The Crown season 4 leaves out some very important details about Michael Fagan
I was scareder than I'd ever been in my life."
BY DAVID OPIE
The Crown prides itself on revealing the humanity of its royal subjects, unveiling what really went on behind closed doors in Buckingham Palace. For the most part, season four continues this tradition in typically impressive fashion, but there's one episode in particular that flips this dynamic entirely, smashing through those doors to explore the humanity of the Queen's subjects at large.
At the start of 'Fagan', the Royal Family reluctantly agree to meet members of the public. Princess Margaret is particularly resentful of this, but as a relative points out to her, it's "good for you to meet someone normal – to tell you how it is". Two worlds brush up against each other in formal, courteous fashion here, reminding us how detached the royals really are when it comes to the people they're supposed to serve.
Of course, that's all just preamble to the episode's true focus, a bizarre security breach where the worlds of royal and working class people collide in far more unsettling fashion.
On July, 9, 1982, a London-born decorator named Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace (for a second time!) and entered the Queen's bedroom while she slept. According to The Crown's dramatisation, Fagan and Her Majesty discussed the dangerous impact of Thatcherism on working class Britain, and while yes, an arrest was eventually made, the pair parted in fairly cordial fashion: "I shall bear in mind what you said."
It's a nice sentiment, one that's perhaps more relevant than ever in 2020, but unfortunately, it's also far more fictionalised than even the most cynical of viewers might expect.
Speaking to The Telegraph ahead of season four's launch, a 70-year-old Fagan revealed that The Crown writer Peter Morgan "used a lot of artistic licence" to tell his story, choosing to not even ask Michael for any input. And that whole conversation with the Queen? It didn't really happen, or at least, not in the way that Morgan wrote it.
Fagan first broke into the palace a month earlier, in June 1982. While that escapade is featured in the episode, he recalled some more bizarre details that didn't make the cut of the Crown episode during a 2012 interview with The Independent:
"I found rooms saying 'Diana's room', 'Charles's room'; they all had names on them. But I couldn't find a door which said 'WC'. All I found were some bins with 'corgi food' written on them. I was breaking my neck to go to the toilet. What do I do? Pee on the carpet? So I had to pee on the corgi food. I got into Charles's room and took the wine off the shelf and drunk it. It was cheap Californian."
It seems that Peter Morgan thought urine-soaked corgi food might be a tad distasteful for Netflix's more prestigious clientele. However, that scene where Fagan popped his butt on the Queen's throne did actually happen!
"I was loving it," he recalled. "It was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears; I tried one throne and was like 'this one's too soft'. I was having a laugh to myself because there was one right next to it, so I tried another... I liked the picture and thought I'd look at it till someone comes, but nobody came."
Eventually, Fagan just left, evading Buckingham Palace security with relative ease. So much so, in fact, that he decided to break in again on July 9.
According to Scotland Yard's report (as reproduced in the New York Times), Fagan climbed the railings near the Ambassadors' Entrance at around 6.45am. Hidden behind a temporary canvas awning, he then entered the palace itself through an unlocked window on the ground floor. The room he climbed into housed King George V's multimillion-pound stamp collection. Alarms were triggered twice by Fagan's arrival, but the police turned them off, assuming that it was just a mistake. Who would want to steal some old stamps, eh?
Fagan then decided to seek higher ground, so he shimmied up a drainpipe outside the room and onto the flat roof above. A narrow ledge provided him with access to an office of the Master of the Household, Vice Adm. Sir Peter Ashmore. Just like on the show, Fagan was spotted by a member of the domestic staff soon after, but for whatever reason, she wasn't suspicious enough of him to raise the alarm.
By following the pictures on the wall, Fagan eventually found his way to the palace's private apartments. Before meeting the Queen, Michael entered an anteroom first where he broke a glass ashtray. At 7.15am, he then entered Her Majesty's bedroom, carrying a piece of the broken ashtray with him. According to the Scotland Yard report, Fagan told police that he planned to harm himself in the Queen's presence, something which The Crown skipped over in its version of events.
In his aforementioned 2012 interview with The Independent, Fagan described opening the Queen's curtains with much theatricality. "I was scareder than I'd ever been in my life," he said. "Then she speaks and it's like the finest glass you can imagine breaking: 'Wawrt are you doing here?!'"
Not only did Fagan take great delight in describing the royal chamber, he also shared some surprisingly intimate details about the Queen's nightwear:
"It was a double bed but a single room, definitely – she was sleeping in there on her own. Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees."
To be fair, The Crown doesn't deviate from this part of the story much either. And just like on the show, real-life Lizzy did try and raise the alarm, but the police sergeant stationed outside had already clocked off when domestic staff arrived at 6am, leaving the Queen alone with her intruder. When a call to the palace telephonist didn't lead to the police arriving, the Queen called again six minutes later.
