The Greatest Interviews of All Time: Princess Diana with Martin Bashir
The Guardian has compiled a list of the greatest interviews of all time, plus some of the more interesting things that happened when the tape was no longer rolling. This week, we're offering a up a few highlights from the series.
The interview took place while Diana was still Her Royal Highness, but just barely: She and Prince Charles separated in 1992 and would divorce in August 1996. The fairy tale marriage that began with a gloriously massive ceremony at Westminster Abbey in July 1981 had by now devolved into bitter acrimony played out in the press -- and the BBC interview, aired in November 1995, was a cornerstone of Diana's offensive tactics.
Martin Bashir, who would later famously interview the Prince of Pop, Michael Jackson, coaxed from Diana a candid description of the suffocation of life as Princess of Wales -- although it didn't seem to take much coaxing. With great wounded Disney eyes, Diana spoke candidly about the difficulties playing the fairy tale, about her battle with postpartum depression and bulimia, and about her struggles with the Royal family and her husband, who had by now admitted that he'd had an affair.
"I desperately wanted it to work, I desperately loved my husband and I wanted to share everything together, and I thought that we were a very good team," she says early in the interview, though later admits to her own affair with her riding instructor.
Diana also reveals that depression, all the while laboring under the "stiff upper lip" and the lack of understanding or help from the Royal family, led to her "injuring" herself on her arms and legs.
BASHIR: What effect did the depression have on your marriage?
DIANA: Well, it gave everybody a wonderful new label "“ Diana's unstable and Diana's mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately that seems to have stuck on and off over the years.
Diana, whether obliquely or directly, puts much of the blame for her depression and unhappiness on the Royal family: "When no one listens to you, or you feel no one's listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it's the wrong help you're asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you're in the media all the time you've got enough attention, inverted commas," she says. "But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales. So yes, I did inflict upon myself. I didn't like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn't cope with the pressures."
All very juicy stuff. The interview, conducted by Bashir with studied sympathy, was filled with moments like that, of extreme candor and even cleverness. Case in point, describing the effect of her husband's affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles on her, Diana said, "Pretty devastating. Rampant bulimia, if you can have rampant bulimia, and just a feeling of being no good at anything and being useless and hopeless and failed in every direction."
Followed not long after by a well-timed zinger: "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
The interview also fueled her image as the People's Princess: "I felt compelled to perform. Well, when I say perform, I was compelled to go out and do my engagements and not let people down and support them and love them," she says at one point. "And in a way by being out in public they supported me, although they weren't aware just how much healing they were giving me, and it carried me through."
In Diana's eyes, the Royal family saw her as a problem that required shutting up -- restricting her appearances in public, her ability to do the charity work she had made such a large part of her life, even hiding letters and tapping her friends' phones, she said. And through the media, through the damning 1992 book by Andrew Morton about Diana's life with the Royal family, through comments in the press, through this interview with Bashir, she bit back.
And sadly, it's not much of a stretch to say that Diana's courting of the media -- unwilling as it was at the beginning of her life as a Princess -- may have had something to do with her ultimate death on August 31, 1997, after a tragic run-in with paparazzi.