It is one of the Royal family’s most infamous incidents: the story of how an unemployed Londoner, Michael Fagan, broke into Buckingham Palace and entered the Queen’s bedroom while she was in bed and had a conversation with her, covered in The Crown season four, episode five.
The man himself denies they had an in-depth conversation, but The Crown has turned it into a significant exchange.
The episode takes us out onto the streets of Margaret Thatcher‘s Britain, 1982, where unemployment has risen above three million – the highest rate since the 1930s depression.
Among the men and women standing in line in the dole queue was Fagan, a painter and decorator who was destined to cause one of the worst royal security breaches in modern memory, when he broke into Buckingham Palace and entered the Queen’s bedroom, carrying a piece of broken glass.
But what was the real story behind their meeting? Did Michael Fagan really sit on the Queen’s bed?
Who was palace intruder Michael Fagan?
Michael Fagan was a painter and decorator from Clerkenwell, London, born 8th August 1948.
In 1972, he married his wife Christine, with whom he had four children. He has stated that his wife had left him shortly before the first of his two break-ins at Buckingham Palace, about a month apart from each other.
He was unemployed at the time of the break-ins.
When did Michael Fagan break into Buckingham Palace?
Fagan claimed that his famous palace break-in on 9th July 1982 was in reality his second break-in, meaning he managed to sneak into Buckingham Palace not once, but twice within the space of almost exactly a month.
In a Scotland Yard police report from July 1982 (via The New York Times), it notes that Fagan was eventually “charged with burglary” from a prior incident that took place “at the palace on 7 June 1982”.
Fagan has since said that during the first break-in in June, he climbed in via a drainpipe and an unchecked window, before getting drunk off Californian wine that he stole: “I found rooms saying ‘Diana’s room’, ‘Charles’s room’; they all had names on them… I got into Charles’s room and took the wine off the shelf and drunk it. It was cheap Californian.”
He also sat on royal thrones: “I was loving it… It was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears; I tried one throne and was like ‘this one’s too soft’.”
In the same interview (via The Independent), he said of the first break-in: “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.”
During the first incident, Fagan was spotted by a maid called Sarah Carter, who raised the alarm, but he still managed to evade capture. Security systems were not sufficiently improved, leaving the palace vulnerable to a second break-in.
Fagan didn’t meet the Queen until the second break-in at Buckingham Palace.
How did Michael Fagan break into Buckingham Palace?
The Times’ lead front-page story on Tuesday 13th July 1982 (titled ‘Gaps in palace security thrown up by intruder’) revealed that for his second break-in, Fagan climbed into the palace via an unchecked window in the offices of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Ashmore, the Master of the Household.
The break-in occurred despite “recent security reviews” and then-existing security measures, including more than 20 officers who guarded the palace 24 hours a day; “various security devices, including cameras and sensors”; and high walls topped with barbed wire that surrounded the 51 acre palace grounds.
The Home Secretary at the time, William Whitehall, told MPs in the Commons (on 12th July 1982) that human error and technical issues were to blame for the intrusion. Meanwhile a report by the Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner John Dellow suggested that there had been widespread “complacency” regarding palace security, in addition to only a vague chain of command regarding palace security.
The same Times article also detailed some previous breaches in security, including an alleged incident where an officer was “in bed with a maid when he should have been on duty outside the Queen’s bedchamber,” and how officers were reportedly found “paddling in the goldfish ponds”.
What happened in the Queen’s bedroom?
Entering the royal apartments, Michael Fagan “spent ten minutes” in the Queen’s bedchamber in the early hours of Friday morning, 9th July 1982 (via The Times front-page, 3th July 1982), after entering at 7.15am and opening the curtains.
Additionally, “when the Queen tried to summon help when he entered her room, she found a ‘panic button’ was not working”.
The Scotland Yard report from the time revealed that while the night alarm bell (connected to the corridor outside the Queen’s room and to the pantry) worked in theory, by a series of coincidences no one heard or responded to it.
For example, “the police sergeant who is in the corridor outside at night had gone off duty at about 6 A.M., when members of the domestic staff had come on duty.”
Meanwhile the footman was outside exercising the palace corgis, and the maid was cleaning in another room with the door shut “so that the noise of her work would not disturb Her Majesty”.
The same police report reveals that Fagan was “carrying one piece of the broken ashtray, with which he has said that he intended to slash his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty. He claimed that he had not entered the palace with this intention but that it formed in his mind for the first time when he saw the ashtray.”
