Anything other than a robust Martin Bashir inquiry risks the monarchy tuning out the BBC
Prince William’s "tentative" welcoming of a judge-led inquiry into the row over Martin Bashir’s interview with his mother, Princess Diana, is unlikely to inspire confidence in the BBC.
The word "tentative" appears to suggest a degree of scepticism as to whether the broadcaster will finally get to the bottom of claims that the princess was tricked into speaking so candidly with Panorama in 1995.
What William appeared to be welcoming was the independent nature of the inquiry – which is to be headed by Lord Dyson, a former Master of the Rolls – rather than the BBC’s decision to take action.
The royal father-of-three, 38, is understood to have spent the past fortnight in contact with the BBC to ensure they hired a top judge "to establish the truth".
And who can blame him? For if it hadn’t been for pressure from a Channel 4 documentary, his uncle Earl Spencer and the newspapers that have exposed Mr Bashir’s alleged nefarious tactics, the BBC would have probably continued hailing the interview as the journalistic triumph of the 20th century.
Serious concerns were raised within a month of the sensational hour-long programme being broadcast on a windy November night 25 years ago. Freelance graphic designer Matt Wiessler told senior news executives that Mr Bashir had asked him to forge bank statements, allegedly to help to secure the interview.
Graphic designer Matt Wiessler
Credit: John Hall/ITV/PA
Yet a subsequent"review" by former director-general Tony Hall, then the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, now Lord Hall of Birkenhead, found "…there had been no question of Mr Bashir trying to mislead or do anything improper".
After Lord Hall concluded that Mr Bashir "was an honest man", he went on to have a hugely lucrative media career and was able to return to the BBC as religious affairs editor in 2016, seemingly without anyone else being interviewed for the role.
Meanwhile, despite Mr Wiessler’s admirable attack of conscience over how the interview had been handled, he was told he would never work for the BBC again.
So it is little wonder that William feels "tentative" right now.
Even more worryingly for "Auntie", this sorry saga threatens to further drive a wedge in a relationship between the Royal Family and the BBC that has never quite recovered from the "Queengate" affair.
In 2007, the BBC was forced to apologise to the Queen after admitting it "misrepresented" her by implying that she stormed out of a photoshoot with the American photographer Annie Leibovitz.
After conceding that the sequence of events in a trailer for a BBC1 documentary about the Queen had been misrepresented, it then had to issue a clarification confirming that the scenes would not be shown in the same way in the final programme.
It is no secret that the episode left a sour taste in the mouths of palace aides, who had bent over backwards to accommodate the documentary, as well as disappointing the monarch herself.
Prince William and Kate Middleton pose for pictures at St James's Palace after announcing their engagement in 2010
Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
So perhaps it was hardly surprising that, when William got engaged to Kate Middleton in 2010, they chose to give the interview to ITV’s Tom Bradby, a personal friend, rather than the national broadcaster.
Relations between the two institutions were not improved by criticisms of the BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, which received more than 2,000 complaints from the public.
Even Alan Yentob, then the corporation’s creative director, was forced to admit it was "fair to criticise" some aspects of the "dumbed down" coverage, after it featured a Fearne Cotton interview about commemorative sick bag and the singer Paloma Faith showing off a solar-powered model of the Queen and Monarch-shaped ice cream scoop.
Although the BBC landed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement interview in 2017, with the Duchess said to have hand-picked Mishal Husain to ask the questions, they missed out on another scoop when Mr Bradby landed a chat with the couple on their African tour last October, during which Meghan complained of her treatment at the hands of the Royals.
Meghan Markle being interviewed by ITV's Tom Bradby
Almost all of the most noteworthy documentaries about the royals in recent years have featured on ITV, including William’s widely-acclaimed "A Planet for Us All", aired in September, "The Princess Royal at 70", which was very well received in July, and a number of series on the 94-year-old monarch including "Queen of the World", "Our Queen at 90", and "Our Queen". "When Ant and Dec Met Prince Charles" was also broadcast by ITV in 2015 to positive reviews.
In a statement issued by Kensington Palace on Wednesday night, the Duke said: "The independent investigation is a step in the right direction. It should help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the Panorama interview and subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time."
The inquiry marks the first major test for Tim Davie, the BBC’s new director-general. The appointment of Lord Dyson is certainly a step in the right direction in Mr Davie’s self-confessed quest "to get to the truth about these events".
For anything less than a robust investigation risks the monarchy tuning out the BBC for good.