The Real Details The Crown Left Out Of The Story
Netflix’s The Crown is one of television’s most ambitious, most expensive series, dramatizing the extraordinary reign of Queen Elizabeth II. In the first two seasons, Claire Foy portrayed the Queen in her younger years, with Olivia Colman taking over the role for the subsequent two seasons. The fourth season, which debuted in November 2020, was arguably the series’ most anticipated, covering the period of time when Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) married Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin), and all the drama that followed.
While the show depicts real events that actually happened, The Crown takes a lot of creative license. “The Crown is a work of fiction and the level of invention has been growing,” royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith complained to the Daily Mail. However, the show’s resident royal expert Robert Lacey sees things slightly differently, pointing out in Radio Times that The Crown isn’t a documentary. “The rules of historical drama are different,” he wrote, citing Shakespeare’s Macbeth as an example. “What you see is both invented and true.”
As a result, The Crown can sometimes diverge wildly from what actually took place. For concrete examples, read on to discover the real details The Crown left out of the story.
The Buckingham Palace intruder was tripping on shrooms
The fifth episode of season 4 of The Crown focuses entirely on Michael Fagan, who infamously broke into Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom in 1982 as she slept. In the episode, Fagan and the Queen have a conversation in which he explains how Margaret Thatcher’s policies were crushing Britain’s working class. However, that’s not what really happened; a 1982 article in The New York Times stated that Fagan actually “sat on the bed six feet from the Queen, told her he loved her and threatened to kill himself.”
As Fagan told The Independent in 2012, he and the Queen didn’t talk much. “She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor,” he recalled.
As for Fagan’s actual motives, they’re somewhat murky. “I don’t know why I did it, something just got into my head,” he said, admitting his actions may have resulted from ingesting too many magic mushrooms a few months earlier. “Two years later I was still coming down,” he revealed.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Charles' Shakespearean meet-cute with Diana never happened
Season 4 of Netflix’s The Crown features Prince Charles waiting for his date, Sarah Spencer (Isobel Eadie), when he encounters her 16-year-old sister Diana Spencer at their family home, Althorp. Diana, it appeared, had cooked up a scheme to meet Prince Charles, even though her sister told her to scram. Wearing a mask and costumed as a nymph, Diana reveals she’s practicing for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, leading to a conversation about Shakespeare.
However, there’s no evidence to suggest that happened. According to Spencer (now Lady Sarah McCorquodale), the actual meeting wasn’t as coincidental as The Crown suggests. “I introduced them. I’m Cupid,” she told The Guardian soon after the couple’s engagement. In fact, reports indicate that Prince Charles (then 29) and Diana (16) actually met while shooting grouse at Althorp. “We sort of met in a plowed field,” Diana recalled in their engagement interview.
During that same interview, Prince Charles shared his cringeworthy first impression of his future bride. “I remember thinking what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16 year old she was,” he said. “I mean, great fun, and bouncy and full of life and everything.”
The real Prince Charles was a lot more handsy than The Crown's version
In The Crown, Prince Charles and Diana Spencer meet a second time when she strolls over while he’s driving his convertible on a country road. She offers her condolences on the death of his beloved great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, who was killed when the Irish Republican Army bombed his fishing boat.
While it’s been documented that Diana’s sympathetic shoulder did indeed help her bond with Prince Charles during that pivotal moment in his life, the interaction didn’t happen quite the way The Crown suggests. According to a report in the Evening Standard, in the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words, Diana herself described their conversation about Lord Mountbatten taking place not on a road, but at the home of some mutual friends.
In Diana’s recollection, they were sitting on a hay bale discussing his great-uncle when Prince Charles decided to get romantic and make his move — and wasn’t particularly suave about it. “The next minute he leapt on me, practically,” she said. “It was strange. I thought, ‘This isn’t very cool’ but I had nothing to go by, because I’d never had a boyfriend.'” Oh.
The Balmoral Test may or may not be real
Among the more memorable moments in the fourth season of The Crown is when both Diana Spencer and British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher are invited — at different times — to spend a weekend at the royals’ Balmoral estate in Scotland. Both are then subjected to the “Balmoral Test,” which The Telegraph described as “an unspoken code of conduct” that guests are expected to follow. Diana fits right in, passing with flying colors as she eagerly marches in the muck with Prince Philip; Thatcher, on the other hand, fails miserably, bailing early and heading back to 10 Downing Street.
But is the so-called test — and the loopy “ibble dibble” drinking game — actually for real? Well, that depends on who’s asked. As Entertainment Weekly reported, “royal journalists” contend “these make-or-break showdowns absolutely take place” (although there is “no concrete evidence” supporting the veracity of “ibble dibble”).
