A sickening sense of deja vu overcame Alex Best as she watched the verdict delivered on Martin Bashir’s cruel exploitation of Princess Diana.
The former wife of George Best says she felt manipulated by Bashir, at a vulnerable time in her life, into allowing him to make a film about her husband as he fought chronic liver damage.
She says the now-disgraced reporter had promised the documentary, made in 2000, would show the iconic footballer in a positive, sympathetic light but all it did was show Alex and Best’s agent Phil Hughes, as heavy boozers who were driving him to an early grave.
“It’s sad that George isn’t here to see Bashir finally exposed for what he is, because he would be delighted to see it,” said 49-year-old Alex, who was married for nine years to the Manchester United legend before their divorce in 2004.
“George felt cheated by Bashir. He was so upset about how I was attacked in the documentary.
“It left him feeling distraught and I think the upset of it stayed with him right up until he died.
“He was used to bad things being written about him. It had become water off a duck’s back.
“But when he saw the main point of the documentary was to say me and Phil were pushing him back to drink, that was taking it too far. He was angry. And he felt like he’d been manipulated.”
The former model, who is currently a property agent, said: “Seeing the Diana stuff come out has brought it all back.
“He did it to George and myself. It is absolutely appalling the way he behaved to Diana and to me. I’m just amazed it took this long for it to come out.”
In March 2000 Best, then aged 53, was at death’s door after decades of heavy drinking.
A six-week bender of white wine and brandy caused his liver to collapse and he was taken to London’s Cromwell Hospital, where it was touch and go if he would survive.
Alex, then 28, was at his bedside throughout.
Five years after the Diana interview which shot him to fame, Bashir was seeking a new national treasure to do a tell-all film about.
Best, who was back on every front page due to his ill health, fitted the bill perfectly.
The former Panorama reporter approached Alex the day after her husband had been admitted to hospital, by hand-delivering a letter to their Chelsea home.
“He was very much playing on the fact that he was the journalist who had interviewed Diana, and now he wanted to make a programme about George, so asked if we could meet.
“After that he wouldn’t leave me alone. Whenever I came out of the hospital he would be there.
“It got to the point where I wondered how he had the information about where I was,” Alex said.
Just as Bashir had got to Diana by winning the confidence of her brother, so he worked his charms on Best’s wife and friend, for five weeks, to get their consent for an interview which she says he swore would paint George in a new light and boost his career.
Alex said he was so persistent in his calls to her that George christened him “Martin Bash-ear”.
“He is very good at manipulating you, making you feel like he’s your best friend.
“He would try to get information out of you by convincing you that you have so much in common.
“He would say things like ‘my father was an alcoholic so I know what you’re going through.’ I never found out if he was,” she said.
Both Alex and Hughes say Bashir would insist on taking them to a local bar in Chelsea to relax.
“He’d be outside the hospital and say ‘you look like you’ve had a tough day, let’s go for drinks,” said Alex.
“And yes, it was a nice alternative to going home after a miserable day so we’d go there and he would ply us with drinks. Absolutely ply us.
“I would say ‘no I don’t want another glass of wine’ and he would say go on, calling the waiters over and telling them to keep our glasses topped up.”
In the ITV documentary though, Bashir painted the pair as heavy drinkers whose booze consumption threatened George’s life.
“When I saw how he portrayed us I just felt disgusted,” said Alex. ‘It was nothing like he said it would be.”
Bashir wrote a newspaper article around the time the documentary aired claiming “Alex provided an interesting insight into why George Best is now just a drink away from death”.
Then he proceeded to describe her “fondness for sauvignon blanc” at a time she was supposed to be caring for a husband with a sclerotic liver.
Indeed that article led me to write a column which I am ashamed about to this day.
I regurgitated Bashir’s one-sided allegations about Alex’s drinking and warned that she could be driving him to his death.
It so angered George, who I had met on a number of occasions, that he wrote a sarcastic letter to me, letting me know he was contacting supermarkets asking them to stop selling booze and telling TV companies to cease advertising alcoholic drinks while he was watching.
But the tone of the letter and the names he called me made me realise the unbalanced documentary had hit him badly.
Alex said: “That article really upset me and George.
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“It basically said ‘what chance has George got when Phil and I are two drunks.’
“I felt betrayed by Bashir. I had trusted him.
“But it was a really stressful time, and he treated me like he was my best friend.
“He worked on me for five weeks and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“When you’re in a vulnerable situation it’s easy to be taken in.
“Especially by someone who keeps mentioning that Diana interview. He used Diana a lot. That was his main thing.”
She added: “I guess George and I bought the line that it was an honour to have a nice documentary made about you by the famous Martin Bashir.”
How does she feel about him now? “He is a snake and a shark and I’m glad it’s come out. I was duped. I really trusted him,” she said.
Alex didn’t lodge a complaint as she thought it was a waste of time. George died of organ failure in 2005.
I apologised to Alex for my column 21 years ago and she said “you are forgiven”. Asked if she thinks Bashir owes her one, she says: “He owes quite a few people an apology.”
Bashir’s representatives were contacted for comment.