Did the al-Fayeds blame the royals for Diana’s death? Fact checking The Crown’s final episodes
20th December 2023

By Rob Harris

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in the final season of The Crown.

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The final episodes of The Crown focus initially on what was one of the most dramatic and devastating periods in the royal family’s history: the events leading up to the Paris car crash that killed Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mohamed al-Fayed’s son, Dodi, and its aftermath.

Part two covers a dizzying array of events, from the months after the death of Diana to the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker Bowles in April 2005. It was not until series five in 2022 that Netflix moved to add a disclaimer to The Crown, spelling out that it is fictional. By then, despite regular protestations from writer and producer that no one seriously thought it was real, many people seriously thought it was real.

As the final episodes arrive on Netflix, creator Peter Morgan, his co-writers and the show’s various historical advisors – inspired by Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir Spare have doubled down on their signature combination of invention and speculation.

Was the Queen threatened by Tony Blair’s popularity?

The scene: A dream sequence where the Queen wanders through the streets of London having lost the crown and Tony Blair is made king. Later she worries that her tenth prime minister was seen as a “unifying national symbol in the way they used to see, well, me”. As a result, she asks her advisers to do polling to find out how the Queen could “do better”.

Imelda Staunton in the final season of The Crown.Credit: Netflix

The truth: When Blair came into office in May 1997, his popularity was the highest ever for a British prime minister at 60 per cent. But the Queen’s approval ratings consistently outranked his, holding steady at 80 per cent since polling began in 1969. It was also well known that Blair was not her favourite prime minister, although she never commented on their relationship. Prince Philip, however, was not as discreet, once commenting that he was a moderniser but “not for the sake of buggering about with things in some kind of Blairite way”.

A scene where Blair was slow-clapped at the national conference of the Women’s Institute in June 2000 is true, with members showing their disapproval at his politicisation of the event. The press declared that Blair had been “handbagged” by his “extraordinary error of political judgment”.

How did Will and Kate actually meet? Did they live in a group house together?

The scene: Will and Kate are shown meeting for the first time by happenstance on the street when they are both teens and Diana is still alive. Not long after arriving at St Andrews University in Scotland, Kate is shown in The Crown waiting on tables at a restaurant. She sees William on the street kissing a pretty blonde undergraduate, identified by another waitress as “Lola Airdale-Cavendish-Kincaid”. Shortly afterwards, William and Kate meet in the university library, where she offers to show him her notes from their art history class.

Kate (Meg Bellamy) and William (Ed McVey) in The Crown’s final season.Credit: Netflix

The truth: The pair first met at St Andrews University when they were students there in 2001. “I think you said I actually went bright red when I met you and sort of scuttled off,” Kate recalled to Prince William during an interview in 2010 announcing their engagement. “[I was] feeling very shy about meeting you.” Kate said they became “very close friends from quite early on”. William added that they had been “friends for over a year first” and that their romance “just sort of blossomed from then on”. They did move into a house together with a group of friends in 2002, before it was before they were officially an item. The show portrays this happening afterwards.

Did Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret have the VE Day adventure?

The scene: During a flashback scene in episode 8, a young then Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, sneak out from Buckingham Palace on what would become Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, to celebrate the end of World War II in Europe.

They’re accompanied by Group Captain Peter Townsend, the King’s equerry, and Lord Porchester, nicknamed “Porchey”, an officer in the British Army, and they haven’t received permission from King George VI and Queen Consort Elizabeth to join the massive throngs celebrating in London. Not returning until dawn, they swear to keep the events of their night out a secret.

The truth:
The event did occur in real life, which was detailed at length in Sally Bedell Smith’s biography, Elizabeth The Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch. “I remember we were terrified of being recognised, so I pulled my uniform cap well down over my eyes,” the Queen told the BBC in 1985. She described the “lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, and all of us were swept along by tides of happiness and relief” and called the evening “one of the most memorable nights of my life”.

They were in a group of 16 friends and members of the royal household, which included Townsend, Porchey and the princess’s cousin Margaret Elphinstone (later Rhodes). They danced along Trafalgar Square and down Piccadilly to the Ritz. “For some reason, we decided to go in the front door and do the conga,” Rhodes recalled. The King wrote in his diary of the day’s exploits: “Poor darlings, they have never had any fun yet.”

Were the royal family split after Charles asked for the Queen’s permission to marry Camilla?

The scene: Charles asks his mother, the Queen, for permission to marry Camilla, saying he’d loved her for 30 years. Elizabeth convenes a gathering of bishops to ask their advice, before deciding that it would be more difficult if Charles was living in sin with Camilla if she died than if he was married in a secular service and then received a blessing in church.

The truth: It is accepted that the Queen was not thrilled by the news at the time, as the episode makes clear. But the royal objection to Camilla was unlikely personal and more that the monarch, as a religious woman, looked unfavourably on the idea of two divorced people remarrying in a church service.

