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Michael Fagan Today – True Story of the Palace Break In From The Crown
On July 9, 1982, at around 7:15 AM, Queen Elizabeth II awoke with a start. Looming over her bed was a mysterious intruder, “unkempt, barefooted, and slightly tipsy,” who had wrenched back the canopy surrounding her bed with a bloody hand. The intruder was 32-year-old Michael Fagan, an unemployed tradesman who had a bone to pick with Her Majesty. What transpired between the Queen and Fagan has since gone down in history as one of the most dramatic royal security breaches on record. Nearly four decades later, it continues to loom large in the cultural imagination—so much so that it has become the subject of a season four episode of Netflix’s The Crown.
Yet perhaps the most shocking thing about Fagan’s unforgettable break-in isn’t that it happened—it’s that it wasn’t the first time he’d breached palace security. The story actually begins about a month before the July incident, when Fagan (whom you’ll come to see as something of an unreliable narrator) claims he broke into Buckingham Palace for the first time on June 7, 1982, the day his wife left him. In search of a bathroom, Fagan entered the palace by shimmying up a drainpipe and through the window of a shocked maid, who headed straight to security.
“I walked straight in,” Fagan later said of the incident. “I was surprised I wasn’t captured straight away. I could have been a rapist or something.”
Fagan compared the nature of his visit to Goldilocks and the Three Bears, describing how he sat on multiple thrones in order to find the softest perch. He walked through the sumptuous halls, encountered a storage room where baby gifts sent by the public to the expectant Princess of Wales were kept, shuffled through paperwork, and even drank half a bottle of Prince Charles’ wine, which proved to be an unexpected vintage.
Michael Fagan in 1982.
“I found rooms saying ‘Diana’s Room,’ ‘Charles’ Room,’ — they all had names on them. But I couldn’t find a door which said ‘WC,’” Fagan told The Independent UK. “All I found were some bins with ‘Corgi Food’ written on them. I was breaking my neck to go to the toilet. What do I do? Pee on the carpet? So I had to pee on the corgi food. I got into Charles’ room and took the wine off the shelf and [drank] it. It was cheap Californian.’”
Eventually, as he would later testify in court, Fagan grew so bored of waiting to be caught by security that he decided to leave the palace.
“It was harder to get out than get in,” Fagan said of his exit. “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.”
A little over a month later, following an arrest and a brief stint in jail for stealing a car, Fagan returned to Buckingham Palace merely a day after being released on bail. Why? Even he isn’t sure.
“I don’t know why I did it; something just got into my head,” Fagan said. “I went back because I thought ‘that’s naughty, that’s naughty that I can walk round there’.” He even suggests that the incident may have stemmed from putting too many magic mushrooms in his soup five months prior, saying, “I forgot you’re only supposed to take a little handful. Two years later I was still coming down. I was high on mushrooms for a long, long time.”
Michael Fagan in 1983.
With approximately ten servings of whiskey in his system, Fagan shimmied up the same drainpipe with which he’d gained access to the palace before, left his socks and sandals on the roof, then entered the palace through the unlocked office window of Sir Peter Ashmore, the Master of the Household. According to a Scotland Yard investigation, Fagan was spotted by a police officer, who passed the message to the palace control room via another officer on duty, but the game of telephone was too inefficient to stop Fagan before he reached the inner sanctum. In the first anteroom to the Queen’s chambers, Fagan hatched a plan to slit his wrists in front of Her Majesty. He broke an ashtray, managing to cut his hand. With a shard of the broken ashtray in hand, he entered the Queen’s bedroom, opened the curtains surrounding her bed, and sat down on the foot of the bed.
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“I was scareder than I’d ever been in my life,” Fagan said of what happened next. “Then she speaks and it’s like the finest glass you can imagine breaking: ‘Wawrt [sic] are you doing here?!'”
