Then, the conversation at Kensington Palace shifted to Prince Charles, the man she was about to divorce. His affair with Camilla Parker Bowles had rocked the royal family and made their marriage of 14 years “a bit crowded,” Diana said. Bashir asked Diana about the more cemented future of Charles, her soon-to-be ex-husband: “Do you think he would wish to be king?”
“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,” she said. “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.”
The 1995 interview, which was watched by an estimated 200 million people worldwide and viewed by nearly 40 percent of the United Kingdom, would be the final blow to a marriage that many once believed would culminate with Charles and Diana as king and queen. Instead, the couple divorced in 1996, Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris while trying to flee the paparazzi in 1997, and Charles married Camilla in 2005.
Nearly 30 years after Diana expressed doubt about her partner wanting the throne, King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned at their coronation at Westminster Abbey on Saturday. The procession through London, of royals and thousands of troops, was thronged by crowds of spectators hoping to get a glimpse of the newly crowned king and queen after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September. The ceremony, which was attended by more than 2,200 guests from across the world, is not only the first coronation in 70 years but also the first one to be televised in color. At 73, Charles is also the oldest person to be crowned monarch in British history.
For some, Queen Camilla’s coronation alongside King Charles III is the climax to one of the messiest, most publicly adjudicated affairs of modern times — a story of love and loss that has stretched on for roughly three decades. For others, the Saturday ceremony was another reminder of a day that Diana said she knew would never come for her.
The marriage of Charles and Diana was nearing an ugly conclusion when she sat down with Bashir on Nov. 5, 1995. It had been nearly three years since the couple announced an “amicable separation” shortly after the tapes showing intimate exchanges between Charles and Camilla were published in the British tabloids. Diana had also been linked to other partners.
Inside the sitting room that later became the play area for her sons, Diana was able to get Bashir, producer Mike Robinson and cameraman Tony Poole into Kensington Palace under the guise of installing a new stereo system, according to author Tina Brown’s 2007 book “The Diana Chronicles.” Bashir had used forged bank statements claiming that people close to Diana were being paid to spy on her to win the trust of Diana and her brother, Lord Spencer, and ultimately get the interview. (Bashir was later found to have used “deceitful methods” to get the Diana interview, according to the BBC, and resigned from the network in 2021, citing his health.)
But when the lights came on and the interview began, Diana told the journalist that not “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 nonstarter,” she told Bashir.
“Why do you think they’ve decided that?” the journalist asked.
“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.”
After Diana said the royal family saw her “as a threat of some kind,” she emphasized that she wanted to do good: “I’m not a destructive person.” Bashir wondered aloud why she may seem threatening to Charles’s family.
“I think every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path, and I think it’s the strength that causes the confusion and the fear,” she said before listing hypothetical questions that critics may ask. “Why is she strong? Where does she get it from? Where is she taking it? Where is she going to use it? Why do the public still support her?”
That’s when the subject of Charles came up, and whether he would be king.
“I don’t think any of us know the answer to that,” she said in 1995. “And obviously it’s a question that’s in everybody’s head. But who knows, who knows what fate will produce, who knows what circumstances will provoke?”
In his more than half-century as Prince of Wales, Charles did not often comment on how he would rule as king.
Charles attracted criticism after he said in a 1994 documentary that when he was king, he wanted to be recognized as the “defender of faith” instead of the British monarch’s traditional title of “Defender of the Faith,” according to the Los Angeles Times. While the tweak in language was done in hope of respecting other people’s religious traditions, there was concern that his eventual coronation ceremony would be altered. He eventually clarified his position in 2005, saying to BBC Radio 2 that he had been misinterpreted.
Months before the divorce was finalized, the question of whether the crown should go to 13-year-old William instead of Charles was one Diana did not want to answer. Bashir still wondered if this was her wish.
“My wish is that my husband finds peace of mind, and from that follows others things, yes,” Diana responded.
The peace of mind Diana had hoped for appeared to be on display at her ex-husband’s coronation Saturday. Kate, Princess of Wales, paid homage to the mother-in-law she never met by wearing the same pearl and diamond earrings that Charles gave Diana before their 1981 wedding.
Decades before the coronation of Charles was even a possibility, Diana assured the world that her speaking out in a televised interview was not her way to get back at her husband. There was no resentment, she said — just regret.
“I sit here with sadness because a marriage hasn’t worked,” Diana noted.
There was also a dream that life could be good for both her and Charles, even if they weren’t to be queen and king together.
“I sit here with hope because there’s a future ahead, a future for my husband, a future for myself and a future for the monarchy,” she concluded.
Anthony Faiola and Adela Suliman contributed to this report.