Princess Diana’s biographer, Andrew Morton, has told The Daily Beast that the BBC’s announcement that it will never again screen its famous Panorama interview with Princess Diana, at the urging of Prince William, has resulted in Diana being “silenced” by her own son.
Morton penned the defining book of the era, Diana: Her True Story, which Diana secretly co-operated with by smuggling a series of tape-recorded conversations to Morton.
The book was published in 1992, more than three years before the Panorama interview, giving the world an extraordinary insight into Diana’s misery and anger.
Morton defended the Panorama interview as an accurate representation of Diana’s attitudes, fears, and beliefs at the time, notwithstanding clear evidence of underhand and duplicitous behavior by the BBC reporter who conducted the interview, Martin Bashir.
Asked how he responded to William’s call for the interview to never be screened again, a request to which the BBC has now acceded, Morton said: “It is a supreme irony that it is her son who has led the calls to posthumously muzzle Diana, to silence her, to prevent her from being heard, from saying what she spent her life trying to articulate.”
The BBC also agreed to pay damages to several individuals, including William and Harry’s childhood nanny Alexandra Pettifer, then known as Tiggy Legge-Bourke. Bashir falsely told Diana that Pettifer had got pregnant by Prince Charles and had had an abortion.
Bashir’s methods, an inquiry last year headed by retired British judge Lord Dyson found, were calculated to feed Diana’s paranoia, and included showing her and her brother forged bank statements to convince them they were being spied on by the British security services and betrayed by their staff. Last weekend, Earl Spencer said he had felt “groomed” by Bashir, and called for a new police investigation.
Morton has done much to shine a light on Bashir’s malfeasance; his 2003 book, Diana: In Pursuit of Love, devoted two full chapters to Bashir’s machinations.
Morton said: “Martin did contribute to her sense of paranoia, and her sense of being watched and so on. It was a febrile atmosphere at the time. We regularly swept Diana’s rooms at Kensington Palace for bugs. But Diana wasn’t the only one who was suspicious. The queen was baffled and concerned by the tapes that kept appearing. As well as the Charles and Camilla ‘tampon’ tape, there was ‘Squidgygate’ [in which Diana was taped talking to a friend candidly about a range of private matters] and a tape of [Prince] Andrew and Sarah [Ferguson] talking about their private lives.
“It’s understandable to conclude, when you have three intimate conversations by members of the royal family appearing on tape, that it is more than a coincidence, that it is a conspiracy.”
Morton writes in Diana: In Pursuit of Love that Prince Philip explicitly threatened Diana that there was a tape of her discussing newspaper serializations for Her True Story. Diana shrugged it off, as she had not had any such conversations, but the anecdote amply illustrates the climate of fear and suspicion that pervaded the palace in the 1990s, and goes some way to explain why Bashir was so easily able to convince Diana she was being spied on.
However Morton believes that attempts by Prince William to discredit the interview—he said it has “no legitimacy” and “established a false narrative” in a video address (below) after the Dyson report was published—were completely wrong.
Morton said: “This is an important, historic interview that should be part of the public record. No accurate history or documentary of Diana can be made without referencing that interview. What she said was not an aberration; indeed, much of the ground it covered had been revealed in my book, Diana, Her True Story. For the BBC to lock it away in a vault is wrong.”
Morton said: “The methods Martin Bashir used to get Diana to sit down and talk to him were underhand and deceptive, but the truth is that once the cameras were rolling, he didn’t twist her arm to say anything, and many of the things she said, such as discussing her bulimia, her suicide attempts, her husband’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles and the fact that she didn’t consider him fit to be King, were not aberrations. She was well known for saying these things to those in her circle, to the extent that they had become a kind of schtick.
“And they were all in my book, which had appeared three years previously. Panorama was a televised version of Diana: Her True Story. With the exception of the revelation about her affair with James Hewitt, Diana was only saying in that Panorama interview things that she had disclosed before to me.
“She very successfully used me to speak over the heads of the Palace ‘men in grey,’ as she called them, with Diana: Her True Story. Panorama was a similar attempt to reach over their heads and speak directly to her people—and it was a triumph. It is hugely ironic that somebody who tried so hard to articulate her message should find herself muzzled, after her death, by the very organization she trusted to deliver it, the BBC.
“Yes, Martin did scare her half to death with the stories he told her. That helped convince her that the only way she could be physically safe, and continue to have access to her boys, was to put out her side of the story on television. But don’t forget she wrote a note to the BBC saying that she was happy with the interview and the way the interview was handled. What she had to say on Panorama was not an aberration, it was part of a pattern.”
Morton also said he “respectfully disagrees” with Diana’s family who claim the interview led to her death.
