‘No man is an island, entire of itself” John Donne
I have long vowed to have those words tatooed on my wrist – and one day, I will. Everything one does affects someone else. It is a sentiment I live by – and have instilled in my children. If only more people in this world would do the same …
Ego. Greed. Like so many, Martin Bashir was driven by both. However, in his selfish quest to make a name for himself by scooping the most sought-after interview ever, ultimately, he played an integral part in the death of Princess Diana. At 36, the mother of two young sons who were her life, she died believing there was not one person she could trust. In his bid to secure an interview, Martin Bashir had successfully deceived this vulnerable young woman by feeding her paranoia following her separation from Prince Charles. Cut adrift, his cruel – nay, evil mind recognised an opportunity for ‘glory’ and he took it, regardless, using depths of deception which have only, now, come to light. What kind of low life claims – to a mother – that her eldest son is spying on her courtesy of a bugging device fitted to a new Swatch watch given to him by his father?! His plan was to isolate her; to dismantle every support while, at the same time, coaxing her trust. By the time she conceded to the interview, she was virtually alone. The weasel of a man got what he wanted, thus setting in motion a string of events which culminated in that tunnel in Paris on 31st August, 1997. Or did they? There were far more ‘dominoes’ to fell in those whose lives were changed forever, first and foremost, her two young sons. That man was the catalyst.
How does someone live with that guilt? Well, first of all, he resigned, last Friday (14th May) from his post as the BBC’s Editor of Religion. I repeat, Editor of Religion! The irony is monumental. Of course, he resigned on health grounds because that’s what cowards do. No taking responsibility for their actions, instead, they cower and hide. What a man! Was it all worth it? Yes, the name Martin Bashir shall never be forgotten albeit covered in dirt!
I feel I should have written an essay plan; something to direct my train of thought but … I never have and I suppose I never will. Apologies to Betsy! Did she know? Perhaps I was too good at covering up. No, not appropriate just now … It is difficult to align my thoughts on this subject, however. Saturday now, as I write, I spent some time, yesterday, watching the Panorama programme aired on Thursday evening: Princess Diana, Martin Bashir and the BBC. (I have just googled this to confirm the title of the aforementioned only to find, at the bottom of the page, nothing but links to Martin Bashir’s original interview with Princess Diana. Disgusted!) I made notes. I found it shocking viewing; shocking not only in the scale of corruption but perhaps, more so, in the willingness of those in positions of power to turn a blind eye. Once again, the words of John Donne ring in my ears …
For anyone who didn’t watch it or who has, perhaps, spent the last few days potholing, permit me to ‘summarize’. In brief, Martin Bashir approached Earl Spencer – Diana’s brother, Charles – by letter in the late summer of 1995, stating that he had information he would like to share with him. That information pertained to the Earl being spied on. He, thus, secured a meeting at Althorp House – ironically, on the 31st August, 1995 – where he presented Earl Spencer with forged bank statements detailing payments to his former Head of Security from Rupert Murdoch’s News International plus a company which Bashir claimed was a front for the Intelligence Services. These payments were for information rendered.
In view of these astonishing claims, Earl Spencer immediately telephoned Bashir’s Executive Producer seeking confirmation of his integrity. He was told that he ‘fully vouched’ for Bashir and that the Earl could believe everything he said, even going so far as to state, ‘He’s one of my best!’.
Assured the Panorama reporter could be trusted – and with the promise of more information – Earl Spencer agreed to another meeting where Bashir produced further forged bank statements as evidence that the closest advisers to both Diana and Prince Charles were, also, secretly being paid to spy on her. One step closer to Diana. Of course, her brother, now, telephoned her believing that information of such magnitude should not be withheld. The note he received from her, following that conversation, he still has and, in it, she writes that ‘it all makes sense’. Diana was already vulnerable and aware that things she was saying in private to close friends, close family, advisers were finding their way into the press. This merely fed into her anxiety.
Brief? Not a chance! Bear with … So it was that Bashir got his meeting with Princess Diana. Earl Spencer arranged that he and his sister meet the reporter at a friend’s flat in Knightsbridge. The reporter came prepared to play on Diana’s every anxiety claiming that journalists, the Intelligence Services, courtiers were all conspiring against her; even her most senior adviser, her Private Secretary, Commander Patrick Jephson. In the notes which he made, beside Patrick Jephson’s name, Earl Spencer has written the word ‘dangerous’ alongside details of money being left in an offshore account in 1994. Vehemently denied by Jephson, he, nonetheless, understands Bashir’s motive: in undermining her trust in her Private Secretary, Diana was rendered totally vulnerable and open to any stories Bashir wished to fabricate … despite the fact that her brother, now, warned her that things didn’t add up and believed she accepted the same.
Do I need a Part II?! It is complicated but the aforementioned incorporates the key, pre-meditated deception, paramount in the chain of events which followed. A chain of events which could – nay, should have been curtailed by those in power at the BBC had they not had their eye on the greater prize.
Matt Wiessler was the Graphic Designer instructed to make the forged bank statements except, at first, he believed them to be replicas of real documents; that is until, after the interview aired, when he worried that he had been duped. He confided in Harry Dean, Panorama’s Deputy Editor, who, in turn phoned his boss, Editor, Steve Hewlett – he, who had personally vouched for Bashir to Earl Spencer! Hewlett’s response was heated as he told Dean, in colourful language, it was none of his business. Still anxious, Wiessler now went to Tim Gardam, Head of Current Affairs, who had no choice but to question the BBC’s new star reporter. Bashir managed to slip through the noose with more lies citing Diana as his source of information – impossible as the forged statements were forged three weeks before he even met her in September 1995. Gardam, however, wanted proof that Diana had not been shown the documents. Bashir was ahead of the game and had Diana exonerate him, herself, in a handwritten note. Game over. Or it would have been had it not been for a tip-off to the Mail On Sunday in March 1996 which led to Nick Fielding, Chief Investigative Reporter, tracking down Matt Wiessler.
