We’ve talked so much about Princess Diana’s Panorama interview lately because the BBC has promised to bury the interview entirely and never air it again. The BBC decided to do that about a year following the completion of the Dyson investigation, which found that Martin Bashir used “significant deceit” to convince Diana to speak on-camera with him. Prince William’s argument, since the Dyson investigation, is that Bashir and the BBC manipulated a fragile, paranoid, unwell woman (his mother) and somehow everything Diana said in the interview is fruit of the poisonous tree. Meaning, William has argued that the interview needs to be buried. Significantly, Prince Charles has always wanted Diana’s narrative deleted from history too, so William and Charles are united in this. The people who actually helped Diana tell her story find this whole thing puzzling, and Andrew Morton recently had strong words about William’s desire to posthumously muzzle Diana. All of which brings me to Omid Scobie’s Yahoo UK column this week. Some highlights:
Diana’s story: She is one of the most written-about women in history, but Princess Diana rarely got the chance to tell her own story. No matter how damaging the tabloid lies or hideous the harassment, the Princess of Wales was always advised by those within the family and institution of the monarchy that dignified silence and a stiff upper lip was best for everyone. It contributed to a tortured existence for Diana – one she only built up the courage to speak about towards the end of her life behind palace walls.
The Panorama interview: Three years later – and as it became clear that the marriage was virtually finished – Diana chose to speak out herself, finally opening up to BBC’s Panorama. It was raw, real and the most watched interview of all time in UK history. Diana’s decision to do a televised sit-down was rooted in a deep desire to be heard and finally dispel many of the false narratives told in the press. But despite requests from the likes of Oprah, it was TV presenter Martin Bashir who landed the exclusive.
The BBC buried the interview: Last week it was announced that, after demands from the Duke of Cambridge – and paying damages to a number of affected individuals including William and Harry’s childhood nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke – the BBC will never again air the interview or license footage from it. The network’s punishment was necessary and deserved. But given Diana personally wrote to Bashir after the broadcast to say she had “no regrets”, it’s puzzling why anyone would think it’s appropriate to remove one of the few first-person accounts of her life from the public domain.
William’s incandescence: Most surprising is the role her own son has played in the [BBC’s] decision. While Harry has called out the “culture of exploitation and unethical practices” that his mother fell victim to, it was William who took it a step further and claimed the interview now has “no legitimacy” and “established a false narrative” about Diana’s life. It’s a bold statement, and one I don’t agree with given that the majority of Diana’s Panorama revelations were already in Morton’s book years earlier. But our differences in opinion are exactly why it’s important for the public to have access to such a historically important interview.
Diana, rewritten: Without being able to hear Diana’s own words again, I fear we may be about to enter what could potentially lead to the slow rewriting of her life. After all, with stories of her suffering at the hands of the Royal Family and why she felt Charles was unfit to become the king, there are many aspects of this interview that the institution would love to be forgotten. Unlicensed snippets will continue to have life online (until they are no doubt deleted for copyright infringement) but the full feature, in all its context, now only exists within the dusty archives of a BBC vault.
The Firm hasn’t changed: It’s been 25 years since Diana’s death, and although the world is a vastly different place, ‘The Firm’ is largely not. Just last year we heard echoes of Diana’s own painful experiences in some of the stories shared by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they opened up to Oprah….Diana fought for much of her royal life to share her side of the story and be better understood. She put everything on the line, and her braveness has inspired millions around the world. Sadly now, her voice has been silenced once again.
“I fear we may be about to enter what could potentially lead to the slow rewriting of her life…” Honestly though, we’ve already been there for years. The royal establishment has been rewriting Diana and tangling and misusing her narrative for years, if not decades. I remember all of those old-guard royalists invoking Diana’s name and memory when Prince Harry got his wife and child the hell out of that dusty place. They cried that Diana would be “so disappointed” in Harry and Diana “always wanted Harry to look out for William,” and Harry was supposed to be William’s doormat, “just like Diana wanted.” They’ve turned the iconoclastic Diana into a traditionalist and cautionary fairytale. Recently, when the Duchess of Cornwall made a huge deal about her 75th birthday, it was like Diana was being utterly and completely written OUT of every royal narrative too.
Anyway, yeah, Scobie is right – it’s shameful that William has thrown around his weight and demanded that the Panorama interview be shelved forever. It says something very profound about how he sees his own mother’s life and how he refuses to acknowledge her fight to survive.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instar.