On July 9 1982, at just around 7 am, Michael Fagan shimmied up a Buckingham Palace drainpipe all the way to a flat roof that was only a few feet away from the palace’s main building. He was barefoot, unshaven, and wearing only a sweatshirt and jeans. He climbed through an unlocked window and into the palace’s historic halls, undetected by cameras or security. Then he slipped into the chambers of Queen Elizabeth II.
Nearly 40 years later, the worst security breach in Buckingham Palace history is revisited in season four, episode five, of The Crown, “Fagan”. Instead of showing it from the queen’s perspective, creator Peter Morgan approaches it from the downtrodden eyes of Fagan. An unemployed decorator struggling with mental illness, he’s estranged from his wife, his children, and most of all, Thatcherism. He breaks into the queen’s bedroom because he wants her to know how people like him were left behind by the conservative, deregulated state. “She’s destroying the country,” he says of Thatcher. “The right to work, the right to be ill, the right to be old, the right to be frail, to be human – gone.”
The bones of the story line are true. An unemployed Fagan did break into Buckingham Palace, not once but twice. And the second time, he did wander into the queen’s bedroom for 10 uninterrupted minutes until she was able to get help.
But The Crown did take significant creative license. According to, well, Fagan himself: In a recent interview with The Telegraph, he recounted that they didn’t converse for very long at all. “‘What are you doing here?’” Fagan says the monarch asked when he pulled back her curtains. Furthermore, Scotland Yard’s incident report at the time said that, after two phone calls to the police, “Her Majesty attracted the attention of the maid, and together they ushered Fagan into a nearby pantry on the pretext of supplying him with a cigarette.”
Reports published immediately after the incident in 1982 fleshed out their conversation topics a bit more: The New York Times, for example, wrote that Fagan and the queen talked about Prince Charles. (This makes sense: Charles and Diana had just welcomed their first child, Prince William, weeks before.) A rant against conservatism and Thatcher, however? Not mentioned by any news outlet or even by Fagan himself.
One detail of The Crown’s depiction that is true? Fagan’s wine theft. During his first break in – where he also got in via drainpipe – he found himself in Buckingham Palace’s Room 108. It was being used to store gifts the public sent for the Prince and Princess of Wales’s baby. He found a bottle of Australian wine in the cabinet and poured himself a drink. “I was waiting to be captured,” he said during his trial for theft of the bottle of wine. (He was acquitted.) “I drank it because I was waiting for someone to come.” And, the second time around, someone certainly did.
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