Season 4 of The Crown takes place over most of the 1980s, one of the royal’s family’s more eventful decades. Marriages, assassinations, wars, and the Thatcher years are crammed into just ten episodes, but the midpoint of the season takes a moment to reflect on one of the stranger incidents of the era — Michael Fagan’s 1982 break-in to the Queen’s bedroom.
The Crown uses Michael Fagan as a symbol of a British everyman’s frustration with the government under Margaret Thatcher and further weaves the story of his break-in into the season’s larger themes of Queen Elizabeth II’s enforced distance from her family and subjects. It presents Fagan as a bizarre antihero whose actions remind the Queen of how little she has in common with “ordinary” people and encourages her to temporarily reassess her role as a figurehead.
The real story behind Michael Fagan is difficult to pin down, as only the coldest facts about Fagan’s actions remain in the public record — when and how he broke into the palace, how long he was there, and what happened to him afterward. As is common with history, however, the spaces between those facts are the most interesting and least knowable parts.
It is fact that Michael Fagan, then 31 years old, broke into Buckingham Palace on July 9th, 1982 and was discovered in the Queen’s bedroom. The Crown shows that the July incursion was Fagan’s second visit, but the only source for that first break-in (the one where he wanders the halls of the palace, sits on the Queen’s throne, and drinks a bottle of wine) is Fagan himself, who revealed his previous crime in a bizarre interview with The Independent in 2012. The initial police report from Scotland Yard detailing the incident mentions previous suspected break-ins at the palace but does not connect Fagan to any of those incursions.
That police report also includes a disturbing detail that did not make it into The Crown: after his capture, Fagan told authorities that seeing the broken glass ashtray gave him the idea to cut his wrists in front of the queen, though “he had not entered the palace with this intention.” Fagan did not accomplish or even attempt this, but he did leave a bloodstain on the queen’s sheets from a cut on his thumb. Most of the report from that night goes on to describe the palace’s faulty security systems and says little else about Fagan’s motivations.
The Queen has never said exactly what conspired between Fagan and herself for the ten minutes it took for her maid to arrive and alert authorities. The Crown goes with the common assumption that the Queen distracted Fagan with conversation, but Fagan later said in the aforementioned Independent interview that such a conversion never happened. In that version of his story, which has changed over the years and should be taken with a heap of salt, the Queen ran off in her bare feet and Liberty nightgown when she saw him in her room, after which a footman found him, said “fucking hell mate, you look like you need a drink,” and served him a glass of whiskey.
It is safe to assume some, if not all of that story is not true, as may be Fagan’s first break-in.
As for Fagan’s motivations, it’s possible they were less political than The Crown portrays. In the show, he seeks the Queen as a last-ditch after his MP jokingly tells him she’s the only one who can help ordinary people. In reality, both Fagan’s mother and sister stated at the time that Fagan had told them a woman named “Elizabeth Regina” was his girlfriend. His father also described him as a “royal fanatic.” Fagan’s own story of why he did it has changed over the years. He has alluded to The Crown’s interpretation regarding wanting to talk to the Queen on behalf of the British people, but he has also said that he did it to feel “naughty” and/or was under the influence of a catastrophic amount of shrooms.
Fagan was sentenced to six months in a psychiatric hospital after he was caught. In the years after his release he has continued to be a real character, garnering arrests for indecent exposure, fighting cops, and dealing heroin. He is now 72 years old and still unlikely to give anyone a straight answer about what transpired in the Queen’s bedroom, but that’s what shows like The Crown are for – filling in the moments when reality might be stranger than fiction.
The Crown Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.