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Press: Baines’s dead bat on Bashir shocks the Mail

28 May 2021


HEARTY congratulations to the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, on his promotion to “one of Britain’s leading Archbishops”, as the Daily Express — whoops! the Daily Mail — had it in the first edition. He was given this billing for his remarks about Martin Bashir and the BBC; and, if there is one thing that the Mail regards as more of a symbol of unearned liberal elitist privilege than the BBC, it is the Church of England.

I watched the interview in question, hosted by the Religion Media Centre, live, and I thought that Bishop Baines played a completely dead bat; but, apparently, his remarks were shocking enough to make a story.

“The Bishop of Leeds said William’s ‘devastating’ attack may not ‘stand the test of time’. In the wake of Lord Dyson’s report blasting Bashir and the BBC, the angry prince accused corporation executives of failing his mother, the Princess of Wales, fuelling her paranoia and making his parents’ relationship worse.

“The Right Rev Nick Baines said: ‘He lost his mother in those circumstances. He’s got this rift with his brother [Harry] — I think it is understandable he would make a fairly devastating statement. Whether it will stand the test and scrutiny of time is for others to discuss. It’s very early days. We will have to wait and see whether it stands up to scrutiny.’

“The bishop also contradicted the claim made by Diana’s brother Earl Spencer that there was a direct line between the Bashir interview in 1995 and the princess’s death in a Paris car crash in 1997.”

I sometimes think that the only person who behaved with integrity in the whole saga was Max Hastings, who, as editor of the Telegraph, was offered and turned down the interview that Diana subsequently gave to Bashir. Then I remind myself that this was almost certainly done from loyalty to the institution of the monarchy, and not from consideration of the damage that the interview would do to the children.

It could make a hardened reporter weep to see how shocked the tabloids have been to discover that a journalist should have made himself appear more trustworthy and better informed than he was in fact, or that an executive might not want to enquire too forensically into the methods by which the scoop of the century had been obtained.

The other point of the Hastings story is that it shows that Diana wanted to give the interview and to place it where it would hurt the most. Bashir’s lies determined which lying hack got it, but someone certainly would have done in time.

Diana wanted to damage her husband as much as possible, and seems not at all to have considered the collateral damage to her children. Some divorces are like that.

God knows, she was punished enough for what she did: Marina Hyde, herself a former tabloid reporter, wrote in The Guardian: “‘Defund the BBC,’ was last night’s pontification from former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie, who once put Diana’s covertly recorded private phone calls on a premium-rate line so readers could ring in and have a listen. And those were the good years. Half the stuff these guys did in pursuit of Diana stories is, mercifully for them, completely unprintable.”

Hyde is tasteless enough to remember the first editions of the Sunday papers on the morning of the Paris crash: “‘Troubled Prince William will today demand that his mother Princess Diana dump her playboy lover’, ran an exclusive by the News of the World’s Clive Goodman, who probably scraped it from the ‘troubled’ schoolboy’s phone. There were acres in similar vein across the titles.”

Or, as Martin Fletcher put it in the New Statesman: “Nobody did more than the tabloids to kill Princess Diana. It was quite literally the paparazzi — the photographers that supplied their front-page pictures — who chased her Mercedes at high speed into the Paris tunnel where she died in 1997. It was the tabloids who relentlessly stalked that vulnerable young woman and fuelled her paranoia by turning royal employees into paid informants.”

But it’s not just the tabloids. It’s us, the readers. If there were not an apparently insatiable appetite for indefensible stories about private lives of public people, they would not be printed. And thoughtful tabloid journalists know this well. This is why they hate the BBC: the licence fee means that it can literally afford to be high-minded — some of the time, at least. It is the rage of the sex worker against the respectable married woman.


JUST time to mention a wonderful story in The New York Times about an Italian bishop who has represented his country seven times at the Olympics in clay-pigeon shooting, and hopes for an eighth. He has been congratulated for his aim by an imprisoned contract killer, and was encouraged in his career by Pope John Paul II. He has built a chapel in his mother’s house, where he still lives. It’s a shame only that the Church in which he is ordained turns out to be “The Holy Celtic Church International”, based in Switzerland. I’m sure he’s one of its leading bishops.

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