were all represented. I said enough friends, Ed. . . & # 39; & # 39; Hewlett later revealed.
For her part, Diana told everyone from the Queen's private secretary Sir Robert Fellowes to her own collaborators and friends that they would be perfectly familiar with the contents. She said to me, "There is no need to worry, you will know everything in it."
Many said it was revenge for Charles' Dimbleby program. For my part, I'm not so sure. She really wanted to know how she was feeling, and the only way to do it was by going over the palace head, her advisors, and the media.
She wanted people to hear her own words and voice. It wasn't about treason, she told me, or about settling points. "I am not a victim." But she said one thing above all. She used the phrase: "There is no better way to dismantle a personality than to isolate it."
She claimed this was what happened to her, why she had no privacy, and why she felt so vulnerable. I believed then and now that this was a grain of truth.
Thunderclouds gathered elsewhere. Geoff Crawford, Diana's staunch press secretary from Australia, announced his resignation despite staying in office for her upcoming trip to Argentina. Others should follow him out the door. And close friends she hadn't told were appalled by what she'd done for fear of the harm it could do to their sons William and Harry
Diana made a contract with Panorama that she would inform the palace before the news became known. It was a week before the show and the courtiers were horrified. "We have no idea what it is," an aide told me before adding sardonically, "We assume that means everything."
According to a text by Diana, the BBC published the announcement the following day. It was a spicy date: Prince Charles 47th birthday. He was abroad on a tour through Germany and Latvia.
With their ball in the can and after drinking the princess's champagne, Bashir and his two colleagues had left Kensington and gone to a hotel in Eastbourne, East Sussex, where an editorial suite had been set up.
Hewlett justified the choice of a location outside the BBC headquarters by telling his colleagues that he was working on a highly sensitive film about police corruption.
According to him, the finished film was 65 minutes long. After screening for high profile figures, including then General Manager John Birt, an executive said of Prince Charles, "Well, he'll never marry Camilla now."
No more than eight people were involved in the mystery, and Birt made the highly controversial decision not to tell his boss and BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey. Crucially, Dukey, as he was called, was married to the Queen's waiting and close friend, Lady Susan Hussey. This decision subsequently had profound effects.
Birt also made some suggestions on how William and Harry might respond to some of their mother's words. This may have been when editing began.
In the finished film, there is little or nothing about their charity work and nothing at all about other high-ranking members of the royal family except Charles.
Could there have been remarks about the Queen Mother as suggested? Well why not The princess had announced her views on the royal matriarch on this infamous squidgy tape. She spoke of the strange looks she had received from the Queen Mother: "It's not hate, it's a kind of pity and interest in one."
Friends of the princess later became concerned about the whereabouts of what they believed was untransferred material from the interview.
Some told me Diana kept a tape of it herself and kept it in a hatbox in her dressing room in case she ever needed it as ammunition in the future.
A few months after Panorama, stories surfaced that Bashir had produced forged documents suggesting that an Earl Spencer employee received money for information about the Earl that Bashir had shown him.
In private moments Diana later told me that she had regretted elements of the interview: questioning Charles' aptitude as king and, in particular, confessing her affair with the copper-haired cavalry officer James Hewitt (above), writes Richard Kay
The BBC began an investigation amid newspaper reports suggesting the Princess may have been forced to collaborate with the program. They approached Diana. She wrote and signed a letter in which Bashir had never shown her any documents.
As someone who knew her well, I believe that nothing – and certainly no coercion – could persuade her to do it if she didn't want to. The fact is that her mind was on it.
If anything, the program has anchored views among those who loved or loathed Diana. "Jeanne d'Arc had it easier than me," Diana quipped at me as we had a coffee some time later.
But it wasn't just fans or enemies who adjusted to Panorama this Monday evening. An incredible 23 million people watched and the majority joined the princess. Polls after polls indicated tremendous public support for them.
Letters poured into Kensington Palace. She read one to me. It was from former French President Valéry Giscard d & # 39; Estaing. It ended in praise and flattering: "You are the most intelligent woman in the British Isles."
But storm clouds were gathering elsewhere. Geoff Crawford, Diana's staunch press secretary from Australia, announced his resignation despite staying in office for her upcoming trip to Argentina. Others should follow him out the door. And close friends she hadn't told were appalled by what she'd done for fear of the harm it could do to their sons William and Harry.
She was in Buenos Aires within 48 hours of the broadcast, but she was not herself. She ate her meals alone in her room at the British Ambassador's residence.
"She asked for a phone line to be installed and spent most of her private time on the phone," a message source told me.
The big question, as true now as it was then, was did she regret it? Diana was stubborn, but she wasn't stupid.
She found that her words had revealed certain truths about things that had previously been kept under lock and key, provoking all kinds of attacks from which she had previously been protected. It also fueled the hostility of those critics in Charles' circle who believed it was not only dangerous but also unbalanced.
Diana scoffed at such a conversation, but in private moments she later told me that she had regretted elements of the interview: questioning Charles' aptitude as king and, in particular, confessing her affair with the copper-haired cavalry officer James Hewitt.
She believed it was a strategic mistake because the public already believed she was having an affair with Hewitt anyway. What really hurt was that it upset the then 13-year-old Prince William.
Diana herself did not see the program live. She was at a gala dinner at St. James & # 39; s in central London and was seated at a table with Suzy Menkes, then the doyenne of fashion writers. "Aren't you afraid of what you did today?" Mrs. Menkes asked.
Diana replied, "If you are telling the truth in life, you should never be afraid."
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