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Martin Bashir was an ambitious young journalist in his native Britain when he scored the coup of all journalistic coups: an exclusive 1995 interview with Princess Diana. The interview was a blockbuster that generated headlines throughout the world, with the Princess of Wales opening up about her "rampant bulimia," the failure of her marriage, and Prince Charles' infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles. As she famously told Bashir, "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
His star on the rise, Bashir was subsequently granted unprecedented access to one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. He subsequently crossed the pond when he was tapped by ABC's Nightline, ultimately replacing longtime anchor Ted Koppel in 2005. From there, Bashir took a high-profile anchor gig on MSNBC, although his tenure ended in scandal.
In fact, controversy has dogged Bashir throughout his career, flaring up again in October 2020 when he was accused of chicanery in nabbing the interview that made him famous. There's much about this celebrated journalist that may prove surprising to many, so keep on reading to discover the untold truth of Martin Bashir.
Princess Diana's brother claimed Martin Bashir 'misled' him
Martin Bashir's 1995 interview with Princess Diana sent shockwaves through the world, yet the circumstances underlying the interview came to generate controversy 25 years later. In an October 2020 report from The Times, a source claimed that Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, had been "misled" by Bashir. The source alleged that Bashir falsified bank statements as "proof" that two people in Diana's inner circle were being paid to spy on her, which enticed Spencer to get Bashir in touch with his sister.
According to a subsequent report in the Daily Mail, Spencer wrote a furious email to the BBC, accusing Bashir of "sheer dishonesty" and "yellow journalism," and claiming the BBC attempted to "whitewash" the situation. "If it were not for me seeing these statements, I would not have introduced Bashir to my sister," wrote Spencer. "In turn, he would have remained just one of thousands of journalists hoping that he/she had a tiny chance of getting her to speak to them, with no realistic prospect of doing so."
In response to Spencer's outrage, reported The Times, the BBC announced plans to launch a new investigation.
Michael Jackson felt 'betrayed' by Martin Bashir
While Martin Bashir established himself as a journalistic force with his Princess Diana interview, his 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson was a far more ambitious undertaking. As The Guardian reported, Bashir and his team followed Michael Jackson for eight months and were provided a level of access that even surprised Bashir's producer, James Goldston. "We saw everything," Goldston said, with The Guardian noting that "there is no subject that is off limits" in Bashir's questioning, including allegations about Jackson's child molestation and claims that he lightened his skin.
The film's subject was not happy when he saw the final product. While he said he trusted Bashir's promise to provide "an honest and fair portrayal," Jackson felt the documentary did anything but. "I am surprised that a professional journalist would compromise his integrity by deceiving me in this way," said Jackson a statement obtained by CNN. "Today I feel more betrayed than perhaps ever before."
After Jackson's death, Bashir appeared on the air and addressed the "small part" of the documentary that "contained a controversy" relating to Jackson and young boys. Bashir admitted he "never saw any wrongdoing myself" and didn't believe Jackson had done anything "criminal."
'Tasteless' comments got Martin Bashir suspended
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When Martin Bashir was working as a reporter for Nightline in 2008, he was invited to speak at a dinner for the Asian American Journalists Association convention held in Chicago. His remarks, however, did not go over well. "I'm happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes. I'm happy that the podium covers me from the waist down," he said, as reported by New York magazine.
Bashir continued, digging himself even deeper when he quipped that a speech should be "like a dress on a beautiful woman — long enough to cover the important parts and short enough to keep your interest — like my colleague Juju's," he said, referencing 20/20 colleague Juju Chang. Bashir was reportedly suspended, with ABC News issuing a statement of condemnation. "This kind of remark has no place in any setting, and Martin knows that," said a spokesperson.
Bashir responded by apologizing. "Upon reflection, it was a tasteless remark that I now bitterly regret," Bashir wrote in a letter to the association, obtained by New York. "I... hope that the continuing work of the organization will not be harmed or undermined by my moment of stupidity."
