Princess Diana was seduced and betrayed into Panorama interview, says her private secretary

FOR many it was the scoop of the century.

For others it was a catastrophic mistake — a bombshell interview that saw the world’s most famous woman “seduced and betrayed”.

It is 25 years since Princess Diana bared her soul on Panorama, resulting in the most spellbinding interview seen on British television.

But Patrick Jephson, her private secretary between 1988 and 1996, said: “When Panorama came out, part of my visceral reaction was outrage that somebody should have exploited the princess in this way.

“Knowing the princess as I did, making her perform like this was a combination of seduction and betrayal.

“Panorama burnt her bridges with the rest of the Royal Family and cut her off, fatally, from the protection of the royal institution.”

Watched by 23million viewers, Diana questioned the suitability of Prince Charles to be king, admitted her own infidelity and revealed her husband’s — in a line that will never be forgotten.

“There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded,” she said, her sorrowful eyes ringed with heavy, black liner.

Now, ahead of the anniversary of the broadcast next month, a Channel 4 documentary asks fresh questions over whether journalist Martin Bashir secured his interview by referring to bank statements later questioned as genuine and exploiting her fears of being watched by the secret service.


Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton said: “She lived in a world of anxiety and possible surveillance.”

He alleged that Bashir very cleverly and in a very sophisticated way played on that anxiety.

In 1995 Diana was increasingly convinced there was a plot against her.

She and Charles had been separated for three years and, holed up in Kensington Palace, she began to believe the Royal Family wanted her “out of the picture”.

Outwardly, she was a charismatic global icon intent on carrying out her charity work and juggling single motherhood. Yet those closest to her paint a picture of an isolated and vulnerable 34-year-old.

Morton said: “Diana was afraid of being bumped off, simple as that.”

When a new fire alarm was installed at her apartments, she believed she was being bugged.

Prior to agreeing to the Panorama interview, she told her lawyer that she had been informed the Queen would abdicate in 1996, that Charles’s girlfriend, now wife, Camilla, would be “put aside” and that she would be murdered after Charles became king.

Patrick Jephson said: “The more outlandish the things she was being told, the more avidly she seemed to swallow them.”

Diana was afraid of being bumped off, simple as that.

The previous year, Charles filmed an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby in which he said he had been faithful to his bride until their relationship “became irretrievably broken down”.

In fact, he recorded two interviews. In the first he refused to own up to his cheating, but was convinced to re-record it with the brief admission.

Diana had already collaborated with Andrew Morton on his book Diana: Her True Story, which revealed her eating disorders, depression and suicide attempts.

But Charles’s confession, according to Patrick Jephson, not only gave Diana the “moral high ground”, it also planted the idea of retaliating in their “War of the Waleses”.

In 1995 Martin Bashir was a young BBC reporter, a 100-to-one outsider to land the most coveted interview in the world.

Other contenders included chat show host Oprah Winfrey and legendary interviewer David Frost.

Bashir, now BBC Religious Affairs correspondent, has never spoken about how he persuaded Diana to do the interview.

When approached by Channel 4 for comment, a BBC spokesman said he was “seriously ill”.

Former BBC Director-General John Birt wrote in his memoirs that Bashir had “been introduced to a former member of the intelligence services who claimed Diana’s private apartments in Kensington Palace were bugged”.

He gained access to Diana via her brother, Earl Spencer, who was reportedly receptive to talking about the media following a number of leaks about his own private life.

It has now been revealed that, during their discussions, Bashir produced two bank statements which seemed to confirm the Earl had been betrayed by a former senior employee.

They showed payments worth £10,500 from two companies.

It was later claimed these statements were forgeries, exposed by the freelance graphic artist who created them a few weeks before the interview.

He came forward after the Panorama programme aired.

Earl Spencer clearly had no idea of the documents allegedly being forgeries. What Bashir knew or did not know is questioned in the programme.

But an internal BBC investigation in April 1996 said that the documents had “no bearing, direct or indirect, on the interview”.

A Freedom of Investigation request in 2007 for the details of the inquiry was met with the response that there was no written record and everything was carried out on a “need-to-know basis”.

However, in a statement this month, the BBC confirmed there are records and confirmed Bashir did show the documents to Earl Spencer.

It added that Diana had written to the BBC confirming the documents “played no part in her decision” to do the interview.

The more outlandish the things Diana was being told, the more avidly she seemed to swallow them.

It said: “Questions surrounding Panorama’s interview with the Princess of Wales, and in particular the ‘mocking-up’ of bank statements, were covered in the Press at the time.

“BBC records from the period indicate Martin had explained to the BBC the documents had been shown to Earl Spencer and that they were not shown to the princess.

“The BBC’s internal records from the time indicate that Martin had met the Princess of Wales before the mocked-up documentation existed.

"These accounts also say that the Princess of Wales confirmed in writing that these documents played no part in her decision.”

In 2007 it was claimed the BBC said it did not have this letter, something Andrew Morton finds “astonishing”.

He said: “If they received a letter basically saying the Princess of Wales, herself, was very happy about the way the programme was made, that would bomb-proof them against any future concerns.

“I find it astonishing that, according to them, this letter doesn’t exist.”


In Andrew’s mind there is no question those bank statements helped clinch the interview.

He said: “Speaking to those in Diana’s circle at that time, you could get a sense why those bank statements were a tipping point that made her mind up to sit down and speak about her life.”

The Panorama programme was filmed in utmost secrecy at Kensington Palace on November 5, 1995.

Diana’s private secretary and friends were kept in the dark, although it is claimed her former sister-in-law Sarah Ferguson knew some of her plans.

Friends have told a newspaper that film producer Lord Puttnam, a close friend of Diana’s, also knew and visited her a fortnight before filming to beg her to change her mind.

Diana later explained that had she let the cat out of the bag, the interview “would either have been pulled completely or turned into something completely different — they just wouldn’t have allowed it”.

In the interview she confessed she had been in love with Army officer James Hewitt and doubted Charles was suited to be king.

She said: “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 if he could adapt.”

It has been rumoured there exists an extra 20 minutes of footage, possibly containing disparaging remarks about other members of the Royal Family.

Friends told one royal expert that Diana kept hold of the material, stowed in a hat box, for whenever she might need it.

The interview was edited in a hotel in Eastbourne, East Sussex, far away from prying eyes at the broadcaster’s London headquarters.

Only eight people at the BBC knew about it, including John Birt.

He got her at a very weak moment. She regretted every minute.

Marmaduke Hussey, then the BBC’s chairman and whose wife Susan is a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, was not in the loop.

When the BBC announced the programme — on Charles’ 47th birthday — a week before it aired on November 20, Diana assured her staff, friends and the Queen’s private secretary: “It’s nothing to worry about, you’ll know everything in it.”

On the night of broadcast though, her words sent a grenade to the heart of the monarchy.

A month later the Queen instructed Diana and Charles to finalise their divorce.

Patrick Jephson resigned soon afterwards, feeling sidelined and unable to protect Diana.

Diana’s close friend, psychic Simone Simmons, who had believed Diana was making a programme about her charities, told her she had “made a prat” of herself.

She also pointed out the effect it would have on young princes William and Harry.

And she said of Martin: “He got her at a very weak moment. She regretted every minute.”

Diana died in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, aged 36.

  • Diana: The Truth Behind The Interview is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 9pm.

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