LONDON — She was collateral damage in one of the most sensational reporting scoops in British TV history, a royal nanny to Prince William and Prince Harry tarnished by the BBC in its quest for an interview with their mother, Princess Diana.
On Thursday, the BBC apologized to the former nanny, Alexandra Pettifer, then known as Tiggy Legge-Bourke, for spreading false allegations that she had an affair with Prince Charles and had undergone an abortion after becoming pregnant with his child. The BBC also agreed to pay her a substantial, if undisclosed, amount in damages.
“These allegations were fabricated,” Mrs. Pettifer’s lawyer, Louise Prince, read out in a jointly agreed statement in the High Court in London.
The BBC said in the statement that it was “extremely sorry for the serious and prolonged harm” the accusations had caused Ms. Pettifer, and that they were “wholly baseless” and “should never have been made.”
Mrs. Pettifer, 57, became a lurid footnote in the soap-opera lives of Charles and Diana when an ambitious young BBC journalist, Martin Bashir, began circulating reports about her supposed sexual entanglement with Charles, apparently as a way of winning Diana’s trust so she would give him an exclusive tell-all interview.
Mr. Bashir also told Diana that people close to her were selling stories about her to the London tabloids, and he created fake bank statements to undermine a rival news organization. These underhand methods landed Mr. Bashir the interview for the BBC program “Panorama” in 1995, which proved as big a bombshell as the interview Harry and his wife, Meghan, gave to Oprah Winfrey in March 2021.
“There were three of us in this marriage,” Diana famously said to Mr. Bashir of her husband and Camilla Parker-Bowles, with whom he had a relationship before and during his marriage, and whom he later married.
The program has since become a festering source of shame, and expense, for the BBC. The broadcaster has apologized to the royal family, paid damages to other people discredited by it, and promised never to air it again.
Questions about Mr. Bashir’s tactics were raised soon after the interview was broadcast, most vocally by Diana’s brother, Charles, Earl Spencer. An internal investigation by the BBC exonerated Mr. Bashir, but in 2021, an inquiry conducted by a former justice of the British Supreme Court, Lord John Dyson, concluded that “the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency, which are its hallmark.”
On Thursday, the BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, issued yet another apology to the royal family, as well as a new one to Mrs. Pettifer.
“It is a matter of great regret that the BBC did not get to the facts in the immediate aftermath of the program, when there were warning signs that the interview might have been obtained improperly,” Mr. Davie said. “Had we done our job properly, Princess Diana would have known the truth in her lifetime.”
The BBC, Mr. Davie reiterated, will never again broadcast the program, or license it to other broadcasters. Because of its historic value, he did not rule out airing extracts from the interview.
Mr. Bashir, who went on to report for ABC News and returned to the BBC as a religion correspondent, resigned from the broadcaster in May 2021, citing poor health. He has expressed regret for his methods but insisted they did not ultimately play a role in getting Diana to sit for the interview.
Mrs. Pettifer was one of a rotating cast of characters in the ceaseless tabloid coverage of Charles and Diana. The daughter of a wealthy banker who served in Royal Horse Guards, she grew up in an aristocratic world of Swiss finishing schools and an ancestral estate in Wales and later opened a nursery school. Charles hired her to be a nanny for his sons shortly after he and Diana separated in 1993.
Newspapers leaped on rumors that Diana objected to Mrs. Pettifer’s child care practices — she smoked while taking care of William and Harry — and passed along secondhand accounts of her views about what the young princes really needed (“fresh air, a rifle and a horse”), The Guardian reported in 1999.
But there was never any corroboration of the rumors that the nanny had become involved with the boys’ father.
In 1999, she resigned from the household of Prince Charles and married Charles Pettifer, a former officer in the Coldstream Guards. William and Harry, who were said to adore her, attended their wedding.
In a statement published by The Sunday Times, Mrs. Pettifer said, “I am disappointed that it needed legal action for the BBC to recognize the serious harm I have been subjected to.” She said that she knew “firsthand” how much the Diana interview had affected the royal family and that their distress “is a source of great upset to me.”