Content warning: This article contains mentions of disordered eating.
It’s probably safe to assume that since the November 15 release of season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown, many of us are now *deep* into the lives of the Royal Family during the 1980s. The fourth season—filmed pre-COVID and featuring newcomer Emma Corrin and superstar Gillian Anderson—details the Diana Spencer and Margaret Thatcher years of the Royal fam, chronicling their introductions to, and subsequent relationships with, both the famous family and the British people. And the latest season of the hit show does not disappoint. From Charles and Diana’s whirlwind courtship and a feud between Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth to the truly bonkers story of the man who broke into HRH’s bedroom, there’s *a lot* going on. How much of it actually happened IRL? With the series known for stretching the truth just the *tiniest* bit, we have to wonder: Which events on The Crown actually happened? Here, your guide to the real-life events tackled on The Crown. Spoilers ahead.
Did Michael Fagan actually break into the palace and speak to Queen Elizabeth?
In episode five of the latest season, the palace—and the Queen—are rocked when a man named Michael Fagan breaks into Buckingham Palace not once, but twice, making his way into HRH’s bedroom for an early morning chat. In the episode, “Fagan,” a local labourer who’s down on his luck and dissatisfied with employment rates, thanks in part to Prime Minister Thatcher’s economic policies, first breaks into the palace and sneaks around, chugging wine and smashing a vase from Guyana in the process. The second time around—about a month later and even more disenfranchised after his children are taken away from him—Fagan once again makes his way into the palace, sneaking by security before waking the Queen up and asking her to stop funding the war and save the country from the PM (at the time the U.K. was attempting to recapture the Falkland Islands). “She’s destroying the country,” he says of the PM. “The right to work, the right to be ill, the right to be old, the right to be frail, to be human—gone.”
So, did this bonkers convo actually happen? 100%. While the actual specifics of Fagan and the Queen’s talk aren’t entirely known, he did in fact break into Buckingham Palace twice, confronting the Queen in her bedroom on July 2, 1982 where the pair conversed for about 10 minutes. According to Fagan himself, the duo didn’t chat for long, primarily talking about Prince Charles (the Prince and Princess of Wales had recently welcomed their first child) before the Queen and a maid reportedly ushered him into a pantry under the guise of getting him a cigarette (so it’s safe to assume that, unlike in the show, Fagan didn’t *actually* use Queen Elizabeth’s private bathroom to wash his hands). There also seem to be no reports or confirmation that Fagan and the Queen talked about Thatcher and politics. He reportedly had a whisky while waiting for the police to apprehend him.
Fagan was acquitted of burglary and still lives in London today.
Did Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher actually not like each other?
By now we know that Queen Lizzie—or at least the version portrayed of her in the show—doesn’t take BS from anyone, and that includes her own Prime Minister.
— FLARE (@FLAREdotcom) November 16, 2020
In the later episodes of the season, viewers watch as the already tense relationship between monarch and politician (who was in power from 1979 to 1990) disintegrates, as both women stubbornly hold onto their differing ideas of how the country should be run. In at least three episodes, “Favourites,” “Fagan” and “48:1,” the two women are shown as warring, with show creator Peter Morgan heavily implying that HRH was not a fan of Thatcher’s spending cuts. It all comes to a head in “48:1,” when the Queen becomes upset over Thatcher’s unwillingness to speak out against apartheid, culminating in the publication of a July 1986 article in The Sunday Times which reported that the Queen was dismayed with her PM and was leaked by the Queen and her press office.
And sorry folks, but this definitely didn’t happen—or at least probably not to the extent that it’s portrayed in the series. While the Queen may not have personally agreed with the Prime Minister on her decisions, it’s most likely that the PM—and the general public—wouldn’t have overtly known that. “The truth of the matter is that in those audiences, the Queen was always scrupulous. She didn’t advise or offer her opinions. It’s the last thing she would have done,” Sally Bedell Smith, author of “Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch told NBC News of the women’s private meetings. “She was brought up never to get involved in party politics. She would not imply she favoured one position or politician over another, even in her conversations with her advisers and friends.”
There was, in fact, an article that proclaimed the Queen was unhappy with her PM at the time, but the palace firmly denied its legitimacy.
Did Princess Diana really perform for Prince Charles on his birthday?
Did anyone else gasp when—in episode nine—Diana emerges on the stage at the Royal Opera House and performs Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” for her husband’s birthday? If you said no, then you’re 100% lying because it was a *shocking* moment—and it actually happened. While the real event wasn’t for Charles’s birthday, but rather a private show for supports and friends of the Royal Ballet, the December 1985 performance *was* meant as a gift for the princess’s husband. According to ballet dancer Wayne Sleep, who performed with Diana, she approached him for help with the surprise, with the pair training together leading up to the big day.
Another part of the performance that was real? Charles’s reaction to Diana’s performance. According to royal experts, the Prince wasn’t impressed with his wife’s display. “It was a present which slightly backfired,” royal expert Richard Kay told The Sun. “She did it as a tribute to Charles. Charles wasn’t terribly impressed. He thought she was showing off.”
Did Prince Charles really date Princess Diana’s sister?
Talk about awkward! It turns out that Diana Spencer (a.k.a. the Princess of Wales) wasn’t the only Spencer sister that Prince Charles was interested in. Before the Prince of Wales began dating Diana in 1980, he actually *did* date her older sister Sarah Spencer in 1977, with the then-couple even going on a ski trip together.
