The story behind The Crown: Intruder Michael Fagan enters the Queen’s bedroom

One of the most shocking breaches of royal security is explored in season 4 of Netflix drama The Crown – the morning a man found his way into the Queen’s bedroom. What actually happened?

By Rhys Lewis Published: 15 November 2020 - 10.38am
Netflix

Season 4 of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown reimagines one of the most shocking breaches of royal security ever – the time a man broke into Buckingham Palace, entered the Queen’s bedroom and – according to his own reports – sat talking to the monarch for 10 minutes before she could alert security.

Episode 5 of the new season – entitled ‘Fagan’ – introduces the 31-year-old painter and decorator as a frustrated, angry Londoner. He is unable to find work and isn’t allowed to see his children, who are living with their mother and her new boyfriend.

After complaining about his situation to the dole officer and to his uncaring local MP, Fagan - played by Tom Brooke - decides to take his concerns to the very top, by climbing over the wall at Buckingham Palace and speaking to the Queen herself. While he is disturbed during his first break-in and flees, the second time he finds himself in the Queen’s bedroom. 

Michael Fagan in 1985 Getty
Michael Fagan, pictured in 1985

She awakes with a start but after Fagan tells her that he means her no harm, listens sympathetically to his concerns about the state of the country and the attitude of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher towards those who are suffering from economic hardship. Eventually a maid alerts Palace security and Fagan is taken away.

What really happened?

But what really happened on the morning of July 9, 1982?

The truth is, we may never know. The Queen, with her usual discretion, has never revealed the details of Fagan’s visit, and the only accounts we have are from Fagan himself – accounts which have changed dramatically over the years.

One thing that is for certain is that at around 7am that morning, Fagan scaled a 14-foot-high, barbed wire-topped perimeter wall around Buckingham Palace and shinned up a drainpipe to the first floor of the royal residence before entering the Queen’s bed chamber via an ante room in which he had cut his hand on an ashtray.

It was, he claimed, his second visit to the palace. The first had occurred a month earlier, when Fagan had entered the palace through a window on the roof and spent half an hour eating cheese and biscuits and drinking wine before leaving.

Sketch of Michael Fagan in the Queen's bedroom Mirrorpix/Getty
A sketch, published in the Daily Mirror in 1982, of Michael Fagan in the Queen's bedroom

On both occasions his movements within the palace triggered alarms. On his first visit the alarm failed to sound; on the second police assumed the alarm was malfunctioning and silenced it.

According to one contemporary report, a further security breach is alleged to have taken place when the Queen used her bedside phone to summon help after Fagan had awoken her, but the palace police officer did not recognize the urgency of her call, which she tried to make "sound important but not hysterical to avoid alarming the man."

The BBC, meanwhile, reported that the Queen had pressed a panic button by her bedside, but it failed to go off, while the Daily Express claimed that Fagan arrived at the Queen’s bedroom as the armed police officer outside the royal bedroom came off duty before his replacement arrived.

After his arrest, Fagan told his lawyer that after the Queen had woken up to find him standing beside her bed, they spent 10 minutes talking about the Royal Family until a maid entered the room. The Queen asked her to get a cigarette for Fagan and while granting that request the maid called a footman, who stayed with the intruder until police arrived and arrested him. 

The Queen in 1982 David Levenson/Getty
The Queen in March 1982, a few months before the incident

But by 2012 Fagan had changed his story, telling The Independent that rather than remaining calm, the Queen “went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor".

He also claimed that while waiting for the police to arrive, he sat with a footman who told him “you look like you need a drink” and poured him a glass of whisky from the Queen’s pantry.

The aftermath

The fallout was immediate and almost cost Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a senior cabinet colleague when Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw offered his resignation to the Queen.

Mrs Thatcher herself visited the palace in person to apologise to Her Majesty, while Fagan’s mother Ivy – who claimed Michael had boasted of visiting his girlfriend “Elizabeth Regina” in SW1 - wrote her own letter of apology to the monarch, in which she said she was "shocked and ashamed" at her son's conduct but grateful for the monarch's "forbearance and understanding" of a mother's grief over what a son does.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw in 1980 Mirrorpix/Getty
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw in 1980

Fagan himself could not be charged with trespassing as at the time it was a civil, rather than a criminal offence. He was charged with the theft of the wine on his first visit, but charges were dropped when he was committed for psychiatric evaluation.

Not the only intruder

Fagan wasn’t the only intruder at the royal residence in the first years of the 1980s. In June 1981 three German tourists camped in the palace grounds under the impression they were part of Hyde Park and in August of the same year a man was found in some bushes professing admiration for Princess Anne.

Despite a tightening of security after the incident, several others have managed to enter the palace grounds since.

In September 2013 an intruder scaled a fence and got inside the palace, before being arrested by police.

No members of the Royal Family were at the palace at the time, and the 37-year-old man, who was found shortly before 10.30pm “in an area currently open to the public during the day”, was arrested for burglary, trespass and criminal damage.

Two days later the Metropolitan Police apologised to the Duke of York after officers challenged him in the gardens of Buckingham Palace at around 6pm.

“The police have a difficult job to do balancing security for the Royal Family and deterring intruders, and sometimes they get it wrong,” said Prince Andrew.

“I am grateful for their apology and look forward to a safe walk in the garden in the future.”

Season 4 of The Crown is now available to watch on Netflix.

Watch The Crown seasons 1-3 on Netflix.

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