Adultery, accusations and walkouts: when royals do TV interviews

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Famous past appearances suggest Harry and Meghan should be wary of opening up to Oprah

Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana in 1995 was watched by 22.8 million people and was reportedly denounced by the Queen. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

 The Guardian-Caroline Davies

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are due to give a “wide-ranging” interview with Oprah Winfrey next month, and according to a source the couple will not want to say anything to undermine their love and respect for the Queen. However, when royals face TV interviewers, it doesn’t always go to plan, as previous examples illustrate.

Prince Charles and Jonathan Dimbleby – 1994

The Prince of Wales’s astonishing admission of adultery on camera stunned the nation and reportedly left Prince Philip incensed when Charles spoke to Dimbleby, his official biographer, two years after he and Diana had separated.

His affair with Camilla Parker Bowles had long been the subject of widespread media speculation, but it was quite another thing for the future king to admit he had strayed. In the immediate aftermath, a Sun telephone poll found two-thirds of callers believed him unfit to be king.

Addressing tabloid reports, Dimbleby asked Charles if he had tried to be “faithful and honourable” to his wife. To which Charles replied: “Yes, absolutely.” “And you were?” asked Dimbleby. “Yes” Charles replied, before adding: “Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”

Originally Charles was not convinced he should mention his adultery, but, apparently, was later persuaded that he should as it would come out in a “sympathetic” way. The fallout was immense, not least because it led to Diana’s famous retaliatory interview.

Princess Diana and Martin Bashir – 1995

The Princess of Wales’ revenge interview the following year, with BBC Panorama’s Bashir, was even more controversial. An estimated 22.8 million people watched her discuss her marriage, her eating disorder, and whether her estranged husband could ever to be king. “I don’t think any of us know the answer to that,” she said.

She too admitted to an extramarital affair, with guards officer James Hewitt. Bashir asked: “Do you think Mrs Parker Bowles was a factor in the breakdown of your marriage?” Diana paused, before uttering the immortal line: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

To the horror of Buckingham Palace she also spoke of her postnatal depression, and her self-harm. “Yes, I did inflict upon myself, I didn’t like myself,” she confessed, at a time when mental health was a taboo subject.

Sir Richard Eyre, ex-director of the National Theatre, later said he had lunch with the Queen shortly afterwards, who reportedly told him: “Frightful thing to do, frightful thing that my daughter-in-law did.”

One month later Buckingham Palace announced the Queen had sent letters to the Prince and Princess of Wales, advising them to divorce.

The Duchess of York and Michael Usher – 2018

Sarah, Duchess of York stormed out of a 60 Minutes Australia interview after Usher questioned her about a 2010 sting by the News of the World’s “fake sheikh”, in which she allegedly offered an undercover reporter access to her former husband Prince Andrew for £500,000.

In the newspaper’s sting, she is heard on camera apparently saying: “I can open any door you want, and I will for you.” However, forced to listen again to the recording by Usher, Fergie rolled her eyes and shook her head before snapping: “Don’t try to trick me now.” She then demanded that “that bit” be deleted before declaring, “What more can I say, what more can I say,” and walking off set.

The Duke of York and Emily Maitlis – 2019

As car crash interviews go, however, Prince Andrew’s with Maitlis of BBC Newsnight over his friendship with the sex-offender US financier Jeffrey Epstein is hard to beat. Despite Andrew reportedly thinking it had gone very well, it led to him being forced to step down from public life for the foreseeable future.

Maitlis skewered a hapless Andrew as he admitted he did not regret his friendship with Epstein, adding that their relationship had “some seriously beneficial outcomes”. He also defended staying with Epstein in 2010, following Epstein’s conviction and imprisonment for soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, explaining he wanted to end their friendship face-to-face “to show leadership”.

On Virginia Giuffre’s accusation that she had sex with the prince and he sweated profusely when they danced, he repeated his denials of any sexual encounter and claimed a medical condition meant he could not sweat. The interview also put Pizza Express in Woking on the map when Andrew said he had taken daughter Beatrice to a birthday party there on the night he was alleged to have been with Giuffre.

 

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