According to the Scotland Yard report: "Before police officers arrived, 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. They were joined there by the footman, who had returned from exercising the dogs.
"While Her Majesty kept the dogs away as the man was getting agitated, the footman helped to keep Fagan in the pantry by supplying him with cigarettes until first one and then another police officer arrived and removed him."
Where real life and The Crown deviate most is when it comes to the conversation that followed. On the show, Fagan implores the Queen to "save us all" from Margaret Thatcher, arguing that her brutal policies are "destroying the country". And by the end of their chat, Fagan and our country's sovereign come to some sort of understanding, despite the awkward circumstances of their encounter.
In reality, few words were actually exchanged, at least, according to Fagan's 2020 interview with The Telegraph: "I pulled back the curtain and she said, 'What are you doing here?'" he said. "She talks like me and you, normal. Well, I sound a bit common so maybe not like that. But very normal."
He must have made this observation rather quickly though, because the Queen didn't hang around for long. "I'll be back in a minute," she said, according to the Telegraph interview with Fagan, before darting out of the room. "She walked out on her little legs. Then a footman comes in and goes, 'You look like you need a drink, mate'."
The footman, Paul Whybrew, took Fagan down the corridor for some whiskey, and then the police arrived. "They were all over the place – they hadn't arrested anyone for years, they were on a retirement posting, on guard duty," Fagan recalled to The Telegraph. "One of them was fumbling around for his notebook."
Why did Fagan break into the palace?
During his 2012 interview with The Independent, Fagan explained that drug abuse played a key role in these events:
"I went back because I thought, 'that's naughty, that's naughty that I can walk round there'... I forgot you're only supposed to take a little handful [of magic mushrooms]," he recalled. "Two years later I was still coming down. I was high on mushrooms for a long, long time."
Alcohol has also been blamed to some degree. And then there was the break-up of Michael's marriage to also consider. His wife, Christine, left him just weeks earlier, which must have had a huge impact on his mental state.
According to Charlotte Hodgman, editor of BBC History Revealed, Fagan told his wife that he was visiting a girlfriend in SW1 named Elizabeth Regina (via The Sun). Apparently, this "Elizabeth" had four children, and she was a little bit older than him...
It wasn't until Fagan spoke to BBC Radio 4 as part of its Famous for Fifteen Minutes series in 1993 that the biggest reasons behind his behaviour became apparent:
"The Queen, to me, represented all that was keeping me down and [my] lack of voice. I just wanted her to know what it feels like to just be an ordinary chap trying to make ends meet." Presenter Jenni Mills asked Fagan if he had wanted to be caught, to which he said, "Yes, just to make that statement: I am, I am…"
In this sense, The Crown actually nailed the conversation scene, weaving Fagan's thoughts from this radio interview into his encounter with the Queen, maximising their impact.
What happened to Michael Fagan?
Following both intrusions, then-home secretary Willie Whitelaw offered his resignation to the Queen, but she refused. Maggie Thatcher also visited the palace to offer her apologies, an event which we see play out in The Crown.
But what happened to Fagan himself?
In September 1982, Fagan was tried for burglary at the Old Bailey after he drank a bottle of wine in the palace. He wasn't tried for trespassing too as back in 1982, that was only a civil offence. In 2007, Buckingham Palace became a 'designated site' under section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which makes trespass there a criminal offence.
The jury took just 14 minutes to acquit Fagan of his burglary charge, but the judge then committed Michael for psychiatric evaluation. This led to a three-month stint in the top-security Park Lane psychiatric hospital in Liverpool. After a seven-hour mental health tribunal in January 1983, Fagan walked free, much to the chagrin of Conservative politicians who feared the impact his release may have.
Upon his release, he recorded a cover version of the 1977 Sex Pistols song 'God Save the Queen' with a punk band called the Bollock Brothers, because why the hell not? It failed to set the charts alight. Fagan then had further brushes with the law – in 1997, he was sentenced to a four-year stint in prison, for three charges of supplying heroin.
Since The Crown's fourth season dropped on Netflix, the real Michael Fagan has responded to his portrayal on the show in a brand new interview. Speaking to The Sun, Fagan criticised The Crown for making him "too ugly", adding that the actor who plays him, Tom Brooke, has "no charisma".
According to Michael, the way his on-screen counterpart creeped around corridors was "complete fiction". Fagan recalls: "I wasn't avoiding anyone – I was looking for the Queen. If anyone had turned up, I would have just said I wanted to talk to her."
