Content warning: Mentions of disordered eating and self harm.
Seven years and five seasons of The Crown have all been leading up to the dramatic break down in Diana and Charles’ marriage, and viewers got to see the production’s reenactment of the famous Princess Diana Panorama interview in Episode 8 of the hit Netflix series. Diana sat down with Martin Bashir in 1995 following her separation from the then-Prince Charles, for a shockingly frank interview where she addressed issues such as infidelity, mental health, self-harm, and her views on the royal line of succession.
The Panorama special was watched by nearly 23 million people in the UK and, though the BBC has since apologised for the dishonest way in which Bashir secured the scoop, it was still a bombshell moment that many remember vividly about Diana.
But how true to reality was The Crown in presenting this decisive moment? Below, see some of the ways in which the TV series nailed Princess Diana’s original Panorama interview — and some ways in which they didn’t.
1. Estrangement From The Royal Family
It was during this interview where Diana confirmed she had had depression, bulimia, and self-harming behaviour as a result of her decline in mental health during her time as Princess of Wales. She also revealed feeling very alone in her struggles, with no support, whether from her husband Prince Charles or senior members of the royal family, repeatedly describing the experience as “isolating.”
The Crown addressed this feeling of estrangement, with Diana (played by Elizabeth Debicki) stating, “Well, I suppose if you’re the first person in the family to ever feel low, then it’s pretty hard to get the support that you need, so you suffer alone.”
In the Panorama interview, Diana had been a little more forthcoming with her mental health. “Well, maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression [sic] or was ever openly tearful. And obviously that was daunting, because if you’ve never seen it before, how do you support it?”
The Crown further emphasised Diana’s feelings of loneliness with a tight shot in the interview sequence, focusing on Debicki as she says bitterly, “What better way to break down a personality than by isolating it?” The line in the original interview was very similar, though not delivered as a rhetorical question. “Well, there’s no better way to dismantle a personality than to isolate it.”
2. Discussing Mental Health
The Crown’s creator Peter Morgan had also chosen to use stronger words and language in this scene. In the show, Debicki’s Diana says about her depression, “It gave people a marvellous new label to pin on me. ‘Diana’s crazy.’ And should be sent to a home.”
In the original, the royal had actually said, “It gave everybody a wonderful new label — Diana’s unstable and Diana’s mentally unbalanced — and unfortunately that seems to have stuck on and off over the years.”
Some viewers thought that Diana had a sad vulnerability about her, while Debicki appeared more smug and haughty instead. This could be down to the scripting; though “marvellous” and “wonderful” are both used sarcastically, the use of the former sounds slightly more snarky.
The series had also featured one of Diana’s most famous lines from the interview: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” While Debicki had replicated even Diana’s small smiles down to the second — both Debicki and Prasanna Puwanarajah, who portrays Bashir, had worked with vocal and movement coaches to recreate the interview — Diana did indeed carry a softer air about her.
3. The “Top Job”
Most searingly, Princess Diana had expressed her doubts about whether Prince Charles was suitable to be the British monarch in her 1995 interview. In this instance, The Crown had stuck fairly close to the source material, with the visual focus on Dominic West’s Prince Charles, and Diana’s interview merely in the background.
“I was conflicted about it,” Diana says in the series, “because I know him so well, and I think that the top job would put big limits on him. And I’m not sure how he would cope with that.”
In reality, Diana had expanded on her thoughts more, explaining that being king would be more “demanding” and “suffocating.” “There was always conflict on that subject with him when we discussed it, and I understood that conflict, because it's a very demanding role, being Prince of Wales, but it's an equally more demanding role being King.
“And being Prince of Wales produces more freedom now, and being King would be a little bit more suffocating. And because I know the character I would think that the top job, as I call it, would bring enormous limitations to him, and I don't know whether he could adapt to that.”
4. On Being Queen
One of Princess Diana’s most iconic and beloved quotes is being “a queen of people’s hearts,” and The Crown absolutely nailed the delivery of this interview portion.
When asked whether she thinks she will ever be queen, Debicki’s Diana replies, “I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts. But I don’t envisage myself ever being queen of this country, no. I don’t think many people would be calling for that.
“When I say people, I mean those at the top, on my husband’s side, because they’ve decided that I’m an issue. Full stop. A liability. But someone’s got to go out onto the streets, give people the love that they need.”
Packing a heavy emotional punch, Princess Diana’s own words in her 1995 Panorama interview were: “I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts, in people's hearts, but I don't see myself being queen of this country. I don't think many people will want me to be queen. Actually, when I say many people I mean the establishment that I married into, because they have decided that I'm a non-starter.
“Because I do things differently, because I don't go by a rule book, because I lead from the heart, not the head, and albeit that's got me into trouble in my work, I understand that. But someone's got to go out there and love people and show it.”