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The history of the royal family’s televised ‘tell-alls’

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·5-min read

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are far from the first members of the royal family to appear in a bombshell television interview.

From Diana, Princess of Wales’s shock Panorama interview to Sarah, Duchess of York’s numerous heart to hearts with Oprah Winfrey, controversy has never been far away from the Windsors’ on-screen antics.

– Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana’s now infamous Panorama interview was clearly the deciding factor in influencing the Queen to urge her son and his estranged wife to divorce.

The princess called royal officials “the enemy” and questioned the Prince of Wales’s suitability to be King.

Diana, Princess of Wales
Diana, Princess of Wales (John Stillwell/PA)

The 55-minute broadcast in 1995 was seen as an attack on both Charles and the royal family, with Diana arranging the interview in secret without even telling senior members of her Kensington Palace household.

“I would think that the top job (being king), as I call it, would bring enormous limitations to him, and I don’t know whether he could adapt to that,” the princess told Martin Bashir.

Diana, who appeared sad-eyed and spoke with her head dipped, opened up about her struggles with royal life, how she felt isolated and unsupported and how her husband’s staff wanted to undermine her.

“The enemy was my husband’s department, because I always got more publicity, my work was more, was discussed much more than him,” she said.

She confessed to adultery with cavalry officer James Hewitt, and said of Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Diana also talked frankly about her post-natal depression, self-harm and bulimia, and her desire to become a “Queen of people’s hearts”.

A quarter of a century later, an independent investigation is examining the lengths Bashir went to to secure Diana’s co-operation.

– The Prince of Wales

Charles had already set the pattern the year before Diana by appearing on a prime-time TV documentary in 1994 when he confessed to infidelity.

Prince of Wales TV Documentary
The Prince of Wales and Jonathan Dimbleby at Highgrove during the filming of the television documentary Charles the private man, the public role (PA)

The Jonathan Dimbleby television scoop was an unprecedented bid for public sympathy for the future king in the 25th anniversary year of his investiture.

But he shocked the establishment by admitting to adultery during his marriage on national television, saying he was only unfaithful after his marriage had “irretrievably” broken down.

– The Duke of York

Andrew’s ill-considered Newsnight interview in November 2019 was an attempt to defend his reputation in light of his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

But it had the opposite effect and was an unmitigated disaster.

Emily Maitlis interview
The Duke of York’s Newsnight interview (Mark Harrison/BBC)

Within days, he was forced to step down from public duties such was the backlash from the businesses and charities he had links with.

In the interview conducted by Emily Maitlis, the duke denied an alleged sexual encounter with Virginia Giuffre, who claims she was trafficked by Epstein, saying he had no recollection of meeting her and had been at a Pizza Hut in Woking instead.

He also refuted claims he sweated heavily while reportedly dancing with Ms Giuffre in Tramp nightclub, saying he had a medical condition at the time which meant he did not sweat.

Andrew was criticised for showing a lack of empathy towards the paedophile’s victims and for failing to show regret for his friendship with Epstein, who took his own life while in prison.

– Sarah, Duchess of York

Fergie, as she is nicknamed, became well known for her stints on American TV, with repeated sit down chats with Winfrey, and also interviews with Larry King and Diane Sawyer.

The duchess was cast out of The Firm thanks to her “toe-sucking” scandal in the 1990s.

In 1996, in a whirlwind of promotions for her autobiography, she spoke about behind the scenes royal life with Winfrey.

“It’s not a fairytale. It’s real life in there – well so to speak – they think it’s real life in there,” she said.

Sarah, Duchess of York
Sarah, Duchess of York at Princess Eugenie’s wedding (Toby Melville/PA)

Winfrey herself said: “To do this, to have this life means you ultimately lose yourself … that you can play this game, and it is the biggest game there is… you have to play by the rules.”

In 2010, the duchess was back on with Oprah explaining her actions after she was caught in a cash for access scandal.

She described herself as being on the brink of bankruptcy and likened her out of control spending to being an addict.

In 2011, she told Oprah how not being invited to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding was “so difficult” to cope with.

– The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

The former King Edward VIII and his American wife Wallis gave a rare interview to the BBC – but they bided their time, waiting for 34 years after his abdication.

The Duke & Duchess of Windsor
The Duke & Duchess of Windsor (PA)

In 1970, the former monarch said he had no regrets.

He remained respectful of the institution and his niece Queen Elizabeth II, saying: “I think that the monarchy could not possibly be in better hands than it is today.”

– The Duke and Duchess of Sussex

Harry and Meghan previously caused ructions in a television documentary.

They appeared in the ITV programme Harry & Meghan: An African Journey in 2019 – just months before announcing they wanted to quit as senior royals.

Royal visit to Africa – Day Ten
The couple on their tour of Africa (Facundo Arrizabalaga/PA)

Meghan said she had tried to cope with the pressures by putting on a “stiff upper lip” but she was not prepared for the intensity of tabloid interest.

“It’s not enough to just survive something, that’s not the point of life. You have got to thrive,” she added.

She told presenter Tom Bradby: “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”

Harry also spoke about his struggles, and when asked about an alleged rift with William, said he and his brother were “on different paths” and had “good days” and “bad days” in their relationship.