For much of The Crown's viewership, the Netflix drama provides an opportunity to delve into both well-publicised and lesser known moments in history, from the British royal family's connection to the Romanovs to the real story behind Charles and Diana's 1991 Italy trip.


There's also 'Tampongate', the Windsor Castle fire, Diana's 'revenge dress', Prince Philip's friend Penny Knatchbull and her daughter Leonora, Diana's close friend James Colthurst, and much, much more.

The show's creator Peter Morgan has undoubtedly taken artistic licence throughout all five seasons of the series, as Princess Margaret star Lesley Manville pointed out: "At the end of the day, you have to make a dramatic choice because we're not making a documentary about the royals.

"It has to be dramatically interesting. You have to hold your audience, so your story has to have an arc. It has to have balance. And you can’t just tell one story, it’s got to be multi-layered. You’ve got to cover this multitude of characters, and serve them all."

She added: "The public is interested in all of them to some degree, some more than others, so you’ve got to spread it out. I'm not sure what he [Morgan] left out, but I imagine that the agenda has to be that you’re making a drama, and you have to make that drama interesting, and give it peaks and troughs, and highs and lows, and balance."

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But there's much in the drama that does adhere to the facts.

Sydney Johnson is one of the real-life figures who features in season 5. His involvement in the narrative is limited, but fascinating nonetheless.

In The Crown, Sydney was valet to the Duke of Windsor, which sparks the interest of Mohamed Al-Fayed. The Egyptian is desperate to become an 'English gentleman' and after initially dismissing Sydney, he employs him as his own personal attendant, with the pair striking up an unlikely companionship.

It's particularly moving to watch Mohamed tend to Sydney on his sick bed during his final days, with the pair swapping roles somewhat.

But who was the real Sydney Johnson? And which actor plays him in the Netflix series?

Who was Sydney Johnson? True story of Duke of Windsor’s valet

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1951.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1951. Getty Images

Sydney Johnson was born in Nassau, the Bahamas, and first entered into the service of Edward, Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis, Duchess of Windsor when the Duke was the governor-general of the islands off Florida during World War II.

In 1973, Johnson was forced to resign from his position following the death of his wife and his inability to care for his children and work the required hours for the widowed Duchess.

The Duchess died in Paris at the age of 89 in 1986 after having succumbed to dementia and becoming a recluse who was bedridden and unable to speak, surviving on her late husband’s remaining wealth and an allowance from the Queen.

In later life, Johnson came to be a friend and employee of Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of the Ritz Hotel in Paris and Harrods department store in London.

Johnson went on to work for Al-Fayed and even acted as a curator of the collection of Windsors’ belongings in their former Parisian villa, the Le Bois in the Bois de Boulogne public park, which Al-Fayed purchased.

According to the New York Times, Al-Fayed bought the villa due to his love of romance.

''I come from Alexandria - that's where Antony fell in love with Cleopatra.'' he said, ''It's the most romantic city in the world."

Speaking of Johnson specifically, Al-Fayed noted: "Sydney is a dictionary. He's a very cultured man. He got all these things out of boxes and safes and storage rooms, and he knows their history.''

Johnson’s last public appearance was at the grand reopening of the Windsors’ villa after it was restored by Al-Fayed.

At the event, Johnson wore a gold and red livery in an old valet’s uniform style.

Mohamed Al-Fayed in the former home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Mohamed Al-Fayed in the former home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Jean Marc CHARLES/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Of the outfit, Johnson had previously said: ''I always used to wear one of these when I served at one of our big dinners."

He is noted to have said at the event: "I feel on top of the world. The restoration is so authentic I expect to see the Duchess stepping down the staircase asking, 'How do I look?'"

Johnson died at the age of 69 of natural causes in Paris, France, on 17th January 1990.

Upon Johnson’s death, Al-Fayed described the late valet as "truly a gentlemen’s gentleman. We shall miss him very much."

Who plays Sydney Johnson in The Crown?

Jude Akuwudike attends the press night performance of "Henry V" at the Donmar Warehouse on March 2, 2022 in London, England.
Jude Akuwudike. David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Actor Jude Akuwudike portrays Sydney Johnson in The Crown season 5, episode 3.

Akuwudike is a Nigerian actor on stage and screen who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the Royal National Theatre.

The actor has appeared in films such as Sahara, The Tempest, Beasts of No Nation, Eyimofe, and Benediction.

On television, Akuwudike has appeared in acclaimed series such as Cucumber, Chewing Gum, Kiri, Fortitude, In the Long Run, Moving On, and Gangs of London.

Joshua Kekana portrays a younger Sydney Johnson in flashback scenes featuring the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings) and the Duchess of Winsor (Lia Williams).

Johnson previously appeared in The Crown season 3 episode 8, the instalment that portrayed the final days of the Duke of Windsor.

During this appearance, Johnson was portrayed by Connie M'Gadzah.

The Crown seasons 1 to 5 are available now on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

Looking for something else to watch? Visit our TV Guide or Streaming Guide.


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