Martin Bashir wishes it didn't cost so much to board his cat
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In 2012, Martin Bashir answered some probing questions for New York magazine's Intelligencer column, with a query about what he hated most about living in New York City yielding an unexpectedly out-of-left-field answer.
"The cost of cat boarding," Bashir declared. As he explained, when travelling, his family's cat — a Russian Blue named Mia — "has to board when we're away." Bashir continued by griping about the exorbitant cost of boarding a cat in Manhattan. "It would be cheaper to book her a room at the Mandarin Oriental hotel than some of the places where she likes to stay," said Bashir. However, he admitted that when push came to shove, he'll pay whatever it costs because "nothing is spared for the little princess."
That said, Bashir also admitted that there was nowhere on Earth he'd rather call home than the Big Apple. Being a New Yorker, he explained, is "the realization that wherever you are in the world, you want to get back to the city. It could be Basra or Brixton in south London, but you want to get back here, and when you do, there's an abiding sense of relief that you're 'home.'"
Martin Bashir is a huge fan of reggae music
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In that same 2012 interview with New York magazine, Martin Bashir dropped the name of Gary Haase when asked to single out his favorite New Yorker, describing him as a "musician, composer extraordinaire, and the man who produced my first album Bass Lion."
That's right, Bashir has an album. In addition to his day job in journalism, he's also an accomplished bass player who released a bass-heavy reggae record in 2010. Ahead of his album's release, Bashir spoke with NBCUniversal Direct about his love of reggae music, revealing he first became aware of it while growing up in a multicultural housing project in London. "From there, I grew to love it, I taught myself to play bass," he explained. His album, he added, contains "all original songs. We went to Jamaica three times to record all the vocals." He also expressed his hope that the album would "do very well."
Working on the album on weekends, he added, allowed him a creative outlet when he wasn't focused on "being a broadcaster, and just relax and play music. It's been terrific."
P. Diddy slammed Martin Bashir's 'racist' interview question
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One of the many celebrities that Martin Bashir interviewed during his tenure on Nightline was rapper and hip-hop empresario Sean Combs, whose numerous nicknames include Puffy, Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy and Brother Love.
In a Vibe cover story, Combs blasted Bashir over the interview, flat-out calling the journalist's questions racist. "There were times in the interview when I had to give him an ultimatum. The questions weren't being handled the right way," said Combs, who was particularly upset with Bashir asking him about his purchase of a $360,000 Maybach sports car for his son as a 16th birthday gift.
"The whole thing about giving a Maybach to my son, that's really like a racist question. You don't ask white people what they buy their kids," Combs noted, adding that rich white folks buy their kids "Porsches and convertible Bentleys and it ain't no question." As a wealthy Black man, Combs felt Bashir had asked "really a racist question and put things back in perspective with money and the way that people still look at you." Though Combs was "not saying that consciously he's a racist," he did suspect Bashir "probably don't even realize that he would not ask Steve Jobs that."
After a head injury, Martin Bashir got some 'worrying' news
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While filming a 2008 Nightline segment, Martin Bashir accidentally bumped his head — which may have wound up saving his life. As the Daily Mail reported, a family friend revealed that Bashir had "knocked his head pretty badly and had to go and have stitches." The following day, Bashir remained in a great deal of pain, and returned to the hospital. After some tests were done, the source revealed, doctors discovered Bashir had a tumor growing on his pituitary gland, right at the base of the brain.
"It has been a very worrying time for Martin and his family but the good news is that the specialists do not want to operate on the tumor yet," added the source. "While of course it has been very upsetting, Martin is seeing it as a blessing in disguise. If he hadn't had the knock to the head, he would never have known about the tumor."
Five years later, Bashir hadn't had the tumor removed. According to a 2013 report in AdWeek (via HuffPost), Bashir revealed that it was his tumor that had recently kept him off the air for a week. "It's fine," Bashir said, "but it causes a problem from time to time."
