Why so much ado about an interview given in 1995, by a person who died less than two years later?
For starters, it was no ordinary interview. Whenever Princess Diana spoke, the world took notice—and her sit-down with journalist Martin Bashir that aired on the BBC's Panorama 25 years ago was packed with candid, eye-opening turns of phrase from Prince Charles' estranged wife, and has continued to be described as sensational. Now, the same can be said of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's tell-all. During their two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey, the couple held nothing back while recalling the conversations—and concerns—the royal family had about their son's skin color, the "falsehoods" The Firm continued to perpetuate and why they really stepped away from their titles.
And today, while the world scrutinizes every word Meghan and Harry said, there's still talk about Diana's segment, which approximately 23 million people tuned in to watch on Nov. 20, 1995. In fact, the interview is now under renewed scrutiny with regard to how Bashir got the Princess of Wales to go on camera in the first place.
"The independent investigation is a step in the right direction," Prince William—who historically has had no great love for the media due to their treatment of his mother and, down the road, his future wife, Kate Middleton—said in a statement released by Kensington Palace Nov. 18. "It should help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the Panorama interview and subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time."
The investigation in question is in response to allegations from the late princess' brother, Earl Charles Spencer, that Bashir used forged bank statements purporting to show that a former member of his security team had received money for sharing information about Diana. Moreover, it's alleged that Bashir lied to Spencer about the queen and other senior royals in order to gain his trust and hasten a meeting. (Bashir has not yet personally responded to any of these allegations.)
People close to Diana, meanwhile, have said that she promptly regretted the whole thing—even before it had aired.
"I think the scales fell from her eyes and suddenly what had been rather a subversive or daring scheme—or however they [the BBC] had dressed it up for her—it suddenly in the cold light of day didn't look like such a good idea," Patrick Jephson, her former private secretary, told the Daily Mail in 2016 in response to a Mail on Sunday report that the BBC's head of news at the time had purposely tried to keep Buckingham Palace in the dark about the Diana interview.
Not long after the broadcast, Queen Elizabeth II insisted that Charles and Diana, who had been separated since 1992, start divorce proceedings. Their split was finalized in 1996.
This hadn't been the first time that Diana's candor had made it into the public sphere, Andrew Morton's biography utilizing recordings the princess made for him having been published in 1992. But something—maybe everything—about it rubbed the royals the wrong way. Here are the revelations that made it such an unforgettable hour:
Bashir closed the interview by asking Diana why she agreed to talk to him.
"Because we will have been separated three years this December, and the perception that has been given of me for the last three years has been very confusing, turbulent, and in some areas— I'm sure many—many people doubt me," she explained. "And I want to reassure all those people who have loved me and supported me throughout the last 15 years that I'd never let them down. That is a priority to me, along with my children."
And no, the princess said, she was not just trying to stick it to Charles for what he (or his family) had put her through.
"I don't sit here with resentment," Diana said. "I sit here with sadness because a marriage hasn't worked. I sit here with hope because there's a future ahead, a future for my husband, a future for myself and a future for the monarchy."
This story was originally published on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 at 3 a.m. PT.