Though she likely did not know it at the time, September 1995 was one of the most important months of Princess Diana’s life. Nearly three years had passed since she had separated from Prince Charles, and though the divorce had not yet been finalized, she was already making a name for herself as a world-traveling humanitarian. That fall, two chance meetings would put her on a different path. On September 19, her brother Charles Spencer introduced her to Martin Bashir, a BBC journalist who claimed to have explosive information about press intrusion into her private life.
A few weeks earlier, Diana had visited a friend’s husband at the Royal Brompton Hospital, where he was recovering from surgical complications. While she was there, she met heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and was quickly smitten. Over the next few weeks she visited the hospital on multiple occasions, and in mid-September the two went on a date. Though the surgeon was busy working 90-hour weeks, over the next few months they embarked on a relationship that would ultimately last nearly two years, ending only five weeks before Diana’s tragic death in August 1997.
While she was getting to know Khan, Diana sat down for an interview with Bashir that was a bombshell at the time and has since become the subject of intense scrutiny, and an ongoing internal investigation at the BBC. Charles Spencer has alleged that Bashir showed a fake bank statement and lied about impropriety among the family’s staff in an attempt to get closer to Diana. And now Khan, who has remained a largely private figure despite his relationship with one of the most famous women in the world, is telling his side of the story in a rare interview with the Daily Mail. He agrees with Spencer that Bashir used deceitful tactics to secure the interview with the princess, but also gives his own insight into Diana’s friendship with Bashir— and how it ended.
Spencer has said he was caught off guard by the Panorama interview because he decided that Bashir seemed untrustworthy after their initial meeting, adding that he did not know that Diana’s contact with Bashir persisted afterward until the interview was announced in mid-November. In his recent interview, Khan said that in the early weeks of their relationship, Diana was frequently speaking with a “mole” she called Dr. Jarman, and that he eventually realized she was actually speaking to Bashir.
“One of her most attractive qualities was her vulnerability. It was what endeared her to the public,” Khan said. “I later realized that Martin picked on those vulnerabilities and exploited them. He was very persuasive with Diana. It was all about him being from the BBC, being respectable, and very pious even. But he filled her head with rubbish, such as that stuff about the nanny Tiggy [Legge-Bourke] being pregnant with Charles’s child.”
Later accounts have painted a mixed picture of Diana’s life in the fall of 1995. She was falling in love with Khan and truly embracing her independence from the palace, but at the same time, she was growing increasingly paranoid about the press and what she felt was unfair intrusion by her in-laws.
“She told me that whatever she did, she always knew how the courtiers at Buckingham Palace would retaliate,” Khan said of the period leading up to the interview. “She said she knew how the Duke of Edinburgh would react and the same applied to the Prince of Wales. The only person she didn’t mention was [Queen Elizabeth], and I never once heard her utter a word of criticism of her.”
Khan told the Mail that Diana continued to be friendly with Bashir after the interview aired on November 20, adding that he visited a pub with Diana and the reporter in January 1996. “Almost from the word go, he started asking me the most direct personal questions about Diana and our relationship. Why didn’t we get married? When were we going to get married? That kind of thing,” Khan said. “It was intimate stuff.”
The continuing friendship between Diana and Bashir might explain one of the oddities of the original investigation into Bashir’s alleged misconduct. The BBC began to investigate Bashir soon after the Diana interview aired, over the allegations of forged bank documents. When the controversy about the interview erupted again last year, the corporation said that during its original investigation, it received a letter from Diana saying that she hadn’t been coerced into the interview, supposedly clearing Bashir of wrongdoing. In November the BBC announced that it found Diana’s note, and The Telegraph later reported that an employee had taken it.