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The Crown season 6: What is fact and what is fiction?

From the Queen’s speech at Charles and Camilla’s wedding to Kate Middleton’s mother’s meddling...

Isobel Lewis
Monday 25 December 2023 21:47 GMT
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The Crown season 6 part 2 - trailer

As Netflix’s acclaimed royal drama The Crown comes to an end, with the action having moved closer to the present day, the line between fact and fiction feels ever more blurred.

While Peter Morgan’s show has always presented a dramatised take on real-life events, many have argued that viewers struggle to tell the difference between the real royal family and the events on the show. When season five arrived last year, there were calls for the show to include a “fictional explainer” – something Netflix did not do.

The final series has seen the show head into the late Nineties and early Noughties in its final season, depicting events many members of the public will remember well.

The first part of season six, which arrived on Netflix on 16 November, took place in the summer of 1997. It saw Prince Charles (Dominic West) building on his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), while Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) sparked up a romance with film producer Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla). The show also featured the pair’s death in a car crash in Paris.

Part two, arriving on Netflix on Thursday (14 December), picks up in the aftermath of Diana’s death. Prince William (Ed McVey) is heading off to university, where he meets future princess Kate Middleton (Meg Bellamy) for the first time. With prime minister Tony Blair (Bertie Carvel) becoming more popular every day, Queen Elizabeth (Imelda Staunton) is concerned about the royal family’s place in society, and the job left for whoever succeeds her.

As the show comes to an end, and fans wonder what in The Crown is based in reality, here’s everything you need to know.

*Spoilers for The Crown season six part two below – you have been warned!*

Part two

Prince William’s fan mail and ‘Willsmania’

In the wake of Princess Diana’s death, Prince William returns to Eton, where he begins to receive letters from teenage girls from around the world. In the letters, William is praised for his courage for walking behind his mother’s coffin at her funeral. On TV, girls are shown screaming William’s name, while a news reporter refers to William as the “new teenage heartthrob”.

Ed McVey as Prince William (Justin Downing/Netlix)

The episode is titled “Willsmania”, in reference to William’s status as a pop culture phenomenon. According to reports, William hated the attention and had to be convinced by his father to carry on his role in the royal family.

The Queen’s focus groups

Amid Tony Blair’s growing popularity in the UK, the Queen has a nightmare about Blair being crowned as the new king. Concerned that Blair is more liked by the public than the monarchy, she asks her aides to find out some information about her popularity. Focus groups are held across the country, where more than 2,000 members of the public are quizzed on their thoughts on the royal family. They are asked yes or no questions, with “spirited debates” following. The polls show that the majority of people find that the royal family are “out of touch”, “wasteful of public money”, and “lacked compassion”.

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The cast of ‘The Crown' (Netflix)

The royal family are reported to have used focus groups over the years, although it is not known if the queen directly requested any herself. It’s certainly true that Blair was riding high in popularity in the wake of Princess Diana’s death. According to a private Labour poll, Blair’s popularity rating reached 93 per cent one month after Diana died.

Tony Blair’s nightmare at the Women’s Institute

The Queen’s long-standing relationship with the Women’s Institute is focused on in the show, with the then-monarch shown delivering a speech to her fellow members. But when prime minister Blair gives his own speech at the organisation’s annual conference, proffering Labour as a party representing traditional values, it goes down like a lead balloon. Unimpressed by Blair’s attempt to stray into party politics, the women slowly clapped and heckled Blair.

Bertie Carvel as Tony Blair (Justin Downing/Netflix)

This really happened, to the point where chair Helen Carey had to call on the women to calm down as the clapping got louder. The moment was later mocked in the House of Commons by Tory leader William Hague, who told Blair: “It is the mark of an out of touch prime minister that you don’t know why you’re out of touch.”

William and Kate’s teenage connection

Kate and her mother Carole (Eve Best) are shopping in London, when they see a group gathering. They realise William and Princess Diana are selling copies of the Big Issue, and go over to buy one from the pair. Diana asks Kate her name, as the teenager catches the eye of young William.

Kate and William connect at university (Justin Downing/Netflix)

While William’s support for the Big Issue is well documented, with the royal selling the fundraising magazine earlier this month, this story is fabricated. Kate and William met while studying at university in St Andrews, and did not meet as kids.

Kate and William weren’t eachother’s first university loves

The course of true love never did run smooth; not even for Kate and William. In The Crown, both members of the future royal couple date different people when they first meet at university: William a girl called Lola and Kate a boy called Rupert, with William insulting Kate during an argument in the university library.

Kate (Meg Bellamy) with her first university boyfriend (Netflix)

It is true that both William and Kate were in relationships before finding love at St Andrews. William briefly dated aspiring writer Olivia Hunt during his first year at university, while Kate dated lawyer Rupert Finch. Both Kate and William have remained friends with both parties.

Carole Middleton’s role in setting up marriage

One of the most surprising elements of the new series of The Crown is the pivotal role played by Kate’s mother Carole Middleton (Eve Best). Carole is shown to be desperate to set up her daughter with William. At one point, Kate tells her mother, “You’ve always had your sights set on someone else for me,” and jokingly compares her to the overbearing Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Kate and William end up studying together at St Andrews, but Kate later tells her mother that she had originally been planning to go to Edinburgh, but then took a gap year and changed on her mum’s request in line with William’s plans. When Kate and William meet at university, Carole pushes her daughter to pursue William. She tells Kate to make sure she wears heels at the infamous fashion show in order to show off her legs.

Eve Best as Carole Middleton (Netflix)

Kate has always been close to her mother Carole, who ran a party business when Kate was at university. In Omid Scobie’s explosive recent book Endgame, it is claimed that Carole “calculatingly placed Kate right at the centre of young Prince William’s world”, including making her change from her first choice university to take a year off in Florence, just like William.