The Queen rang her night alarm bell, but because there was no one in the corridor or in the pantry where the bell rang, it went unanswered. She then picked up the telephone by her bedside, asking the palace switchboard operator to send the police to her chambers, but after six minutes without rescue, she phoned again. As she continued to wait, she was able to flag down a maid, who helped her steer Fagan into a nearby pantry with the promise of a cigarette. Shortly thereafter, the Queen’s footman arrived; he served Fagan a glass of Famous Grouse scotch, assisting the Queen and her ragtag team in stalling Fagan until the police, at last, arrived to remove Fagan from the palace.
Reports at the time suggested that the Queen held a lengthy conversation with Fagan, intended to buy time until help arrived; however, Fagan tells the story differently. “Nah!” he scoffs at the notion of a long conversation with Her Majesty. “She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor.”
The Crown takes creative license with this telling, imagining a version of events where Fagan and the Queen do, in fact, share a tense but enlightening conversation. In Season Four, Episode Five, titled “Fagan,” the hour devotes much of its screentime to Fagan, whom it envisions as the embodiment of the Margaret Thatcher-era working poor, who struggled to earn a living wage under Thatcher’s conservative, deregulated policies. When Fagan visits his local Member of Parliament to complain about Thatcher’s policies, the MP jokingly encourages him to voice his complaints to the Queen. Fagan does exactly that, storming the palace to beg Her Majesty to save Britain from Thatcher.
Fagan singing at a nightclub in Leicester Square.
“She’s destroying the country,” Fagan tells the Queen. “The right to work, the right to be ill, the right to be old, the right to be frail, to be human—gone.”
In a scathing report from Scotland Yard, Assistant Commissioner John Dellow wrote, “If police officers had been alert and competent, Fagan would have been apprehended well before he got close to the private apartments.” After a full investigation, Dellow came to the damning conclusion that a number of palace windows were improperly secured, and that numerous alarms were either incorrectly installed or malfunctioning. The investigation resulted in the suspension of one security officer, the removal from duty of two others, and a significant reinvestment in palace security.
As for Fagan, he suffered no criminal charges in connection with the second break-in, as trespassing was a civil law violation in Britain, but not a crime. It was the first break-in that sent him to court, where he was charged with the theft of Prince Charles’ wine—and summarily acquitted by a jury in just 14 minutes. Merely a month after his acquittal, Fagan appeared in court again on charges of vehicle theft; he was then committed to a maximum security mental institution in Liverpool for three months. Two years later, the shoes and socks he’d left behind on the palace rooftop were returned to his mother.
The Buckingham Palace dust-up turned Fagan into an unlikely celebrity, rendering him a degree of infamy that he has seemingly relished. Nearly a year after the break-in, in 1983, Fagan teamed up with The Bollock Brothers to record a cover of The Sex Pistols’ classic, “God Save the Queen.”
In the nearly four decades since breaking and entering at the palace, Fagan has been charged with a myriad of crimes, including assaulting a police officer, dealing heroin (for which he served four years in prison), and indecent exposure (a “misunderstanding,” he insists). According to an August 2020 interview with The Sun, researchers from The Crown did not contact Fagan, who is lucky to be alive after recovering from both COVID-19 and a heart attack earlier this year. Fagan is pleased with the performance of Tom Brooke, but jokes, “Al Pacino would have been better.” Yet all these years later, Fagan has no regrets.
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“People who have done marvelous things get to kneel in front of her to be honored,” Fagan said, “but I actually sat on her bed and almost got to talk to her.”
In a 2012 interview, Fagan was asked if he had a message for the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, a national celebration marking her sixty years on the throne. Fagan replied, “Yeah, 60 years—that’s fucking great! I hope she beats Victoria. I hope she lives to be a hundred. If she does, I’ll send her a hundredth-birthday telegram.”
The Queen may not be eager to hear from Fagan—but hey, at least he’s not planning another unscheduled visit to Buckingham Palace.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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