When it comes to royals and getting candid, interviews are often presented in the form of highly staged and scripted affairs confined to the walls of Buckingham Palace (and usually to depict a positive narrative). The royal family’s long history with the press, which includes a lot of “sources said” as opposed to first-hand accounts, could be why when a royal does choose to speak openly about their experiences—traditionally as a result of years of their stories being played out in tabloids—the results are shocking, candid and typically, incredibly controversial.
Whether it’s Princess Diana calculating move to speak with journalist Martin Bashir to finally let her voice be heard following her separation from Prince Charles (and his ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles) or an unaware slip addressing accusations you’re involved in an alleged sex trafficking ring, as was the case for Prince Andrew, royals and interviews tend to create waves when released.
Ahead of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s tell-all with Oprah, set to air on March 7, we’re looking back on some of the most revealing and shocking royal interviews of all time.
Prince Charles & Princess Diana Announce Their Engagement, 1981
Most memorable quote: “Whatever love means.”
When Prince Charles and Princess Diana announced their engagement in 1981, it was an occasion celebrated around the globe—with many holding out to watch the couple’s first onscreen appearance as husband-and wife-to-be, especially considering it was the first time they had ever spoken with the press together.
The segment was awkward from the start, especially considering that the couple had only previously met 13 times before becoming engaged. Most specifically, when a reporter asked the pair if they were in love, to which Diana responded, “of course”, and Charles infamously said, “whatever love means.”
Awkwardness aside, the interview had lingering effects on the late Princess of Wales and how she viewed her marriage to Charles, which would eventually end in turmoil.
“We had this ghastly interview the day we announced our engagement,” she said, per Diana: In Her Own Words. “And this ridiculous [reporter] said, ‘Are you in love?’ I thought, what a thick question. So I said, ‘Yes, of course, we are,’ and Charles turned around and said, ‘Whatever love means.’ And that threw me completely. I thought, what a strange answer. It traumatised me.”
Prince Charles Admits To His Affair With Camilla Parker Bowles, 1994
Most memorable quote: “Yes… Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”
After years of rumoured infidelity in his marriage to Princess Diana, Prince Charles attempted to salvage his tarnished reputation with the release of an ITN documentary in 1994. While it was a means to damage the stories of adultery, one particular segment had the opposite effect on the royal’s reputation—where he finally admitted to his ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Filmmaker Jonathan Dimbleby asks the Prince of Wales if he was “faithful and honourable” during his marriage to Diana. He initially replies, “Yes, absolutely,” but is prompted further by Dimbleby, who says, “And you were?”. Charles adds: “Yes… Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried.”
Prince Charles, after the documentary aired to negative press, wrote a letter to Marjorie Dawson, Princess Alexandra’s former maid and personal dresser, reflecting on his words.
“I suspect it was what is called ‘living dangerously’, but it seems difficult to avoid nowadays! I’m glad you enjoyed it and managed to remain fully awake for two and a half hours!”
Princess Diana’s Infamous Martin Bashir Tell-All, 1995
Most memorable quote: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
In 1995, a year prior to her divorce from Prince Charles, the Princess of Wales participated in one of the most controversial and telling interviews a member of the royal family had ever—and arguably still has ever—given.
It’s been over two decades since Diana sat down with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, and in that now-infamous exchange, the royal made statements on her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles, detailed the royal’s continuous infidelity with the now Duchess Camilla—including the famous line, “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”—as well as admitting to her own affair with army officer James Hewitt.
In November 2020, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer campaigned for an independent inquiry into how Bashir convinced Diana to participate in the bombshell interview.
That call for an investigation into Bashir’s actions includes allegations against the interviewer and the BBC, who Earl Spencer alleges lied and committed deception to persuade the royal into the tell-all. He also alleges that Bashir used fake bank statements to reportedly prove the palace was selling stories to the press.
“While I knew that Martin Bashir used fake bank statements and other dishonesty… what I found out only two weeks ago… is that the BBC also knew,” he tweeted. “Not only knew about it but that they covered it up.”
The BBC has since pledged to hold a full independent investigation into how Bashir obtained the career-defining interview.
On May 21, 2022, Prince William and Prince Harry broke their silence on their mother’s infamous interview with Bashir, slamming the BBC for “deceit” over the video.
The two statements come after an investigation from retired judge Lord Dyson found that Bashir faked documents in order to obtain the interview with Diana.
Prince William’s Official Statement On The BBC Interview
“I would like to thank Lord Dyson and his team for the report,” William stated.
“It is welcome that the BBC accepts Lord Dyson’s findings in full—which are extremely concerning—that BBC employees: lied and used fake documents to obtain the interview with my mother; made lurid and false claims about the Royal Family which played on her fears and fuelled paranoia; displayed woeful incompetence when investigating complaints and concerns about the programme; and were evasive in their reporting to the media and covered up what they knew from their internal investigation.”
He continued: “It is my view that the deceitful way the interview was obtained substantially influenced what my mother said. The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others,”
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her,” William explained.