The lies, the mistakes just keep on coming! I know this is long but it is almost impossible to summarise without undermining the corruption involved … Suffice to say, a story was prepared of which the BBC learned and, thus, questioned once more, Bashir repeatedly denied that he had shown the false documents to anyone, specifically Earl Spencer. However, under mounting pressure, Gardam, finally, received an admission of guilt from his star reporter. An investigation was, now, unavoidable but Tim Gardam was about to leave the BBC and so passed the matter on to his boss, Tony Hall, then Managing Director of BBC News, who questioned Bashir but sought no corroboration for his lies. Amongst the claims were those that he’d actually spoken to some of Diana’s closest friends and that Earl Spencer, himself, had been the source of some of the information! Hall never bothered to check. Meanwhile, Diana’s brother was unaware of any investigation and he didn’t contact the BBC, he says, for fear of undermining his sister.
Before pushing the button and publishing their story in April 1996, the MailOnline decided to check with the BBC as to whether the fake documents had been shown to Earl Spencer – although, why they didn’t go straight to him, themselves, I don’t know? So many slip ups. Anyway, the response was negative and there followed a statement issued by the BBC Press Office, sanctioned by Tony Hall: ‘The draft graphic reconstructions were never, in any way, connected to the Panorama on Princess Diana.’ Blatant lies! Martin Bashir had already admitted to Hall that he had shown the forgeries to Earl Spencer.
The story was never published but, as Nick Fielding says in the programme, had he known that this was a lie, the outcome would have been very different. As it was, the BBC fed the newspapers stories of smears by colleagues of Bashir, jealous of his scoop and there was no further mention of the fraud. The internal BBC memo of this time, now uncovered, is suitably sinister – and callous: ‘The Diana story is probably now dead, unless Spencer talks … ‘.
The internal document marking the closure of Tony Hall’s inquiry is dated 22nd April, 1996 and, in it, the final page denotes there were serious concerns about Bashir’s conduct. However, on reporting his findings to the BBC’s Board of Management, he took a different stance, believing Bashir innocent of any impropriety. In his statement to the Board of Governors, too, he referred to the forgeries as ‘graphics’, adding that Bashir could provide no explanation as to why he had created them! ‘I believe he is, even with his lapse, honest and an honourable man.’ That from just another ‘honourable man’!
In this programme, Sir Richard Eyre, BBC Governor from 1995-2003, is adamant that the fact that Bashir lied should have been made clear to the Board. Instead, Tony Hall did not disclose the information and, then, repeatedly lied to BBC Management. Had the Governors known, there would have been a ruthless investigation rather than glory being heaped upon the conspirators! The Panorama programme, An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales, won numerous awards and Martin Bashir’s subsequently lucrative career took him to America until 2016, when he was re-hired by the BBC! While honest Tony (Hall) was made Director General in 2013, only stepping down last year. Some justice! However … a quarter of a century later, Diana’s brother refused to put his suspicions to rest and was key in the BBC’s instructing an independent inquiry led by former Supreme Court Judge, Lord Dyson. His findings expose decades of denial and he is damning of Bashir – referring to him as ‘dishonest and devious’ – and of Tony Hall whose investigation into Bashir he calls ‘woefully ineffective.’.
Yesterday, Tony Hall tendered his resignation as National Gallery chairman, amid the controversy, claiming his ‘continuing in the role would be a distraction to an institution I care deeply about.’ As I wrote earlier, Martin Bashir resigned from his position as BBC Editor of Religion on 14th May, 2021 on grounds of ill health. The question remains as to why he was ever re-hired by the Corporation in 2016?
Amidst the flurry of apologies, talk of compensation for smears and ‘dirt’ which changed the paths of careers, are two brothers, now, estranged as the devastating effect of the loss of their mother, so tragically, ripples on. The truth, now revealed, must be heartbreaking for them and for Earl Spencer, her brother. He, quite rightly, is pushing for a police investigation which would do well to charge the previously un-noteworthy reporter who saw fit to instruct forged bank statements for the purpose of manipulation and, ultimately, for self-promotion. Devious, though, he will always have the protection of Diana’s handwritten note – which, obviously, he instructed – as corroboration of his ‘innocence’. Then, what of Tony Hall? Does lifelong guilt go any way towards making amends?
Undeniably, Martin Bashir’s actions set in motion a chain of events which ended in the tragic death of the Princess exactly two years on from that fateful first meeting between he and her brother. In the words of Patrick Jephson, once her trusted Private Secretary:
‘One of the worst consequences of the interview was that it destroyed remaining links with Buckingham Palace. The loss of the Royal support structure that had guided and safe-guarded her for so many years, inevitably, made her vulnerable to people who didn’t have her best interests at heart, or were unable, properly, to look after her.’
One man’s greed; one man’s quest for glory; one man’s lack of morals compounded by the same in others. He thought nothing of the consequences. He thought of nobody other than himself. More than a quarter of a century on, his choices continue to impinge on the lives of others.
‘No man is an Island, entire of itself …’ John Donne
Believe it. Now can anyone recommend a good tatoo artist?
This is Trish, signing off – exhausted!