Until the publication of Spare, Harry’s tell-all and often bitter memoir, there was little reason to believe that William and Harry felt the mutual antagonism. But the Duke of Sussex revealed that both he and his brother objected to his father’s second marriage, begging their father not to marry her, describing her as a “wicked stepmother”. The details that he said, “Why can’t they just carry on as they are?” and telling his brother that he was a “f—ing company man” for not objecting to the match, owe a great deal to his memoir.

Dominic West as Prince Charles and Olivia Williams as Camilla in The Crown.Credit: Netflix

The head researcher for the series, Annie Sulzberger, recently said that Spare “helped us think, OK, this is an insider account, and I feel like we’re on the right track”. But former royal butler Grant Harrold said the biggest misconception about the wedding was that the Queen didn’t enjoy it or wasn’t supportive. “It’s complete nonsense,” he said, adding she was “really happy” on her son’s big day.

Did Mohamed al-Fayed blame the royal family for conspiring to kill Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed?

The scene: As the penultimate episode of the show continues to delve into the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, it depicts the Metropolitan Police’s inquiry into the circumstances of the events of August 31, 1997. The probe is largely brought about by Mohamed al-Fayed’s increasingly deranged and furious comments about the royal family’s purported involvement in the deaths of Diana and his son Dodi.

Khalid Abdalla as Dodi Fayed and Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana in the new season of The Crown.Credit: Daniel Escale/Netflix

Charles is read a letter from Diana to her butler Paul Burrell in which she writes: “This particular phase in my life is the most dangerous. My husband is planning an accident in my car. Brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for him to marry Tiggy [former nanny to William and Harry]. Camilla is nothing but a decoy, so we are being used by the man in every sense of the word.”

The truth: The Egyptian billionaire was convinced that his son, Dodi, and Princess Diana met their demise in a conspiracy orchestrated by the British establishment, with a particular focus on Prince Philip. The broad outlines of this detail are accurate in The Crown, but the chronology is misleading. Following a comprehensive three-year inquest conducted by the Metropolitan Police, known as Operation Paget, the official investigation concluded that the car accident was a consequence of “grossly negligent driving” and not indicative of a royal conspiracy.

Al-Fayed never left the country, unlike his statement depicted in the show, remaining in Britain until his death earlier this year. The episode also exaggerated the extent to which the public believed that Diana had been murdered.

Did Prince Harry dress up as a Nazi for a fancy dress party?

The scene: William, Kate and Harry visit a costume shop together ahead of their friend Harry Meade’s ‘colonials and natives’ themed fancy dress party. William chooses a lion get-up and Harry picks a desert uniform inspired by General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps featuring a German Wehrmacht badge on the collar and a red, white and black swastika armband. Urging his brother to go for the Nazi uniform, William says, “wearing the outfit doesn’t make him a Nazi”. Pictures of him are taken by another guest on his camera phone and sold to the newspapers.

The truth: Harry subsequently described this as “one of the biggest mistakes of his life”. In Spare, his memoir, he emphatically points a finger of blame at “Willy”. “I phoned Willy and Kate, asked what they thought. Nazi uniform,” Harry wrote.“They both howled. Worse than Willy’s leotard outfit! Way more ridiculous! Which, again, was the point.” Charles was livid over Harry’s colossally poor judgment. But he was also angry at William for failing to prevent Harry from wearing the costume.

Rather than being consigned to the pig sty, Harry made a public apology and privately repented in person to Dr Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Harry was punished by being made to do farm work by his father. This revelation, which appeared in the Sunday Mirror, subsequently formed part of Harry’s court case against Mirror Group Newspapers, as he claimed that the story was obtained by phone hacking.

A London newsagent reads a copy of tabloid The Sun in 2005. The front page shows Prince Harry wearing a Nazi soldier’s uniform to a fancy dress party.Credit: AP

Did the Queen consider abdication after her Golden Jubilee and plan to announce her decision at Charles and Camilla’s wedding?

The scene: The finale of the show revolves around the idea of the Queen giving up the throne so that the Prince of Wales can take over. Plagued by intimations of mortality as she nears her 80th birthday, the Queen is visited in her stables by a vision of her middle-aged self, played by Olivia Colman. Colman’s Elizabeth II tells her that “stepping down is the right thing to do as a queen and a mother”. The Queen writes a speech in which she will announce her abdication on April 9, 2005, at the wedding reception for Charles and Camilla.

The truth: As is best known, the plot is a complete fantasy. The Queen repeated at intervals during her life that she would never abdicate, starting with her 21st birthday speech in South Africa. In 2003, she told the archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, that she had always planned “to carry on to the end”.

The Queen did, however, make a famous speech at the wedding, announcing that Hedgehunter had won the Grand National horse race that afternoon. But the episode omitted her memorable words comparing Charles and Camilla’s long and difficult road to the altar with the most treacherous jumps on the Grand National course, saying: “My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”

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