Martin Bashir resigned after calling out Sarah Palin
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In 2010, Martin Bashir exited ABC and took a job at MSNBC. Three years later, Bashir tendered his resignation under a cloud of controversy, thanks to some ill-considered remarks he made on the air about vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
During a 2013 broadcast, Bashir discussed comments Palin made equating debt to slavery, bashing her as having a "well-established reputation as a world-class idiot." Hit with outrage and backlash, Bashir returned to the air and offered "an unreserved apology" for his remarks, which he called "wholly unacceptable." The words he used, he continued, "were neither accurate nor fair," and had "brought shame" to the entire network.
The following week, The New York Times reported that Bashir had resigned, hoping that his exit from MSNBC would allow the network to "focus on the issues that matter without the distraction of myself, or my ill-judged comments." MSNBC president Phil Griffin responded with a statement: "I understand his decision and I thank him for three great years with MSNBC. Martin is a good man and respected colleague — we wish him only the best."
BBC welcomed Martin Bashir back to the team
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A few years after his ignominious exit from MSNBC, Martin Bashir found a new gig back in his native Britain when, in 2016, BBC announced he'd been appointed the network's new religious affairs correspondent. "I am delighted to be rejoining the BBC at this time and in this subject area," Bashir said in a statement. "The opportunity to cover the broad spectrum of religious affairs is challenging and compelling and I cannot wait to get started."
In an op-ed he wrote for Britain's Radio Times, Bashir shared some details about his unique journey from Islam to Christianity. It was his own upbringing by parents he described as "liberal Muslims" who "did not insist upon attendance at a mosque beyond my 10th birthday." That led him to become interested in philosophy and theology, and resulted in "embracing the Christian faith in my late teens after attending a church in south London."
His own personal experiences, Bashir wrote, gave him a unique perspective from which to approach the topic of religion. "Audiences are less interested in the architecture of religion and more interested in how theology and ethical beliefs shape the way we live," he explained.
The heartbreaking reason Martin Bashir went on X Factor
In 2019, Martin Bashir made an unexpected career decision when he signed on to compete in a special celebrity edition of The X Factor, with a panel of judges led by Simon Cowell critiquing the singing talent of Bashir and fellow celebrity contestants including Ricki Lake, Glee's Kevin McHale, and Hayley Hasselhoff, daughter of Baywatch star David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff.
According to The Mirror, Bashir shared the surprising, heartbreaking reason he decided to participate: his brother, who suffered from muscular dystrophy and died at age 29. His brother's memory, Bashir explained, inspired him to overcome life's obstacles. In the opening episode, Bashir said, "Every time I have faced a challenge I have heard him whispering saying, 'What excuse do you have? You have no excuse.'"
However, Bashir admitted in an interview with Radio Times that when he was first approached about doing the show, he thought he was being pranked. "I thought it was some tabloid newspaper setting me up!" he said. After realizing "it wasn't a scam," he "didn't feel it was an opportunity I could walk away from." Bashir didn't win, and was eventually eliminated.
Martin Bashir became 'seriously unwell' with COVID-19
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In October 2020, as controversy surrounded the circumstances of his Princess Diana interview from 25 years earlier, Martin Bashir tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for BBC, for which he served as religious affairs correspondent, issued a statement on Bashir's condition, obtained by The Guardian. "We are sorry to say that Martin is seriously unwell with COVID-19-related complications," the statement declared. "Everyone at the BBC is wishing him a full recovery. We'd ask that his privacy, and that of his family, is respected at this time."
As of early November, there was no update on his condition. However, Bashir's recovery will be met with some questions about how he landed his career-making interview with the Princess of Wales. In the meantime, reported The Guardian, the BBC said that its investigation into the claims of Diana's brother that Bashir had falsified bank statements in order to fraudulently land the interview had been placed on hold until he was well enough to participate. A spokesperson stated that the broadcaster "was willing to consider any fresh evidence" that Diana's brother, the Earl of Spencer, was able to provide. "Unfortunately, we are hampered at the moment by the simple fact that we are unable to discuss any of this with Martin Bashir, as he is seriously unwell," the spokesperson added.