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Who is Martin Bashir? The man behind the Diana interview scandal

Written by on 9 November 2020

Martin Bashir’s 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana was the must-see TV programme of the decade.

Featuring intimate details of the Prince and Princess of Wales‘ failed marriage and Diana’s life inside the Royal Family, it was watched by 23 million people and made Bashir a household name.

Now, 25 years later, the documentary is back in the headlines, and the BBC journalist at its heart is once again in the spotlight.

So, who exactly is Martin Bashir and why is the story back in the news?

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The interview with Diana took Martin Bashir from little-known TV reporter to household name

Early days

Born in Wandsworth, in south west London, Bashir was one of five children.

He went to a comprehensive school before studying English and history at university in Winchester and then completing a masters at King’s College London.

More from Princess Diana

After graduating in 1986 he became a journalist, getting his first job with the BBC.

Pic: The Diana interview/ITV
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Revelations into royal life were shocking. Pic: The Diana interview/ITV

The Diana interview

In 1995, Bashir secured an interview with Princess Diana for the BBC current affairs programme Panorama.

Three years after Charles and Diana’s separation and a year before their divorce, the sit-down tell-all was a landmark event, made all the more intriguing by the fact it was led by the then largely unknown 32-year-old TV reporter.

During their chat, Diana spoke about Camilla Parker Bowles being the “third person” in her marriage, her own infidelity with army captain James Hewitt, and her struggles with bulimia, postnatal depression and self-harming.

The revelations became headline news around the world, with some even fearing it could bring down the British monarchy.

Shortly after the interview aired, it was alleged that two counterfeit bank statements had been created to persuade Diana to go ahead with the interview. A 1996 BBC inquiry cleared Bashir of any wrongdoing.

Michael Jackson and Martin Bashir. Pic: ITV/Shutterstock
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Michael Jackson filming with Bashir. Pic: ITV/Shutterstock

Michael Jackson

In 1999 Bashir moved from the BBC to ITV, and in 2003 he bagged a big name for another high-profile interview – Michael Jackson.

Secured with the help of illusionist and self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller, Bashir spent eight months working with the singer to produce the documentary Living with Michael Jackson.

With access to Jackson’s Neverland ranch, as well as on the road, it covered topics including the singer’s fear of his strict father, his appearance and use of cosmetic surgery, his own children and his invitations to other children to spend time at his home.

A ratings hit in both the US and the UK, Jackson later complained to the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Commission about his depiction in the show.

Other big scoops

Bashir also interviewed other celebrities including Michael Barrymore and Jeffrey Archer – both of whom had experienced a very public fall from grace.

His other interviews of note featured real people, who were in the news for varying reasons.

They included ex-nanny Louise Woodward, the five suspects in the Stephen Lawrence case, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire contestant Major Charles Ingram and Joanne Lees, the British tourist at the heart of the 2001 Australian murder trial of Bradley John Murdoch.

Bashir has previously won awards for his work, including three BAFTA nominations and the RTS Journalist of the Year award in 1996.

Princess Diana's brother Earl Charles Spencer announces a Diana exhibit in downtown Toronto....
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Earl Spencer has criticised the BBC for not ‘facing up’ to allegations over Bashir’s interview

The X Factor: Celebrity

In 2019 Bashir had a brief brush with reality TV, appearing on The X Factor: Celebrity.

Competing in the “over-31s” category, he was mentored by judge Nicole Scherzinger, eventually getting booted out after his performance of Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life, and finishing in ninth place overall.

Bashir said his inspiration to appear on the show was his late brother Tommy who died from muscular dystrophy in 1991.

A music lover, Bashir had previously released a reggae album in 2010.

Other jobs

Bashir has also worked for ABC, US cable channel MSNBC and NBC.

He is currently religious affairs correspondent for the BBC.

Martin Bashir
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Bashir is now said to be seriously unwell following surgery

What’s he up to now?

Bashir is said to be is seriously unwell with COVID-related complications and not in a position to respond to allegations over his interview with Diana.

However, over the weekend, a photo was printed in The Mail On Sunday reportedly showing Bashir following a visit to a takeaway and wine shop.

The paper says the picture was taken on Friday evening outside the 57-year-old’s north London home.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the corporation said: “Martin Bashir is signed off work by his doctors as he is currently recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery and has significant complications from having contracted COVID-19 earlier in the year.”

The BBC has said they will be conducting an independent review in due course.

Diana’s younger brother, Earl Spencer, is asking for both a posthumous apology to his sister and a donation to charities set up in her memory.

He says he would never have introduced Bashir to his sister had he not been shown faked documents.