Princess Diana’s BBC interview with Martin Bashir, “An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales,” aired on November 20, 1995 on the documentary series “Panorama.” Filmed in Diana’s sitting room at Kensington Palace, the explosive interview made history because of the frank way Diana divulged intimate details of life as a royal and her marriage, including her struggles with postnatal depression, bulimia, and, most shockingly, her husband’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
It was the final blow to Charles and Diana’s troubled relationship. In 2021, revelations about the deceitful way Bashir obtained the interview made headlines, bringing Diana back into the spotlight 24 years after her untimely death and raising new questions about the media’s role in the tragically short life of “the people’s princess.”
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Diana Reveals Mental Health Struggles
In the interview, Diana discussed the lack of support she received from the royal family when she was experiencing postpartum depression: "Well maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression or was ever openly tearful," she said. "And obviously that was daunting, because if you've never seen it before how do you support it?" She said her struggles quickly led to her being written off: "It gave everybody a wonderful new label: Diana's unstable and Diana's mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately, that seems to have stuck.”
Diana admitted to cutting herself and openly discussed her bulimia. She blamed her heartache on her failing relationship: "It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. 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—Diana was unstable."
Her candor was revolutionary for a royal: “No one had ever heard of a royal talking about bulimia or self-harm. This was Diana smashing taboos in these shocking revelations,” says Katie Nicholl, author of The New Royals Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the future of The Crown.
'There Were Three of Us In The Marriage'
Both Charles and Diana had engaged with the press about the breakdown of their marriage. Diana had provided information to Andrew Morton for his biography Diana: Her True Story and Charles confessed to adultery when questioned by Jonathan Dimbleby, author of The Prince of Wales: A Biography. But this was the first time Diana had directly named Camilla Parker Bowles as the “third person” in her marriage.
Diana told Bashir: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” She went on to admit her own affair with former army officer James Hewitt, who had served as her and her sons’ riding instructor. She told Bashir she was “very let down” when Hewitt contributed to a tell-all book about their affair, Princess in Love.
“It was shocking because this was Diana in her own words and what she was saying was incredibly explosive,” says Nicholl. “It was Diana taking control of the narrative in front of the camera for the very first time.”
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Diana on Her Husband's Future As King Charles III
When asked if Charles wanted to rule, Diana told Bashir, "there was always conflict on that subject with him when we discussed it,” and that “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."
“Her casting doubt on Charles’s ability to be a good king was hugely damaging to the institution,” says Nicholl. “There is a fine balance between using TV as a medium to royal advantage and not letting too much daylight into the mystique of monarchy.”
Fallout From Diana's BBC Interview
Though Charles and Diana had been separated since 1992, the 1995 BBC interview was the final blow to the marriage. “There were both personal and political considerations,” says Carolyn Harris, historian, author, and royal commentator. “On a personal level, there was a strain on the queen’s grandsons Williams and Harry. On the political level, Diana was critiquing Charles’s suitability to be king.”
A month after it was filmed, Queen Elizabeth II sent letters to Charles and Diana urging them to finalize their divorce. “The Queen could see the damage it was causing to the monarchy as an institution. It was a case of Elizabeth II putting the reputation and preservation of the monarchy above all else,” Nicholl says.
It also deeply upset Diana’s family and those closest to her—including Prince William. “It was one of the few times she fell out with William,” Nicholl says. In 2021, Prince William issued a public statement about the interview, saying “it was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others.” He requested it never air again.
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Bashir Used 'Deceitful Methods' to Obtain Interview
The interview was conducted with the upmost secrecy, with equipment smuggled into Kensington palace and the Board of Governors of the BBC strategically left in the dark about its planning and execution. In 2020, The BBC hired Judge Lord Dyson to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bashir misled Diana in order to get the interview. The Dyson Report found Bashir employed “deceitful methods” to gain Diana’s trust, including forging bank statements that fueled her paranoia that she was under surveillance: “Diana was being encouraged to believe that the palace was carefully monitoring her conversations and her movements,” says Harris.
In 2021, Prince William condemned the way the interview was obtained, saying: “The BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.”
“While she always wanted to talk, the way Bashir booked the interview is so discredited that his actions have to be taken into account,” says Nicholl. “We don’t know how much the fears he instilled in her led her to doing the interview or whether she would have gone as far as she went had she not been deceived—that is the big question.”
Diana died in a car crash just two years after the BBC interview, making her words loom even larger in public remembrances of “the people’s princess.”
“Diana was able to connect to the public because of the combination of glamour and vulnerability,” says Harris. “One of the reasons many people felt they could relate to Diana was that they felt as though they knew her because she spoke quite openly of the challenges she faced.”