On November 20, 1995, almost 23 million people gathered in front of their television sets to watch the Princess of Wales open up like never before.
Speaking to BBC reporter Martin Bashir from her living room at Kensington Palace, an uncensored Diana lifted the lid on her life as a royal, detailing the extreme isolation she felt and revealing the truth about her troubled relationship with estranged husband Prince Charles (she famously quipped, "There were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded," about his ongoing affair with Duchess Camilla).
"Never before had a member of the royal family been so frank and honest," Diana's former friend and butler, Paul Burrell, recalled. "It was unprecedented."
The fallout was swift and harsh. Queen Elizabeth II demanded Diana and Charles, now 75, officially part ways (they had been separated since 1992) and cut Diana off completely. "It was catastrophic for the princess," recalled Burrell. "All ties between her household and the Palace were severed." Diana and Charles divorced in August of 1996, and she tragically died in a car crash in Paris one year later at just 36 years old.
Even Diana's close bond with her eldest son, Prince William, then 13, was shaken by her tell-all. "He was young and naive," said a source, "and lashed out at her." In 2020, new allegations about how the BBC and Bashir gained access to Diana came to light. Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, claimed Bashir lied and tricked Diana into talking by using fake bank statements to convince her that some of her closest royal confidants were being paid to spy on her, and he said he learned the BBC was in on the job.
He also said Bashir falsely told Diana that William had been given a watch with a recording device on it, and that members of her security team had been bribed into recording secret tapes of her. "[The BBC] knew," Spencer tweeted on November 8, 2020. "They covered it up." After an investigation, in May 2021, both the BBC and Bashir apologized to Princes William, Harry and Charles, with the broadcaster admitting "clear failings" in a 1996 probe into the interview.
Bashir — while insisting that Diana had "no regrets" about the interview — admitted mocking up the fake docs "was a stupid thing to do." According to Diana's former bodyguard Ken Wharfe, the princess was desperate to share her side of the story when the interview aired. "She wanted the world to know the true reason behind the collapse of her relationship [with Charles]," said Wharfe.
"Her real aim was to let the truth be known about the state of her life and what had actually happened to her. Nobody [else] was going to speak out on Diana's behalf." According to friends, Diana was in a vulnerable place when she signed on to air her grievances. Revealed a second insider, "Everyone knows Diana was a trusting but extremely fragile soul at the time of that interview." The first source said Bashir was one of the few people she allowed into her private world.
"If Diana were alive today, she would've been absolutely devastated if the claims proved to be true," the source said, noting that she only trusted a handful of people with Bashir being one of them. "Even back then, some questioned his authenticity, but Diana stood by him. This would be the ultimate betrayal for her."
William was furious over the accusations. When the BBC announced in mid-November 2020 that they were determined to "get to the truth" about the events surrounding the 1995 interview, Kensington Palace released a statement saying father-of-three "welcomed the investigation." More than anyone, William is still reeling from the aftereffects. The first source said he regrets getting angry at his mother for speaking out, especially now that he has a better idea of the reported blackmail and bad behavior going on behind the scenes.
"He believes Diana was manipulated and exploited by Bashir," said the source. William's reaction to the BBC's apology was quick. On May 20, 2021, he posted a video to Twitter. Calling the results of the investigation "concerning," he blamed the broadcaster and Bashir for making "lurid" allegations about the royal family that added "significantly to [Diana's] fear, paranoia and isolation."
Harry was also livid. The 39-year-old has famously spoken out about the unfair treatment he feels his late mother and his wife, Meghan Markle received in the U.K. press. "I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces," he said in 2018. Though the brothers have been at odds in part because of Harry's departure from his royal role in March 2020, the insider says they shared a quest for the truth. "Blood is thicker than water for both of them, and there's no way any differences of opinion would prevent them from uniting for their mother's memory," said the insider.
Even the queen hoped justice would prevail. "There's a lot of empathy within the royal family as a whole for what Harry and William are dealing with," said the insider.