Harry made this claim in the wake of the Dyson report, saying, “Our mother lost her life because of this,” and it was made again by Earl Spencer last weekend in a feature for the Mail on Sunday.
Spencer wrote: “The agonizing lies that she was told by the BBC before their cameras finally rolled ensured that she came into that Panorama interview with a very skewed and false view of the situation she was in, having been lied to repeatedly.
“This led to her speaking in a way that set her on a course where she was without due protection when she needed it most. All those responsible must be held to account.”
He added: “I hope the police will reconsider their responsibilities in this matter. Only they have the power to get to the bottom of this terrible scandal, which led Diana to feel even more exposed and alone, and deceived her into forgoing those who cared for her and would have protected her.”
Morton said: “This is where I respectfully disagree with Earl Spencer and Diana’s sons. If she had been wearing a seatbelt, she would be alive today. She didn’t have formal Scotland Yard police protection, but she did employ former royal bodyguard Colin Tebbutt regularly.”
Referring to Diana’s boyfriend Dodi Fayed’s fateful decision to order a Mercedes from the Ritz Hotel, and ordering Henri Paul, the head of security at the Ritz, who had been drinking in the hotel bar, to drive the couple to his apartment, Morton said: “If anyone is to blame for her death, it is Dodi Fayed for changing their plans and getting a drunk Henri Paul to drive them.”
William also said in his videotaped statement that the interview was “a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse.”
But Morton told The Daily Beast: “I’m afraid that is just not at all accurate. To say their relationship was terrible is obviously an understatement, but it was distant and angry long before Panorama, hence the separation in 1992. It is true to say that the interview did lead to the formal divorce. But after the divorce, the relationship actually improved, not least because Charles was able to have a more relaxed life with Camilla.”
Morton has continued to write royal biographies, including a new biography of the monarch entitled The Queen, and Meghan and the Unmasking of the British Monarchy.
Given his experiences working with Diana to tell her story, he is naturally intrigued to see what Harry’s forthcoming memoir will reveal.
He said: “J.R. Moehringer (who is writing the book with Harry) wrote Andre Agassi’s book, and it is interesting that Agassi goes deeply into the father-son relationship, so I expect Harry to be quite honest and open about that in his book. I also think there will be a significant amount of content about his time in the army. Ultimately, it will be the story of his journey through life. Although people will be very interested to read what he has to say, he is no longer a royal, so I don’t think it will have the impact of Diana: Her True Story, which exposed the myth of the fairy-tale.”
Morton added: “I think Diana would approve of Harry writing this memoir. She did it herself, very effectively, so she would entirely approve of Harry speaking out.”
Having borne witness to one of the most spectacular relationship breakdowns in royal history, Morton is also interesting on what he sees as the slender prospects of reconciliation between William and Harry: “I very much doubt they will be reconciled. There is a lot of wishful thinking about this.
“The closest parallel is George VI and Edward VIII. George VI adored his brother, like Harry adored William, they were inseparable, but then he abdicated, moved abroad and the relationship was never the same again. William and Harry are in a similar situation.
“As we saw at the Jubilee, when the time they spent in London was brief to say the least, there was no suggestion of having dinner or lunch or getting the children together. They will go their separate ways, and the longer Harry and Meghan stay in America, the more comfortable they will be there.”
What would Diana make of it all?
“Like any mother, Diana would have been concerned about the breakdown in the relationship between her children. She said on Panorama, and she said to me, on numerous occasions, that she saw Harry as a wingman for William, because his job is a lonely job, and you cannot trust many people around you. She saw Harry as being there to back up his brother, but that’s not how things turned out.”
Diana famously expressed to Morton (and Bashir), in no uncertain terms, her view that Charles was unfit to be king.
She would no doubt be aghast that we now appear to be on the dawn of the era of King Charles. Does he think Charles can pull it off?
Morton says: “The elephant in the room is Camilla. Will people accept Camilla as queen? There is a generation of people who won’t want to, but they will just have to soldier on as there is no alternative. The mass media has largely turned full circle and is praising Camilla as ‘a good egg,’ but that doesn’t get round the fact that the announcement by the queen that she wanted Camilla to be ‘Queen Camilla’ was not, that I saw, greeted with much joy.”
However, returning to the subject of the Panorama, Morton feels there is still one huge gap in the story.
“Alexandra Pettifer said there were more questions to be answered and for me the big one is: How did Martin Bashir get to her?
“At that time, Barbara Walters, David Frost, Oprah Winfrey and Clive James were all queueing round the block, desperate to interview her, and Martin came from nowhere and beat them all.”
This, for Morton, is the great mystery that still remains about the Panorama interview: “Who helped him from the inside? Who was briefing him? How did he know what buttons to press with Diana?”
As with so many other mysteries surrounding the life of Princess Diana, the true answer to that fascinating question may never be publicly known.