However, royal historian Hugo Vickers disputed that. “Of course the Balmoral Test doesn’t exist,” he told Insider. “The royal family is very well aware that guests are going to be nervous in their presence, and go out of their way to make them welcome.”
Roller skating wasn't the only thing Princess Diana did in the halls of Buckingham Palace
When young Diana Spencer comes to live in Buckingham Palace in The Crown, her youthful naivety is highlighted in a scene that follows her roller-skating through the palace halls, listening to Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” on her Sony Walkman.
Did that really take place? Actress Emma Corrin, who plays Diana, believes that it absolutely did. “I think she [really] did do that,” Corrin told Sky News. “Do you know what, it was that kind of thing, it was the roller skating, the sense of fun that she obviously had before she became royal and that she kind of maintained, that I think was quite rare.”
Corrin’s belief is backed up by The Crown producer Oona O’Beirn. “It’s true!” she told Vogue of Diana’s roller-skating. In addition, she declared that Diana “also rode her bicycle around [inside the palace] the night before she got married, but we didn’t manage to get that in. It’s hard to do on some of those carpets.” The roller-skating scene, added O’Beirn, “reminds you that Diana was only 19 at that time.”
The truth about Diana's Phantom of the Opera performance
In The Crown, Diana Spencer spends weeks with a choreographer to learn a dance routine set to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” that she performs onstage at the Royal Opera House as a birthday surprise for Prince Charles (who later erupts in anger that her performance upstaged him). As Harper’s Bazaar recalled, that performance happened for real.
Diana later gives Prince Charles an anniversary present: a VHS tape featuring her singing a song from The Phantom of the Opera. This also happened, but details are sketchy. “Diana went to the West End, had the set [to herself], and we know Andrew Lloyd Webber was there, but no one knew exactly what she did because no one’s seen [the video],” The Crown‘s head of research, Annie Sulzberger, told Vogue.
However, a 1988 column in The Washington Post offers more insight, reporting Diana sang “All I Ask of You.” “She did this simply by renting the show’s set at the theater in London’s West End where it is playing and having her movements directed by the show’s choreographer, Gillian Lynne… The show’s composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was there to oversee her performance.”
The Crown skipped over Princess Anne's scandalous love letters
The Prince Charles and Princess Diana drama dominates the fourth season of The Crown, but in actuality there were other royal scandals taking place at the time. While the season includes Princess Anne discussing her unhappy marriage, The Crown skipped her big controversy.
According to Express, Princess Anne was having an affair with Timothy Laurence, the Queen’s equerry, which became public knowledge in 1989 when love letters he’d written her were published in The Sun. Scotland Yard undertook an investigation, but was never able to conclusively determine how the letters made it from a briefcase in Princess Anne’s private quarters to the tabloids. Interestingly enough, the royal family didn’t deny it, with a statement from Buckingham Palace actually confirming the veracity of the letters. In the wake of the scandal, Princess Anne and her husband divorced in 1992.
The letters marked the first time the notoriously nosy British press learned of Princess Anne’s affair. However, her comings and goings from Laurence’s home were common knowledge among his neighbors. Royal reporter Ashley Walton expressed shock that not one of those neighbors “thought to ring the paper and tell us!”
The royal wedding is never shown in The Crown
Arguably the biggest royal event that isn’t shown in The Crown’s fourth season is the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. So why was the wedding, watched by 750 million people worldwide, not featured in the series?
Emma Corrin, who plays Diana, offered an explanation. “We never recreate things just for the sake of recreating them,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think if we do recreate a scene — like the engagement scene, for instance, when they do the announcement — it has to be because it’s linked to something that the characters are going through.” According to Corrin, anybody can look up the wedding on YouTube and “be watching it in 10 seconds, so I don’t think there’d be any point in us recreating it.”
Josh O’Connor, who plays Charles, seconded that, explaining that the royal wedding is already so ingrained in the public consciousness that viewers can easily fill in the blanks from their own memories. “I think all the historical events are important for punctuating so that the audience know where we are [in the chronology of the story],” he added.
Princess Diana's self-harm during her depression isn't addressed in The Crown
The Crown doesn’t shy away from addressing Princess Diana’s bulimia, nor the profound depression she experienced. However, one thing the series doesn’t show is that she’d begun harming herself.
In audio transcripts of Princess Diana’s interview with biographer Andrew Morton, (via the Daily Beast), she recalled her escalating bulimia was taking a toll on her physical and mental health during the months she spent at Balmoral after her wedding. “I got terribly, terribly thin,” she revealed. “People started commenting: ‘Your bones are showing.’ By October, I was in a very bad way. I was so depressed, and I was trying to cut my wrists with razor blades.” She ultimately left early and returned to London “to seek treatment, not because I hated Balmoral, but because I was in such a bad way.”
