Martin Bashir was a smooth-tongued reporter who could “charm the birds from the trees,” a report into his explosive interview with Diana, Princess of Wales said.
Bashir, 58, made his career at the BBC with the stunning scoop, but an official inquiry found the corporation covered up his “deceitful behaviour”.
He faked bank statements and showed them to Diana’s brother Earl Spencer to gain access to the princess for the 1995 sit-down, a report by Lord Dyson said.
The inquiry painted the picture of a gifted reporter who was especially skilled at getting people to spill their secrets.
Though not a household name before the Diana interview, the report noted, he had been steadily building his experience as a TV reporter.
He joined the BBC’s current affairs department in 1989 on a programme called Public Eye, before switching to Panorama in 1992.
During his time on the investigative documentary series, Bashir remained lesser-known than some of his colleagues – until his career-defining scoop in November 1995.
According to the report: “Although he did not have great experience, it is beyond doubt that he was an effective and skilled reporter.
“Anyone who watched the interview with Princess Diana must have been impressed by his qualities as an interviewer.
“Quietly spoken and gentle, he exuded charm, warmth and, above all, empathy.”
Mark Killick was a senior reporter/producer on Panorama between 1988 and 1995 and knew Bashir well, the report said.
He told Lord Dyson: “Martin’s greatest skill was he could persuade people to talk to him and on the record. It is a cliche, but he really could charm the birds from the trees.”
The report added: “Mr Bashir seemed to have no difficulty in persuading Princess Diana in the interview to disclose some most intimate personal matters as well as to express her views on all manner of other things, including the future of the monarchy.”
After the Diana interview Bashir went on to forge a successful career on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 2003, he conducted a series of interviews with pop singer Michael Jackson for the controversial ITV documentary Living With Michael Jackson.
He later moved to the US where he co-anchored the current affairs show Nightline on ABC before moving to MSNBC, where he served as a political commentator until 2013.
He subsequently returned to the BBC as the broadcaster’s religion editor, a role from which he resigned this month citing ill health.
Bashir has apologised for faking the documents and said it was “a stupid thing to do”, and “an action I deeply regret”, but added it had “no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview”.