On Monday night, having read yet more shocking revelations in the Mail about how Martin Bashir duped a vulnerable Princess Diana into pouring her heart out on Panorama, I watched the first part of The Diana Interview: Revenge Of A Princess on ITV — and then turned over to Newsnight.
Ordinarily, the BBC makes quite a good fist of reporting on itself, however awkward the circumstances. Not this time.
Had a newspaper behaved in the scurrilous way Bashir did, there would have been blanket coverage across all BBC channels.
Instead, tumbleweed. No armies of outraged pundits fuming into their Zoom screens. No Labour MPs jumping on the bandwagon. No Steve Coogan or Hugh Grant either, sounding off about privacy.
On Monday night, having read yet more shocking revelations in the Mail about how Martin Bashir duped a vulnerable Princess Diana (pictured in 1995) into pouring her heart out on Panorama, I watched the first part of The Diana Interview: Revenge Of A Princess on ITV
Because this time, it’s one of their own in the dock. And I don’t just mean Bashir; but the image of the BBC as a beacon of integrity immune from the rapacious appetites of the commercial Press.
In the past day or two, Auntie has finally started reporting the story it had virtually ignored for a week, but its earlier silence speaks volumes.
Just to recap. In 1995, a graphic designer called Matt Wiessler was asked by Bashir to ‘mock up’ bank statements showing payments to the head of Earl Spencer’s security staff, from, among other sources, a newspaper group owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The aim was to earn Diana’s trust, and in so doing secure a meeting . . . which Bashir did, and the rest is history.
Had a newspaper behaved in the scurrilous way Bashir (pictured near his north London home), there would have been blanket coverage across all BBC channels
At the time there were questions over the Panorama team’s tactics; but all were exonerated in an internal BBC inquiry.
And there the matter might have ended, were it not for the intervention of Earl Spencer, whose handwritten notes from that period — shown exclusively to the Mail last week — reveal the true extent to which Bashir fed Diana’s paranoia by filling her head with nonsense, including the notion that she was being spied on via Prince William’s watch. Terrified the whole world was out to get her, she agreed to the interview, and Bashir and the BBC got their scoop. But in truth what Bashir did was not just ruthless, enough to make any tabloid hack blush; it was downright wicked.
He gaslit a fragile young woman in such a way as to lead her to give an interview that, in the end, did so much more harm than good, for her and the Royal Family.
In 1995, a graphic designer called Matt Wiessler (pictured) was asked by Bashir to ‘mock up’ bank statements showing payments to the head of Earl Spencer’s security staff, from, among other sources, a newspaper group owned by Rupert Murdoch
He made her think he was someone she could trust, and then filleted her soul in front of millions.
What makes this even worse, to my mind, is that the BBC didn’t need to do it. Unlike newspapers, the BBC does not rely on its ability to land scoops to maintain its existence. It has the taxpayer to take care of all that.
And it was taxpayers’ money that was used to perpetrate this fraud — money that is there not to pay for forged bank statements, but to ensure the Corporation never has to compromise its core values of fairness, honesty and decency.
As someone who grew up abroad without the BBC, I’ve always been its biggest fan, including supporting the licence fee.
But now I know the truth about that interview, I realise that I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise.
That BBC of my youth, if it ever existed, is long gone. And unless the new director-general, Tim Davie, rises to the challenge and ensures those responsible for this abomination are held to account, I don’t see why we should continue to fund it for one second longer.
One role Lily never wanted
Of course Dominic West’s wife, Catherine FitzGerald, should leave him if that’s what she wants to do.
She’s too attractive to wait around for a man who is clearly wedded to no one but his own ego. It’s Lily James I feel sorry for: she’s been cast as a Jezebel, when she was probably just indulging an old goat whose marriage, by all accounts, isn’t exactly a bed of roses. Surely that’s the one role she never wanted.
It’s Lily James (pictured in 2018) I feel sorry for: she’s been cast as a Jezebel, when she was probably just indulging an old goat whose marriage, by all accounts, isn’t exactly a bed of roses
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, there seems to be a very real prospect of a vaccine in the near future — and what does the Welsh government do? Announce it’s cancelling next summer’s GCSEs and A-levels.
Sheer madness! It’s not only hugely defeatist and demoralising for young people who have worked hard to keep up during lockdown — it’s also a callous politicisation of the situation.
Now all we need is for Nicola Sturgeon to go as far, and No. 10 will come under huge pressure to follow suit — or risk children in Scotland and Wales having an inherent advantage over those in England when they all get suspiciously high ‘predicted grades’.
So who’s top dog?
Biden and Boris may not have much in common politically, but they do share one, arguably more important, similarity: they both own rescue dogs.
Boris has Dilyn the Jack Russell cross; Biden has Major, a two-year-old German Shepherd that has already been re-christened DOTUS.
Biden has Major, a two-year-old German Shepherd that has already been re-christened DOTUS
German shepherds get a bad rap, but actually they can be surprisingly affectionate. Jacks are, of course, no better than they ought to be — but at the same time are wonderfully energetic creatures.
Either way, there’s nothing like a shared love of dogs to unite two people, however much they may disagree about everything else. As for Donald Trump — well, recent days have proved he’s just barking.
Every cloud has its silver lining: for the first time in ten years, Coca-Cola’s Christmas truck will not be doing the rounds of the UK.
Given the recent news that 22 per cent of Year Six pupils are obese by the time they leave primary school, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
For the first time in ten years, Coca-Cola’s Christmas truck will not be doing the rounds of the UK (pictured in 2018 in Swansea, Wales)
Despite both being cyclists, Jeremy Vine (no relation) and I have very different views on cycle lanes. He’s all in favour; I am not such a fan, especially on trunk roads — I’m alarmed at the way they’ve sprung up across the capital, reducing large parts to gridlock.
But since we are both civilised people, we went for a socially distanced bike ride together on Sunday. It was all going well until I got a puncture. Inevitably, neither of us had a puncture kit.
So we got a takeaway coffee while Jeremy tweeted his squillions of followers. It wasn’t until after I had walked my bike home that I realised James May (of Top Gear fame) had offered to rescue us. What a trio we would have made: a professional petrolhead, a cycle warrior . . . and me. Who knows, we might even have ‘broken Twitter’.
Jeremy Vine (no relation) and I have very different views on cycle lanes (pictured in London, 2019)
Hail to the Chief, a true gentleman
I was deeply saddened by the death of the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, at the weekend. He really was the best of men. Many years ago, I accompanied my husband to a dinner at his house. After supper, there was one of those terrifying round-table ‘state-of-the-nation’ discussions, to which I was expected to contribute.
When my turn came, I thought I would say something vaguely pertinent about the negative influence of television on young people — and, in particular the dumbing down of children’s TV (which was a big thing at the time).
‘I don’t know if any of you have watched Saturday morning television recently . . .’ I began, only to be interrupted by a loud clattering of cutlery and several sharp intakes of breath from the stiff-haired ladies at the other end of the table.
I was deeply saddened by the death of the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks (pictured in 2014), at the weekend
I had forgotten, in my fluster, that many Jewish households don’t even turn the lights on, let alone watch television, on the Sabbath. I stammered my apology, willing the ground to open up and swallow me, but Rabbi Sacks was the perfect gentleman.
He picked up my feeble point, smoothed over the conversation and turned what could have been a disaster into a minor hiccup.
Even though he would have been perfectly within his rights to let me stew in my own juices, he did not. Instead, he chose to be kind and generous to one who did not entirely deserve it. This was the essence of the man. He will be much missed.