In her 1995 interview with Martin Bashir for BBC1’s Panorama, Diana confirmed how deeply she’d sunk into depression. “I didn’t like myself,” she explained. “I was ashamed because I couldn’t cope with the pressures.”
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
The IRA also attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
The first episode of The Crown‘s fourth season details the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Mountbatten’s death — from a bomb that exploded aboard a boat while he was fishing — proved devastating for the royal family.
However, another significant assassination attempt was also mounted by the IRA, which was not addressed on the show: the 1984 bombing of the Brighton Hotel, with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the intended victim. As The Guardian recalled, the IRA planted a bomb with a timer set to a long delay before Thatcher and several members of her cabinet checked into the hotel. While Thatcher managed to escape the explosion, the blast left five dead and 32 injured.
The IRA claimed responsibility for the attack, and vowed it would not be their final attempt. “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once,” the group said in a statement, via The New York Times. “You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.”
Margaret Thatcher's close relationship with Ronald Reagan isn't mentioned in The Crown
Several seasons of The Crown have featured dramatized appearances by American presidents. In season 2, Buckingham Palace was graced by a visit from John F. Kennedy (Michael C. Hall). Then, the following season brought Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) to a state dinner at the White House, where she traded filthy limericks with Lyndon B. Johnson (Clancy Brown).
With that in mind, it seems a major missed opportunity that the fourth season didn’t bring about a meeting with Ronald Reagan, whose two terms as president coincided with Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Britain’s prime minister. This makes even less sense when considering how closely aligned Reagan and Thatcher came to become during that era.
Given that the two had been described as “political soulmates,” it seems odd that the show would have glossed over this key geopolitical alliance and their respective roles in helping to hasten the end of the Cold War. That observation in turn leads to the realization that another monumental historical event wasn’t covered in The Crown: Thatcher’s historic 1987 visit to Moscow to meet with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The death of Wallis Simpson is completely ignored in The Crown
Although he only appeared in The Crown a few times, the Duke of Windsor looms large throughout the series. After all, had it not been for the former King Edward’s decision to abdicate the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Queen Elizabeth never would have been coronated. Season 3 brought about the Duke’s return, albeit in his dying days, to illustrate the parallels between his scandalous relationship with Simpson and Prince Charles’ similar situation with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
While the Duke of Windsor died in 1972, his widow outlived him by more than a decade. Given Simpson’s prominence in The Crown‘s underlying story, it seems strange that season 4 makes no mention whatsoever of her death in 1986.
The following year, Simpson’s jewelry was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in Geneva, setting a new record for a single-owner collection by bringing in $50 million, reportedly six times more than had been anticipated. Attended by such stars as Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Collins, the auction was big news — and precisely the kind of thing that gossipy Princess Margaret would have discussed gleefully over cocktails in a snarky scene.
The Crown missed an opportunity for a Freddie Mercury cameo
An anecdote found in actress Cleo Rocas’ memoir The Power of Positive Drinking would have made a memorable scene in the fourth season of The Crown. Rocas writes of being invited to lunch by Princess Diana, and afterwards stopping by the nearby home of comedian Kenny Everett. As they watched The Golden Girls on telly, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury popped over; at some point the volume was turned down, with each taking on a character in the sitcom and providing their own hilariously naughty dialogue.
When Princess Diana found out the men were heading to “a rather notorious gay bar,” she insisted on joining them. To pull it off, however, a disguise was in order, so Princess Diana donned Everett’s camo jacket and aviator glasses, and tucked her hair into a leather cap. “Scrutinizing her in the half-light we decided the most famous icon of the modern world might just… JUST, pass for a rather eccentrically dressed gay male model,” Rocas wrote.
Miraculously, the disguised princess was smuggled into the jam-packed bar undetected. They had a drink and then beat a retreat before she could be discovered.
Princess Diana's grandmother actually advised her not to marry Prince Charles
Princess Diana’s grandmother, Lady Fermoy, knew the royal family inside and out after spending 33 years as the Queen Mother’s Woman of the Bedchamber. In the fourth season of The Crown, she tutors Princess Diana in royal protocol, and appears to be 100 percent behind the relationship. In fact, she even warns Diana not to screw it up, impressing upon her how important marrying Prince Charles will be for their family.
Princess Diana herself, however, contended her grandmother held the opposite view. In Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story — in Her Own Words, not only does Princess Diana deny her grandmother was responsible for “engineering the union,” but actually cautioned her about the “difficulties” she would face. “Darling, you must understand that their sense of humor and their lifestyle are different,” she explained. “I don’t think it will suit you.”
In The Crown, there’s only one person who predicts that Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana will be a catastrophe: Princess Margaret. However, there’s no evidence she ever said any such thing; in fact, Helena Bonham Carter has credited herself for coming up with the idea.
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