Episode 8 of The Crown‘s fifth season is titled “Gunpowder,” and, appropriately, features one of the most explosive moments in the relationship between Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales. The episode ends with Diana’s infamous tell-all interview with Martin Bashir, which first aired on the BBC’s Panorama program on Nov. 20, 1995.
In the interview, filmed in her sitting room at Kensington Palace, Diana got extremely candid about her struggles with mental health, her troubled marriage and the pressures of the royal family. She publicly admitted to her own extramarital affair with former army officer James Hewitt, and addressed Charles relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, famously saying, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
When it came to her personal struggles, Diana admitted to self-harm and openly discussed her bulimia. “It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage,” she shared. “I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: They decided that was the problem… It gave everybody a wonderful new label: Diana’s unstable and Diana’s mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately, that seems to have stuck.”
However, perhaps the most controversial thing Diana said during the sit-down — and the thing that did the most to fracture her relationship with the royal family and push Queen Elizabeth II to call for her and Charles to finalize their divorce — was admit her doubts about Charles’ ability to be king one day.
“There was always conflict on that subject with him when we discussed it,” she said of her estranged husband. “Being king would be a little bit more suffocating. And because I know the character, I would think that the top job, as I call it, would bring enormous limitations to him, and I don’t know whether he could adapt to that.”
However, the truth about the interview came out in 2021, 25 years after the groundbreaking television special, and a mere five days after Bashir resigned his post at the BBC due to poor health. Retired British judge Lord John Dyson led an investigation into how Bashir and the BBC came to land the interview, confirming that Bashir had used forged bank documents regarding an employee of her brother, Charles, Earl Spencer, and lies about the royal family in order to secure Diana’s trust and convince her to agree to the interview. The investigation also concluded that Bashir lied to the BBC about his methods during an initial investigation a few months after the interview.
In a statement following the conclusion of the investigation, BBC director-general Tim Davie said that while Diana had been interested in the interview in some capacity, the broadcaster had failed to be transparent in its processes.
“While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way,” he said. “While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology.”
The interview caused a major rift between Diana and her eldest son, Prince William, at the time that it aired, and William also made a statement following the conclusion of the investigation into the BBC’s methods in May 2021.
“It is my view that the deceitful way the interview was obtained substantially influenced what my mother said. The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others,” he said in part. “It is my firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again. It effectively established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialised by the BBC and others.”
The now-Prince of Wales also accused the BBC of “covering up” its failures during the initial investigation and causing his mother more anguish in the final years of her life.
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her,” William continued. “But what saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived. She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions.”
Prince Harry also made a statement at the time, saying in part, “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life… 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.”
The Crown season 5 is streaming now on Netflix.
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