Even now, the words Earl Spencer uttered at the funeral of his sister Princess Diana have lost none of their power. The address is remembered both for its oratory and his solemn pledge of her ‘blood family’ to protect ‘her beloved boys William and Harry’.
Unspoken but implicit in his eulogy was that in protecting them, he was also seeking to defend his sister’s memory and her reputation.
No issue has tested that promise quite like the extraordinary saga of Diana, the BBC and Panorama. Lord Spencer was central to journalist Martin Bashir’s astonishing scoop broadcast to 23 million people 25 years ago this month.
The anniversary has been marked by a slew of television documentaries and newspaper accounts of the interview that shocked the world. But for Diana’s baby brother the whole enterprise was built on scandalous, indeed salacious lies, half-truths and the downright dishonesty of what he calls ‘yellow’ journalism.
As the Mail reveals today, Spencer is going on the warpath with the BBC and in his crosshairs is the Corporation’s most prestigious current affairs programme, once regarded as a beacon of integrity, truthfulness and decency in television journalism.
He is demanding not just a posthumous apology from BBC chiefs for Diana and all those who were lied to, which he asserts includes not only himself but the global audience that watched the hour-long programme.
Earl Spencer is demanding not just a posthumous apology from BBC chiefs for Diana and all those who were lied to, which he asserts includes not only himself but the global audience that watched the hour-long programme
In addition, he wants a thorough investigation into the Bashir affair and a significant contribution from the Corporation’s coffers, enriched from worldwide sales of the interview, to be made to charities forever linked to Diana.
And in a letter to new director-general Tim Davie he repudiates what he calls his ‘piecemeal apology’, issued last week, which he said ‘seems to be a way for you merely to say that you’ve apologised to me, rather than acceptance of the full gravity of this situation’.
His explosive intervention has huge ramifications for the BBC and the standing of its previous director-general, Lord Hall, who first investigated claims against Martin Bashir’s techniques after allegations about fake documents emerged soon after the Panorama broadcast.
It cleared the reporter of any misconduct, claiming that it had a handwritten letter from Diana — subsequently lost — which stated that she had not been shown any false documents.
Spencer, who was not even questioned by the inquiry, says that part of Lord Hall’s report, which he has been shown, was both ‘factually inaccurate’ and ‘illogical’, adding in a letter to the current BBC boss: ‘It skirts over the web of deceit spun by those in the organisation that you now control.’ These are damning and shattering words for a media organisation that takes great pride in its editorial standards.
Diana found the arrival of Tiggy Legge-Bourke (pictured with Prince Charles), a new nanny for her sons employed by Prince Charles, destabilising
It was the frenzy to mark the quarter-century of the Panorama film that prompted Lord Spencer to question the BBC’s version of events and his own role in how the programme came to be made 25 years ago.
And, crucially, it was the availability of Freedom of Information requests about its internal inquiry that has made him go public.
One of the keys things he noted was that Lord Hall had questioned Bashir alone. This struck him as wholly wrong and he decided to look at his own papers, which, like the historian he is, he had methodically kept ever since Mr Bashir approached him in the summer of 1995. The reporter contacted him explaining that for three months he had been investigating press behaviour for Panorama and was seeking an interview.
Spencer did not reply but after a follow-up message he arranged to meet Mr Bashir at Althorp, the Spencer family home in Northamptonshire, on August 31, exactly two years to the day before Diana’s death.
Princess Diana’s (pictured during her interview with Martin Bashir) brother has accused the BBC of a ‘whitewash’ over faked bank statements said to have helped land a historic interview with her
At the time, Lord Spencer had complaints about intrusion by red-top tabloids into his and his family’s private life. According to notes the Earl made at the time, Mr Bashir produced bank statements purporting to show payments from news organisations to his former head of security.
It was those statements that the BBC admitted had been faked by a graphic designer on the orders of Martin Bashir.
But at the same meeting Spencer was also told what he considered to be outrageous allegations about senior newspaper figures and explosively — and falsely — about royal courtiers. Specifically, Bashir mentioned two men, Commander Richard Aylard and Patrick Jephson, respectively the private secretaries to the Prince of Wales and the Princess of Wales.
He claimed, according to Spencer’s notes, that Cdr Aylard had tape recordings of Diana, which had been handed to him at a London restaurant, and that two of her friends were reporting on her movements to him.
Further, he said that Aylard and Jephson had business connections: Jephson was said to be a non-executive director of a company of which Aylard was a board member. The reporter, according to Spencer, alleged that both men had received large sums of money from the security services.
The Earl’s notes of the meeting, which he made at the time, claim that Bashir had bank statements relating to the payments.
Renewed publicity around the 25th anniversary of the interview and the airing again of the claims against Bashir, has prompted Earl Spencer (pictured with Diana and Prince Charles) to take up the cudgels again
He also claimed that the security services were tapping two of Diana’s private telephone numbers and that a member of the Harbour Club, the Chelsea gym where she worked out, was passing information to journalists.
The names of Fleet Street figures featured prominently, including an allegation of paedophilia against a once distinguished columnist and another who was said to have set up, fraudulently, shell companies to channel cash.