While Michael says he didn't knock over a vase – "That's totally made up" – he admits that the show did get it right when it came to the break-in itself: "It's true I got in the window after climbing a drainpipe. But I only drank half a bottle of red wine in the office of Prince Charles's private secretary – and I have to say it wasn't anything special."
Fagan says that it's also not true that he woke the Queen up: "She was wide awake when I got in there." And according to Michael, he definitely did not ask ol' Lizzie for a cigarette. "That would have been cheeky and disrespectful and something I just wouldn't do."
Discussing the episode as a whole, Fagan expressed further dissatisfaction with how The Crown portrayed him, explaining that Brooke's version of him was "much more ill-mannered and threatening than I was. I was a bit dumbstruck after walking in on her like that."
He continued: "I was taken aback when I saw Brooke playing me. They could have surely found someone who looks a bit like me. I'm actually better looking and he seems totally charmless."
2020 hasn't been particularly kind to Fagan (or anyone else for that matter either), but he's still here, after suffering a heart attack and contracting COVID-19. The Queen is here too, continuing to serve now as Britain's longest-reigning monarch. What we'll perhaps never know is what Elizabeth II thinks when she looks back at her encounter with Fagan. Did it help open her eyes to working-class struggles, or was it merely an unsettling chapter the Queen would rather forget?
In his 2012 interview with The Independent, published a few months before the Queen's diamond jubilee, Fagan wished Elizabeth all the best. "I hope she lives to be a hundred. If she does, I'll send her a hundredth-birthday telegram." As kind as that is, something tells us that he won't be invited to the royal party. But then again, that probably wouldn't stop Fagan. It's not like he needed an invitation to pop by before.
Michael Fagan on Buckingham Palace break-in: ‘Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints, down to her knees’
The man who, 38 years ago, climbed a drainpipe and broke into Buckingham Palace, not once but twice, recalls the moment he came face to face with the Queen. Emily Dugan meets Michael Fagan
The fourth season of The Crown, released on Netflix on 15 November explores one of the biggest security breaches in modern history - how Michael Fagan was able to get into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace, totally unchallenged. In 2012, The Independent met the man himself to ask how he did it, and why.
Michael Fagan makes an unlikely criminal mastermind. The architect of the biggest royal security breach of the 20th century – sitting in a Wetherspoon's pub, sporting socks, sandals, an oversized parka and a winter hat with ear flaps – is more of a contender for the title of Britain's Most Embarrassing Grandpa.
Nevertheless, in 1982, a 32-year-old Fagan scaled the barbed-wire-topped, 14ft wall of Buckingham Palace and shinned up a drainpipe before wandering into the Queen's bedroom and a place in history.
As the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, it is unlikely she'll want to dwell on the memory of the security debacle that allowed the unkempt, bare-footed and slightly tipsy Fagan to pull back the curtains of her four-poster. It has been decades since he gave an interview, but he agreed to meet The Independent last week at his local pub in north London's Holloway Road.
He says he doesn't like giving interviews, but warms to telling his tale pretty quickly. "I was scareder than I'd ever been in my life," he says, widening his eyes theatrically as he recalls the moment he pulled back the curtains to see the Queen staring up at him. "Then she speaks and it's like the finest glass you can imagine breaking: 'Wawrt are you doing here?!'"
He insists he has "great respect" for the Queen. Not apparently as great as the pleasure he takes in sharing the details of his moment in the royal chamber: "It was a double bed but a single room, definitely – she was sleeping in there on her own," he giggles. "Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees."
Reports at the time suggested the Queen had a long conversation with Fagan to stall him while security was summoned. Fagan tells it differently: "Nah! She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor."
Why he also had bare feet has long been a mystery. He clears this up: "I got my sandals returned to me two years later by the security guard. 'These are Michael's sandals, we found them on the roof,' they said."
Before pitching up rudely at the Queen's bedside, Fagan wandered around the palace, via King George V's multimillion-pound stamp collection, triggering the alarm twice. Police turned it off – assuming the warnings were errors. The resulting scandal prompted the then Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, to offer his resignation to the Queen.
When, finally, the Queen managed to summon help, it was an unarmed footman who stood watch until the police came. Fagan recalls, with increasing licence: "The footman came and said, 'Cor, fucking hell mate, you look like you need a drink'. His name was [Paul] Whybrew, which is a funny name for someone offering you a drink, innit? He took me to the Queen's pantry, across the landing, where I presume she cooks her baked beans and toast and whatever – and takes a bottle of Famous Grouse from the shelf and pours me a glass of whisky."
He says the night of his arrest was not the first time he had sneaked into the palace: a month earlier he broke in and managed to spend most of the night inside before leaving again undetected. His wife, Christine, had just left him. He climbed in through the window of a shocked maid's bedroom; she ran straight to security. But when they found nobody in her room they thought she'd imagined it, leaving Fagan free to explore undisturbed.
