The princess and the scapegoat
03 December, 2020 — By John Gulliver
A scene from Martin Bashir’s Panorama interview with Princess Diana in November 1995
IN the scandal slowly festering from that fateful Panorama interview with Princess Diana a nasty scapegoat is being made of the interviewer Martin Bashir, who appears to have gone into hiding protected by a “sick” note.
Nasty things are said about him. In particular – and there is prima facie evidence – that he faked bank statements here to entrap the princess.
But you didn’t need the The Princess Diana Interview or the Channel 4 documentary on Monday to make the point that Martin Bashir, on his own as a reporter on Panorama in the mid-90s, was most unlikely to have engineered the interview without agreement and discussion from higher tiers in the BBC.
Certainly his editor Steve Hewlett, who died three years ago, would have countenanced the whole operation, as well as other now senior figures in broadcasting.
Over the years I have got to know many producers and reporters on TV documentaries and my inside sources are puzzled by the way Bashir is being singled out.
Steve Hewlett, for instance, is a puzzle. Before he joined the BBC in Manchester he was an active student known for his “Maoist” and “Marxist” views but, oddly enough, was able to be accepted by the prestigious TV Panorama team even though he would have been vetted by MI5.
In a recent Daily Mail feature by the retired top Panorama reporter, Tom Mangold he said he had been cleared by MI5 before being allowed, in effect, to join the team. This would be expected. It is known that the BBC, certainly in the post-war years, carefully checked the political affiliation and sympathies of senior recruits.
I am drawn to these sentiments because Martin Bashir is now the underdog – and I suspect he did not act alone. His enemies hope he will carry the can.
I write here as a secularist on the question of the monarchy and know, tragically, the real victims here were this young woman, Princess Diana, and her children.
I never met the princess but I did meet Omar Al-Fayed, the brother of her boyfriend Dodi, about 15 years after that tragic car crash in Paris.
I first met Omar at the opening of a redeveloped block of shops and offices he had overseen in Southampton Row, Holborn. He had turned them into a rare London sight – a block covered with stunning green foliage.
By then he had become an environmentalist, spending more than £8million on the conversion.
Omar, who was living in a Camden Square flat at the time came to the New Journal office and I took him for coffee at a nearby café. As we talked I accidentally, and foolishly, mentioned his brother’s name, and no sooner had I done that than tears welled up in Omar’s hurt eyes.
He, too, was a victim of that fateful night in Paris and the tragedy of Princess Diana’s life.