So fantastic were these stories that Spencer later rang Bashir’s Panorama boss to check his credentials. He was told he was one of the programme’s most accomplished operatives. Furthermore, he was assured that what Bashir had told him was true.
Inevitably, this meeting was just the precursor. Spencer contacted his sister and set in train the events that led directly to the Panorama interview.
Almost two years into her separation, Diana was at a vulnerable time in her life. Allegations about her bombarding the wife of art dealer Oliver Hoare with silent phone calls and an apparent romance with the newly-married England rugby captain Will Carling had damaged her reputation.
At the same time she had found the arrival of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, a new nanny for her sons employed by Prince Charles, destabilising. The younger woman had formed a close and affectionate relationship with the boys and Diana, frankly, was jealous.
But 25 years after she bared her soul, fresh allegations have emerged that the BBC obtained the scoop under a false pretext
These were key moments when she agreed to meet her brother and the BBC reporter at a flat in South Kensington on September 19. That was the day Spencer introduced the two. He later recalled how excited the BBC man was. Almost from the off, according to Lord Spencer, the allegations came pouring out. He noted Bashir saying that MI6 was bugging both Diana’s car and her home at Kensington Palace.
Again, he mentioned Aylard and Jephson and other figures known to Diana, allegedly including her then driver who had planted the bug on her car. Then came the bombshell about Tiggy. Spencer, a former reporter himself, kept a full note which later ran to ten pages, and wrote down the words ‘baby’. There had been a miscarriage or an abortion.
The implication was as preposterous as it was cruel. It was also demonstrably untrue.
Nevertheless, this paper trail discloses the only documentary evidence of a false rumour which spurred on some of the most hideous tensions between the prince and princess. As this paper’s royal reporter at the time, I remember how brittle the relationship between the estranged royal couple had become.
Even now, the black-and-white words on the fax are shocking, but back then they were like a ticking timebomb for Diana and something exploded in her mind.
Bashir’s (pictured) interview with Diana, in which she told him ‘there were three people in the marriage’ – a reference to her estranged husband’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles – attracted 23million viewers and was hailed as the greatest tell-all scoop of the 20th century
Three months later, the princess — and Charles — were hosting their annual staff Christmas party (despite separation they kept it up for appearances’ sake) at the Lanesborough Hotel at Hyde Park Corner. Tiggy was there. Diana approached her and said: ‘So sorry to hear about the baby . . .’
Just seven words but devastating for the nanny. The story was bound to get out and when it did, a month later, Tiggy — honour-bound to defend her good name — launched a legal action against the Princess of Wales.
It was a moment of madness for Diana. But was it sowed that afternoon in the South Kensington flat? Certainly many of the princess’s friends believe so to this day. For his part, Spencer thought the allegations too fantastical to be possibly true.
More extraordinary claims were made: that the Queen was terminally ill with heart disease and that Prince Edward had an incurable illness.
There was more. Bashir, according to Spencer, claimed that Prince William, Diana’s 13-year-old son, had recently been given a new Swatch watch. It contained, according to the Earl’s notes, a recording device. In short, it was being claimed that William was spying on his mother.
It was now 5.30pm and the meeting that had started at 4pm was winding up. By then, Spencer was convinced Bashir had been lying.
At one point a former police bodyguard’s name was mentioned. Spencer noted that Bashir said the detective had been using prostitutes at the Langham Hilton hotel. This rang a bell. At their first meeting prostitutes and the same hotel had been mentioned but this time concerning a journalist.
Diana’s brother (pictured, Earl Charles Spencer) says the statements referring to his employee were irrelevant to Bashir securing the Panorama interview, and the falsified statements referring to the two palace staff were much more significant factors in that respect
He told his sister: ‘I’m sorry for wasting your time Duch [the Spencer family nickname for Diana].’ The princess replied: ‘Don’t worry.’
But if Spencer thought that was to be the end of things he was wrong. Although he never spoke or saw Bashir again, the BBC man still sent him notes and left messages.
One week later he received the fax, which the Mail reveals today.
Addressed to ‘Charles’ and signed ‘Martin’, it purports to be how St James’s Palace was dealing with the swirling rumours about Tiggy, rumours that in truth barely existed if at all.
In it he writes of a ‘recurring intimacy between her [Tiggy] and a particular individual’. The fax goes on: ‘One aide witnessed outdoor pursuits of a different kind.’
It then suggests the palace will brief a friend that Tiggy’s recent weight loss was because of a gluten intolerance and that she had been ‘repeatedly bombarded by nuisance messages on her radio pager’, adding ‘there can only be one obvious culprit’. The implication was that this was Diana doing to Tiggy what she had been accused of doing to Oliver Hoare.
Bashir ends the fax: ‘I think you should inform your sister asap.’
Spencer did nothing but now believes he was merely a smokescreen because the BBC man was now regularly dealing with Diana directly. ‘I was a bluff,’ he has told friends.
Exactly five weeks later and Diana had agreed to be interviewed — something that Lord Spencer claims was never originally on the table.
Charles Spencer has had 25 years to reflect on the enormity of Panorama and his own role in it. He believes Diana was lured into giving the notorious interview by someone who played on her vulnerability with falsehoods and that she was a victim of a despicable trap. Now he wants justice for his sister’s memory.
The question is: will he get it?