The Crown Season 4: Here’s What Really Happened During the 1982 Palace Break-In

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the fifth episode of The Crown Season 4, “Fagan.”]

In the fifth episode of The Crown‘s newly released fourth season, Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) wakes up early one morning to find a man sitting on her bed. No, it’s not Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) coming to say good morning or Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) looking for some mommy time (honestly, could you imagine?). It’s Michael Fagan (Tom Brooke), an unemployed painter and citizen of the U.K. who just broke into Buckingham Palace for the second time that summer and is looking to have a friendly chat with his sovereign. It’s a story so wild that it must be true ā€” and that’s because it is, at least mostly. 

Like much of The Crown, the palace break-in as depicted on the show is based on facts but given an artistic flair. Queen Elizabeth II, as you might have already assumed, has never spoken publicly about what really happened during the few minutes she spent with her intruder, but Fagan has given interviews since. Based on those and reports from the time of the incident, it’s clear it didn’t go down exactly as the show depicts. 

In 1982, Michael Fagan was an unemployed painter and decorator who had just gone through a divorce, and his wife had taken their kids. The show uses Fagan as a way to explore the effect then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s (Gillian Anderson) conservative policies had on the working class of the U.K. Thatcher’s first few years in office were met with a recession, and millions became unemployed. Fagan was one of those millions. In The Crown, Fagan is shown going to his ex-wife, to the unemployment office, and even to his local MP to get help, or at least state his grievances, but every step of the way he’s told to go take up his issues with someone else. Finally, he has no one to talk to except the Queen herself. 

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During his first palace break-in in June, he merely wanders around and drinks some wine until he’s caught by a maid and leaves. By the second time he breaks into Buckingham Palace, on July 9, Fagan’s personal situation has gotten worse, and he doesn’t seem intimidated at all to wake up the Queen and tell her how Thatcher is ruining the country and she needs to do something about it. Colman’s Elizabeth is obviously scared, but she remains calm as they talk, and when a maid finally comes in the room with tea, she very matter-of-factly tells her to go get the guards. Even moments before Fagan is taken away, she offers him time to tell her anything else he wishes, but he’s said everything he needed to. He mostly just looks relieved that finally someone took the time to actually listen to him. He’s taken away and since trespassing wasn’t a criminal offense at the time, instead of being tossed in jail, he spent several months in a mental facility. 

Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies, <em>The Crown</em>” width=”2070″ height=”1380″ title=”Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies, The Crown” data-amp-src=””><span class=Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies, The Crown

Although it seems that Fagan’s actual break-in ā€” climbing over the palace fence, shimmying up a drain pipe, and climbing through a window ā€” was as impossibly easy at The Crown depicts (his efforts were aided by malfunctioning alarms), according to the real Michael Fagan, he didn’t actually have any type of meaningful conversation with the Queen. In 2012, he told The Independent that once he woke her “she went past [him] and ran out of the room.” He also said that a footman poured him a glass of whisky while they waited for the police.

In the same interview, Fagan gave his account of the first time he claims to have broken into the palace. His version of the first break-in is close to what happens on The Crown, right down to drinking cheap wine. But there is one detail in Fagan’s story that’s noticeably absent from the Netflix series: According to Fagan, he peed in the corgis’ food.

Fagan also mentioned that his motivation for breaking in was maybe less carefully thought out than the show would have you believe: “I hadn’t thought about going in there until that last second when it came into my head to do it,” he told The Independent. He even suggested his actions were due to the lingering effects of having taken mushrooms months earlier. In a 2020 interview with The Telegraph, though, Fagan did mention being “frustrated by joblessness” at the time. 

Reports of the incident immediately after the fact offer up different stories: In a New York Times article from July 14, 1982, Fagan’s lawyer at the time said that the Queen and Fagan spoke for around ten minutes, mostly about the royal family, before a maid led him out of the room. The actual Scotland Yard report of the incident, as written in the New York Times in July 1982, tells yet another version of the story, in which the Queen, while waiting several minutes for the police to arrive, “got the attention of the maid, and together they ushered Fagan into a nearby pantry on the pretext of supplying him with a cigarette.” The Scotland Yard report also says Fagan broke a glass ashtray in the palace (in the show he arrives in the bedroom bleeding from breaking in a window). He reportedly carried a piece of the broken ashtray into the Queen’s room with him and “said that he intended to slash his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty.”

At this point, we may never be truly sure exactly what happened that early morning in the Queen’s bedroom, but The Crown‘s take on the incident offers up an interesting take on what could have been. Regardless, the one moment from the whole episode that I’m taking as fact comes at the end, when Philip regrets that he wasn’t there to protect Elizabeth. Against all odds, I’m rooting for those crazy kids and their love story!

The Crown Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.

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