Who is Martin Bashir, the shamed journalist behind the infamous Princess Diana interview?

Bashir, a successful journalist in the UK before moving to the US to further his career, was rarely far from controversy

File photo: Martin Bashir. AP
File photo: Martin Bashir. AP

Martin Bashir shot to fame with his sensational BBC interview with Princess Diana that detailed her collapsing marriage to Prince Charles.

But an independent investigation commissioned by the BBC ruled on Thursday that Bashir acted in a dishonest and deceitful way to have Diana agree to the interview.

Bashir’s early career

Bashir's first journalism work was as a freelance sports journalist before joining the BBC in 1986.

He worked for the BBC until 1999, on programmes including Songs of Praise, Public Eye and Panorama.

In 1999 he joined ITV, working on special documentaries and features for Tonight with Trevor McDonald.

The Princess Diana interview

First broadcast in November 1995, the Princess Diana interview became the subject of a BBC investigation after her brother, Charles Spencer, and others accused Bashir of using questionable methods to secure the interview.

Michael Jackson's former manager, Dieter Wiesner, also blamed Bashir's 2003 documentary on the troubled US singer for his eventual demise six years later.

"It killed him," Mr Wiesner said. "He took a long time to die, but it started that night.

"Previously the drugs were a crutch, but after that they became a necessity."

Other high-profile interviewees include the young British nanny Louise Woodward, who was convicted in the US of involuntary manslaughter after a baby died in her care.

Bashir also spoke on camera to five suspects accused of murdering black teenager Stephen Lawrence in a notorious, racially motivated attack in South London in 1993.

Controversy has never been far away from Bashir.

In October 2020, Mr Spencer called for an enquiry into how Bashir secured the Princess Diana interview, a watershed moment in British life that lifted the lid on royal secrets.

He demanded an apology from the BBC, saying Bashir showed him fake bank statements that suggested security services were paying two senior courtiers to spy on his sister.

"If it were not for me seeing these statements I would not have introduced Bashir to my sister," Mr Spencer wrote, accusing the broadcaster of "sheer dishonesty".

In November 2020, the BBC announced an investigation into the claims, led by former Supreme Court judge John Dyson, which found that the broadcaster "fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its trademark".

Claims of wrongdoing emerged shortly after the interview was broadcast, but a BBC internal investigation in 1996 cleared Bashir.

The BBC Panorama interview with Diana, who died in a Paris car crash in 1997, is seen by some as one of the 20th century's greatest and most revealing.

It was watched by a record 22.8 million people and won a string of TV awards.

In it, Diana said "there were three people" in her marriage – a reference to Prince Charles's relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles – and admitted having an affair herself.

The couple, who had two sons, princes William and Harry, separated in 1992 and formally divorced in 1996. Charles married Camilla in a low-key civil ceremony in 2005.

Bashir's interview with Michael Jackson

Illusionist Uri Geller was one of those who watched the Diana interview and he suggested interviews with Bashir could improve the image of his friend, Michael Jackson.

At the time, the self-styled King of Pop was facing rumours about child abuse allegations, and questions about the eccentric parenting of his young children.

The 2003 ITV documentary Living with Michael Jackson painted a picture of a troubled loner. It was seen by 14 million people in the UK and 38 million in the US.

Jackson complained to the UK TV regulators, accusing Bashir of giving a distorted picture of his behaviour and conduct as a father.

Bashir’s move to the US

In 2004, Bashir moved to New York, where he worked for ABC, co-anchoring their current affairs show Nightline. Along with Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran, he took over Nightline in 2005.

In 2008, while working as a reporter for Nightline, Bashir was suspended from ABC News after making remarks described as "crude and sexist" during a dinner speech.

"I'm happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes," he said. "I'm happy that the podium covers me from the waist down."

He said that a speech should be "like a dress on a beautiful woman – long enough to cover the important parts and short enough to keep your interest – like my colleague Juju's", referring to his ABC News colleague Juju Chang, a reporter.

ABC News suspended him. He wrote an apology to the journalist association that stated: "Upon reflection, it was a tasteless remark that I now bitterly regret. I … hope that the continuing work of the organisation will not be harmed or undermined by my moment of stupidity."

In August 2010, Bashir left ABC for MSNBC, where he was a political commentator and occasional substitute host for Lawrence O’Donnell, hosted his own programme, Martin Bashir, and was a correspondent for NBC’s Dateline NBC.

He resigned in 2013 for comments about Republican politician Sarah Palin's comparison of the US federal debt to slavery.

Bashir described Ms Palin, the running mate of John McCain during his failed 2008 presidential election campaign, as a "world-class idiot".

Bashir’s return to the BBC

Bashir, who was born to Pakistani parents in London in 1963, later returned to the BBC and served as its religious affairs editor from January 2017.

In October 2020, the broadcaster said he was "seriously unwell", with complications from the coronavirus.

The BBC said last week that he had stepped down from his editor role because of ongoing health issues after a quadruple heart bypass last year.

Updated: May 21, 2021 04:41 PM

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