The coupling ultimately fizzled out after Sarah gave an honest (and honestly brutal) interview about her relationship with the prince and whether or not she’d marry him. Spoiler alert: It was a no. “Charles makes me laugh a lot. I really enjoy being with him,” she said in the interview. “But there is no chance of my marrying him. I’m not in love with him. And I wouldn’t marry anyone I didn’t love, whether he were the dustman or the King of England.” Which is…not the nicest thing to hear from someone you’re dating.
But it seems like there are no hard feelings. According to Elle, in a 1981 interview before Diana and Charles’s wedding, Sarah said: “I introduced them. I’m Cupid.”
Read this next: Remembering Princess Diana’s Inimitable Style
Did Prince Charles and Princess Diana actually only date for six months?
If you were surprised by how quickly Charles and Diana went from new loves to newly engaged, that wasn’t just TV magic. The famous couple actually only dated for about six months before getting engaged in February 1981. Diana met the Royal Family at Balmoral Castle on their third date (talk about pressure).
In a series of recorded interviews titled Diana: In Her Own Words, she is heard saying: “We met 13 times and we got married.”
Did Prince Charles actually answer a question about loving Diana with “whatever in love means”?
Yes, and unfortunately the real-life version of this was just as awkward as it was on the show. On February 24, 1981, during their interview announcing their engagement, Prince Charles, in response to a question about whether or not the newly engaged couple was in love, off-handedly answered: “Whatever in love means,” seemingly unable to confirm that he was actually in love with the woman he’d go on to marry.
Which is honestly awkward as hell and not promising for the longevity of a future relationship.
Did Princess Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles actually meet IRL?
Again, because Charles was the worst and doesn’t understand boundaries, it’s 100% accurate that his wife and his longtime mistress were often around each other. As depicted in the show, the women did in fact meet for lunch, at a London restaurant Ménage à Trois, no less. (Honestly, who would eat there?)
— Helene Pattio Combe (@HeleneCombe) November 15, 2020
According to Harper’s Bazaar, the women had spent time together before this lunch, with the pair spotted in October 1980 at the Ludlow Racecourse, where they watched the Prince of Wales compete in a horserace. While this meeting was early into Diana and Charles’s courtship, according to royal expert Penny Junor, Charles concealed the true nature of his relationship with Parker-Bowles until after the couple were engaged.
“Instead of explaining to Diana at the outset that Camilla was an old girlfriend, he had presented her as nothing more than a friend.” Junor wrote in her book The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown, “It didn’t occur to him that she needed to know before someone else told her … He came clean after the engagement, admitting that Camilla had been one of his most intimate friends, but reassured Diana that from now on there would be no other women.”
Per Cosmopolitan, it was the ill-fated lunch, which took place while Prince Charles was on a tour of New Zealand and Australia before his marriage, that stoked the Princess of Wales’s suspicions about the nature of her husband and Parker-Bowles’ relationship. Diana reportedly confronted her husband’s mistress about the affair in 1989.
Did Princess Diana actually struggled with disordered eating?
Unfortunately, this is very true. Throughout the fourth season of The Crown, viewers are given an intimate look at Princess Diana’s eating disorder, with the People’s Princess battling bulimia throughout her time in the Royal Family. It’s tough to watch, but is very true to the princess’s lived experience. In a 1995 interview with BBC’s Panorama, the Princess told reporter Martin Bashir that she had suffered from bulimia for a “long time.”
“I had bulimia for a number of years. And that’s like a secret disease,” she said in the interview. “You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable. You fill your stomach up four or five times a day—some do it more—and it gives you a feeling of comfort.”
Diana described her bulimia as “a symptom of what was going on in my marriage.”
Was Prince Charles really in an avalanche?
Episode nine of the hit series details a scary time for the Royal Family, with Prince Charles being caught up in an avalanche while on a skiing trip at the Swiss resort of Klosters on Gotschnagrat Mountain. This 1988 incident *did* occur, with one of Charles’s close friends, Major Hugh Lindsay, dying in the avalanche.
Did the Royal Family really lock away family members in mental institutions?
Episode seven of the latest season is one of the few that features Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret, and it’s a heavy one. As Princess Margaret begins her own mental health journey, seeing a therapist for the first time, she becomes aware that two of her cousins, Nerissa and Katherine Bowes-Lyon, have been kept in a mental institution. The catch? Much of the Royal Family thought the sisters were dead. In the episode, Margaret confronts her mother about the situation, to which she responds that because the sisters are developmentally delayed, they’ve been hidden away so that people won’t question the royal’s bloodline and legitimacy. (A wildly outdated notion.) “Their illness, their idiocy and imbecility, would make people question the integrity of the bloodline,” she says in the show. “Can you imagine the headlines if it were to get out?”
Unfortunately this tragic storyline is also true. The Bowes-Lyon sisters *were* sent to Royal Earlswood Hospital in 1941, as both girls were severely handicapped with the mental capacity of someone aged six. The reason they were presumed dead? Their mother, Fenella Bowes-Lyon, was extremely vague when it came to reporting on the pair, leading the people at Burke’s Peerage—a genealogical publisher that chronicles the Royal Family—to assume they were deceased. In 1987, a man purporting to be the sister’s relative (but who was in reality a reporter) visited the women, leading to front page news that the royal fam was shunning their own.