“But what saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived. She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions,”
He began to conclude: “It is my firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again. It effectively established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialised by the BBC and others,”
“In an era of fake news, public service broadcasting and a free press have never been more important. These failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down, and my family down; they let the public down too.”
Prince Harry’s Official Statement On The BBC Interview
Prince Harry’s statement shared a similar message to his older brother’s, saying: “Our mother was an incredible woman who dedicated her life to service. She was resilient, brave, and unquestionably honest. The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life,”
“To those who have taken some form of accountability, thank you for owning it,” he said. “That is the first step towards justice and truth. Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these—and even worse—are still widespread today. Then, and now, it’s bigger than one outlet, one network, or one publication,”
“Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed. By protecting her legacy, we protect everyone, and uphold the dignity with which she lived her life. Let’s remember who she was and what she stood for.”
BBC ordered to pay damages to ex-royal nanny
In July 2022, the BBC agreed to pay damages to Tiggy Legge-Bourke, the former Nanny of Prince William and Harry, after she was allegedly accused of having an affair with Prince Charles in order to obtain the infamous 1995 interview with Bashir and Diana.
Legge-Bourke’s lawyer told the court that these allegations caused “serious personal consequences for all concerned”.
Court documents claim the “false and malicious allegations arose as a result and in the context of BBC Panorama’s efforts to procure an exclusive interview with Diana, Princess of Wales”.
It has been alleged Bashir spread these fake accusations as a way to win Diana’s trust, which resulted in her sitting down to do the interview with him.
In a statement, BBC director general, Tim Davie, said the network will never air the interview again.
“Had we done our job properly Princess Diana would have known the truth during her lifetime. We let her, the royal family and our audiences down,” he said in July.
“Now we know about the shocking way that the interview was obtained I have decided that the BBC will never show the programme again; nor will we license it in whole or part to other broadcasters.”
Sarah Ferguson Addresses Her News Of The World Scandal, 2010
Most memorable quote: “I haven’t faced the devil in the face because I was in the gutter at that moment.”
As one of the most controversial members of the royal family, it’s unsurprising Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, just like Harry and Meghan, turned to legendary talk show host Oprah to share her experiences behind Buckingham Palace walls. The Duchess of York first appeared on the talk show in 1996, the year her divorce from Prince Andrew was finalised, and returned in 2010 and 2011.
Most controversially, Fergie touched on her News of the World scandal whereby the former royal offered access to her ex-husband in exchange for money. The case was against the owners of the now-defunct publication in 2010 after an investigation by their undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood, widely known as the ‘Fake Sheikh’, where she offered to introduce Mazher to her ex-husband for £500,000.
“I haven’t faced the devil in the face because I was in the gutter at that moment,’ she told Oprah in 2010, adding, “I’m aware of the fact that I’ve been drinking, you know, that I was not in my right place.”
Prince Andrew & The Royal’s Inability To Sweat, 2019
Most memorable quote: “… it was almost impossible for me to sweat.”
Prince Andrew gave a one-off interview to finally address the allegations he was involved in Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking ring. Speaking inside Buckingham Palace, the Duke of York sat down with BBC reporter Emily Maitlis, speaking on everything from his friendship with Epstein to allegations brought forward by Virginia Giuffre (nee Roberts), who claims she was sex trafficked by the late businessman and forced to have sex with the royal three times between 2001 and 2002 when she was 17.
Speaking inside Buckingham Palace, the Duke of York said, “That’s the bit that… as it were, I kick myself for on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.”
The royal also insisted he had “no recollection” of meeting Virginia, despite her specific allegations that include a time she met the prince and was “profusely sweating.” However, Andrew claims he had medical condition at the time which meant he could not have been sweating. “I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenalin in the Falklands War when I was shot at and I simply… it was almost impossible for me to sweat,” he said. After the interview, a photo of him sweating taken in 2000 went viral.
When asked why he chose to stay in Epstein’s home, Andrew said: “It was a convenient place to stay. I mean I’ve gone through this in my mind so many times. At the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do,” adding, “But at the time I felt it was the honorable and right thing to do and I admit fully that my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honorable but that’s just the way it is.”
Meghan Markle Emotionally Revealing She Wasn’t “Okay”, 2019
Most memorable quote: “Not many people have asked if I’m okay, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
There’s no denying life hasn’t been easy for the Duchess of Sussex since her arrival—and exit—from the royal family, and in 2019 the royal candidly revealed she wasn’t “okay” with the constant public scrutiny, especially while expecting her first child.
While speaking to ITV News for Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, a documentary about the couple’s royal tour of southern Africa, Meghan told journalist Tom Bradby: “Any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable. So, that was made really challenging, and, then when you have a newborn, and especially as a woman, it’s a lot. So, you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed.”
When asked if she was “okay”, Meghan expressed gratitude for his willingness to ask such a question. “I guess also thank you for asking because not many people have asked if I’m okay,” she said, “but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
When asked by Bradby if it would be fair to say that her time as a royal has “really been a struggle,” Meghan simply replied, “Yes.”