He didn't make it as far as the Queen's chamber on that occasion: "I found rooms saying 'Diana's room', 'Charles's room'; they all had names on them. But I couldn't find a door which said 'WC'. All I found were some bins with 'corgi food' written on them. I was breaking my neck to go to the toilet. What do I do? Pee on the carpet? So I had to pee on the corgi food. I got into Charles's room and took the wine off the shelf and drunk it. It was cheap Californian.
"I was loving it... It was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears; I tried one throne and was like 'this one's too soft'. I was having a laugh to myself because there was one right next to it, so I tried another. He demonstrates how he reclined on a chair to view the Queen's art, putting his feet up on the pub table: "I was sitting like this – see. I liked the picture and thought I'd look at it till someone comes, but nobody came.
"It was harder to get out than get in. I eventually found a door and walked out into the back gardens, climbed over the wall and walked down the Mall, looking back and thinking 'ooh'. I hadn't thought about going in there until that last second when it came into my head to do it, so I was shocked."
Days after the first break-in he was arrested for stealing a car in London, driving it to Stonehenge in search of his wife. He was sent to Brixton prison and after three weeks was released on bail. The next day he went to the palace for the second time. He has no regrets. "It's brought me adversity, but I can laugh about it and that's the main thing. I wouldn't do it again. I think security is tightened up now."
Even all these years later, he cannot explain his motivation. "I don't know why I did it, something just got into my head," he says, breaking into a Pink Floyd song: "There's someone in my head and it's not me..." Describing his second visit, he adds: "I went back because I thought 'that's naughty, that's naughty that I can walk round there'." He suggests the whole incident stemmed from putting too many magic mushrooms in his soup five months earlier. "I forgot you're only supposed to take a little handful. Two years later I was still coming down. I was high on mushrooms for a long, long time."
Drugs have played a big part in his life, one way or another. The oldest of three children, he was brought up in north-east London by his mum, Ivy, and dad, Michael, who was a steel erector and a "champion safe-breaker".
He left home at 16 and started working as a painter and decorator, but never really developed an accommodation with the world of work. Before the palace break-in, life revolved around petty crime, drugs and getting up to mischief. When the brief flare of fame in the Eighties after the break-in – he released a version of "God Save the Queen" with the Bollock Brothers – sputtered, he went back to what he knew.
In the past three decades he has been charged with – among other things – assaulting a police officer, dealing heroin and indecent exposure. The last was a "misunderstanding" while smoking dope and fishing with friends. Diving into the water to retrieve a net, he took his trousers off because they were wet and was seen by a woman from a distance. He is indignant: "It was said in court 'he had a huge erection', but this woman can't have been from this planet! Her husband must be like that," he says, measuring a tiny distance with his thumb and forefinger.
In truth he is more prankster than gangster. He blames his heroin-dealing conviction – his most serious – on getting back together with his ex-wife, Christine, "When she came back I got into it. I had to try it and it did cause me a bit of grief. I got four years for dealing. The people I was serving, one was a company director, the son of a lord. They were all business people and they liked coming to me."
Though he talks about drug dealing in the past tense he seems high during our interview: his pupils like pinpricks as he leaps constantly up and down on his seat. I ask if he still does drugs? He sniffs and allows his mouth to stretch into a knowing grin.
As we take our leave, I ask if he has a message for Her Majesty in her Diamond Jubilee year. "Yeah, 60 years – that's fucking great! I hope she beats Victoria. I hope she lives to be a hundred. If she does, I'll send her a hundredth-birthday telegram."
1950 Born in Clerkenwell, London, to Michael and Ivy Fagan; two younger sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth.
1955 Attends Compton Street School, London.
1966 Leaves home at 16. Works as a painter and decorator.
1972 Marries Christine, with whom he has four children.
1982 Breaks into Buckingham Palace twice in a month; the second time he makes it into the Queen's bedroom and speaks to her. Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw offers his resignation over the security breach; the Queen refuses. Fagan is sent to Brixton Prison and Park Lane secure mental institution on unrelated offences of taking a car and assault.
1983 Releases a version of "God Save the Queen" with the Bollock Brothers.
1984 Attacks a policeman in a café in Fishguard, Wales, and is given a three-month suspended jail sentence.
1987 Found guilty of indecent exposure after a woman motorist saw him running around with no trousers on at a waste ground in Chingford, Essex.
1997 Fagan, his wife and their son Arran, 20, are charged with conspiring to supply heroin. Fagan goes to prison for four years.
2002 Witnesses Uri Geller and Michael Jackson board a train at Paddington Station.