It remains one of the most sensational interviews of the 20th century. In 1995 more than 22 million of us tuned into Panorama to hear Princess Diana, separated though still married to the heir to the throne, famously declare there were three people in her marriage.
It is still one of the BBC’s most-watched programmes. Looking lost, downcast, her eyes heavily lined in black kohl and in sombre clothing, Diana answered each well-rehearsed question, knowing the impact her revelations would have. Of course we now know she had also cooperated with former Yorkshire Evening Post journalist Andrew Morton three years earlier on his book, Diana Her True Story. At the time it was billed as ‘the truth’ about a deeply unhappy woman in a deeply unhappy marriage told to Morton by ‘friends’ who knew her. We now know it was told to him by the Princess herself .
The Panorama interview was in response to Prince Charles’ revelation to David Dimbleby the year before to having being unfaithful, but only after the marriage had “irretrievably broken down”. Twenty years after her death Prince William said he totally understood why his mother had agreed to it, that he knew from personal experience how unfair it is that things are said that are untrue. But he added to “open the door” to the media is never the answer.
Perhaps surprisingly as a journalist, I totally agree. What is often forgotten is that Princess Diana wished she had never done the Panorama interview, even though for many it cemented her as the “Queen in people’s hearts” and led to an outpouring of sympathy. But it is worth remembering that at the inquest into her death, just two years later, one of her closest friends told the coroner Diana had said that she “really, really regretted” it.
Why she regretted it is not on record. Perhaps she realised the impact it would have on her children or on the public perception of the monarchy. Or that quite simply it didn’t make her feel any better about herself or the breakdown of her relationship. Which is all the more surprising that history appears to have repeated itself in the past two weeks when the Duchess of Suffolk’s friends collectively sprang to her defence in an interview with America’s People magazine which aimed to put an end to “global bullying” and “emotional trauma.” They, and it is said ‘they’ are her inner circle, also added fuel to the fire about her relationship with her father, saying he has “never called, he’s never texted... it’s super painful.” Now I don’t know whether these five friends acted without the knowledge of Meghan. What I do know is that it has all backfired spectacularly. Within days her father was once again putting the record straight, publishing extracts from a letter from his daughter to “daddy,” that began with the line “It is with a heavy heart that I write this not understanding why you have chosen to take this path, turning a blind eye to the pain you are causing.”
Daddy then came back with a string of claims that he could have earned much more from his interviews, than he has. He says he is devastated at the letter, that it was a dagger to his heart. She says hers is broken into a million pieces. He had tried to contact her. She ignored him. And so it goes on. It is all so sad, so unseemly and all so reminiscent of the stand-off between her father-in-law and her late mother-in-law which saw no winners. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
Tit-for-tat interviews rarely do. Yes, they make fascinating reading to all who are not involved, but almost always destroy relationships forever and if the subjects are in the public eye, they are there for all time to be poured over and analysed long after the hurt is all but forgotten, or could have been if it had remained private.
I don’t know what will happen with Meghan and her dad. It is all too raw, too emotional and frankly too personal for me to comment on. But it will never be mended by seeking resolution in the media. As Prince William said last year about his mother’s famous interview it often seems “the easiest thing to do (to) go to the media yourself .” But he warned, “once you have opened the door you can never close it again”. Wise words indeed. His sister-in-law or at least her friends and her father would do well to listen to him and slam that door shut. If they do one day they might just be able to open it wide enough to let each other back in. And that, reading between the lines, is what they both want most of all.