The Times detailed that it was only when Fagan asked for a cigarette that the Queen pointed out that there were none in the room, before taking “the opportunity to summon help” by calling a footman.
‘Elizabeth R: A Biography,’ a 1983 biography of the Queen by Lady Langford, describes how the Queen “reacted calmly” to the intruder, and wondered how to call for help without “frightening” Fagan. The book also described how Fagan’s thumb was cut, and “dripped” blood onto the Queen’s “bedclothes” (as reviewed in The Times on 29th September 1983).
He was also “barefooted and wearing a t-shirt,” according to the BBC.
Did palace intruder Michael Fagan sit on the Queen’s bed?
In popular imagination, palace intruder Michael Fagan sat down on the edge of the Queen’s bed before having a long chat with her. However, police reports did not confirm this version.
Contemporary newspaper reports do seem to suggest, however, that Fagan got very close to the Queen’s bed (even if he didn’t sit on it).
For example, the article titled ‘The man who created a security nightmare’ (The Times, September 24th 1982), referenced how Fagan “stepped towards the sleeping monarch,” mentioning “his appearance by her bed,” and how he “talked to the Queen for some minutes”.
However, those reports still don’t confirm whether or not Fagan actually sat down on the bed.
Fagan himself has since described the Queen’s bedroom interior, right down to the size of her bed and the details of her knee-length nightgown; but again, he said nothing to suggest that the pair shared a conversation while he was sat on her bed.
“It was a double bed but a single room, definitely – she was sleeping in there on her own,” he told The Independent. “Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees.”
Asked if he had shared a conversation with her prior to security being summoned, he said: “Nah! She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor.”
Fagan is reportedly unhappy about The Crown’s portrayal of their exchange. He told the Daily Mail: “[Peter Morgan’s] got his own agenda. The people that wrote The Crown, they’ve got an agenda. I bet the rest of it is a fiction as well. They’ve just done it to have a pop at the Queen.
“It’s a complete fiction, the bit about me and the Palace. All of it is a complete fiction. It was a fiction, I wouldn’t have a go at the Queen.”
Curiously, Fagan added: “Everything about it is fiction. I didn’t speak to the Queen. I didn’t see anybody, all that ducking and diving. I just sat and waited for someone to come by.”
Did Michael Fagan go to prison?
Michael Fagan’s break-in at the palace was, at the time, only a ‘civil wrong’ rather than a criminal offence. Instead he was charged under the Theft Act with stealing a bottle of wine from the palace during his first break-in, in June 1982.
However, he was acquitted of that charge by a jury in September 1982. In court, Fagan even claimed that he had “done the Queen a favour” by exposing the lax security measures (as reported by The Times on September 24th 1982).
According to the same newspaper report, the jury took only 10 minutes to decide that Fagan was ‘not guilty’.
He was sent for treatment (as a patient rather than criminal) at a secure psychiatric hospital in Liverpool on Tuesday 5th October 1982, according to newspaper reports the following day. In a statement, he apologised to the Queen, whom he described as “wonderfully understanding,” before signing himself as, “Humbly, Michael.”
The judge at the time described Fagan’s “unusual capacity” for breaking and entering “truly formidable”. As Fagan was led away, he reportedly yelled out, “Burn the b*****ds in hell”.
He was released three months later, according to the BBC.
Fagan was later sent to prison for four years in the late 1990s, but for an unrelated charge.
Did Fagan’s MP tell him to go and see the Queen about Thatcher?
In The Crown, Michael Fagan’s local MP, ‘Richard Hastings’, sarcastically tells him to take up his grievances about Margaret Thatcher with the Queen.
However, it appears that Richard Hastings did not exist, meaning that his on-screen conversation with Fagan was fictional and made-up by The Crown’s writers for the purpose of creative license.
Hastings isn’t the first character created especially for The Crown – the show also featured Churchill’s fictional secretary in season one.
Fagan’s real-life MP was John Grant, who actually brought up the subject of Fagan’s break-in in the House of Commons (referred to as the “Grant Affair” by The Times’ Frank Johnson) and seemingly asked for more information.
According to The Time, Grant “stretched the doctrine of constituency interest to grotesque lengths by claiming that the fact that Mr Michael Fagan lived in Islington gave Mr Grant a constituency interest in the bedchamber incursion [at Buckingham Palace]” (published 27th July 1982).
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Is Michael Fagan still alive?
Yes, Michael Fagan is still alive.
He was previously portrayed by Eddie Marsan in the Sky Arts film Walking the Dogs, in which Emma Thompson played Queen Elizabeth II and Russell Tovey played the footman.