Queen and Margaret sneaking out on VE Day

Episode eight is about the death of Princess Margaret. The episode is book-ended by a flashback sequence, which sees a young Elizabeth (Viola Prettejohn) and Margaret (Beau Gadsdon) sneaking out of the palace as the Second World War came to an end. They go to The Ritz in disguise, and dance with members of the public.

The young Queen and Princess Margaret on VE Day (Daniel Escale/Netflix)

It sounds like it could be a work of fiction, but did actually happen. The future queen, who was 19 at the time, and her 14-year-old sister gathered in front of the palace alongside members of the public, when they danced the hokey-cokey and the Lambeth Walk. After dinner, they went to the Ritz, accompanied by a group of Guards officers who were their friends, and danced the conga. In his diary, King George wrote that it had been Margaret’s idea. “Poor darlings, they have never had any fun yet,” he said.

Prince William spends Golden Jubilee with Kate’s family

Throughout season six part two, William is seen struggling with the pressure of royal life and fame. As the Queen’s Golden Jubilee approaches, the monarch offers William a reprieve from royal duties. Instead, he spends the day with Kate’s family (marking the first time he has met her parents), watching the celebrations on TV at their home while providing his own personal commentary. He expresses regret, however, telling Kate, “I can’t help feeling that I should be with her,” before returning to the palace and joining his grandmother on the balcony, alongside Harry (Luther Ford).

The Queen celebrates her Golden Jubilee (Justin Downing/Netflix)

In reality, William did attend the balcony, prompting loud cheers as the crowd screamed his name. Prince Philip, also taking part, looked at him with pride.

Queen changes mind on resignation at Charles and Camilla’s wedding

The final episode of the series centres around Charles and Camilla’s 2005 wedding. At the time, the Queen is considering giving up the throne, allowing Charles to succeed as a wedding present of sorts. Elizabeth asks to give a speech, which she has written herself, at the wedding, leading to speculation that she may be about to stand down. Elizabeth is then visited by the ghosts of her younger self (played by Claire Foy and Olivia Colman), who remind her of the responsibilities of the crown and suggest that the younger generations are not as steadfast and up to the task as her. In front of the hundreds of guests, the Queen makes her speech. However, she skips over one card from her cues and does not stand down.

Charles and Camilla on their wedding day (Justin Downing/Netflix)

While there are nuggets of truth in this story, it is largely fabricated. The Queen actually didn’t attend the civil marriage ceremony at all, instead joining the happy couple afterwards at the church blessing. According to royal author Penny Junor’s biography The Untold Story, the Queen did give a speech on the day of the wedding, during which she joked about race horses and gave the couple their blessing. It is not known whether she ever intended to relieve herself of her royal duties in 2005, but in reality she did not retire before her death in September 2022.

Part one

Diana’s role with Tony Blair’s government

Episode one sees Diana visiting Tony and Cherie Blair (Lydia Leonard) with William after asking for a meeting with him. Recalling their discussion to the Queen, Blair says that Diana feels she “still has a lot to offer the country as a public servant”. He says that she had asked if there was a way to work with the government on “a more formal basis” and that any “official role” would be appreciated.

Bertie Carvel as Blair (Netflix)

Following Diana’s death, Downing Street confirmed that Diana had visited Blair at Chequers with her son a few weeks before, where they discussed a special role for her as an overseas “ambassador” for Britain. Diana told a journalist at the time that the prime minister had recognised her skills and asked her to undertake “missions” abroad for Britain.

Queen Elizabeth’s reluctance to accept Camilla

As The Crown season six begins, Charles is frustrated at the public for demonising Camilla long after his split from Diana.  Asks the Queen if she’d received the invitation to Camilla’s 50th birthday, to which she says she has, but cannot attend as she’s in Derbyshire. When Charles points out that plans “can always be changed”, she replies: “Why would we want to change it?” She doesn’t attend, but later tells Prince Philip that she doesn’t want for Camilla to be considered “wicked, because she’s not” or to be unkind to her.

Charles (West) hosts Camilla’s (Williams) birthday (Netflix)

It took a while for Queen Elizabeth and Camilla to grow close. According to historian Robert Lacey, she was reluctant to accept Charles’s request to be more accommodating to Camilla. Unlike in The Crown, she is said to have once referred to Camilla as “that wicked woman” to Charles’s face. However, she grew to become closer to Camilla. Despite announcing in 2005 that Camilla would become the Princess Consort rather than Queen Consort, it was announced that Camilla would be queen seven months before Elizabeth’s death.

Dodi Fayed’s engagement to an American model

When viewers first meet Dodi in The Crown, he’s in Paris with a woman with short, blonde hair. However, it’s not Diana, but an American woman who he says he’s picking out fabric for a Malibu home with and says he’s marrying in three weeks. His father Mohamed is unimpressed, calling him to Saint Tropez to meet a “special guest” and leave his “gold-digger” fiance – who he also calls “Madame Bikini” – behind. The model later confronts Dodi, asking if he was with Diana when he leaves her to go see his father. Diana also alludes to a “lawsuit” between Dodi and his ex.

Diana (Debicki) and Dodi (Abdalla) (PA)

This storyline comes to close to the truth as told by model Kelly Fisher, who claimed to have been engaged to Dodi when he met Diana. Fisher had previously modelled for brands such as Victoria’s Secret and magazines including Elle and Marie Claire. As in The Crown, Fisher – who met Fayed in July 1996 – was on another Fayed yacht when Dodi and Diana were first photographed. She staged a press conference where she announced that she was filing a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Dodi, after he allegedly asked her to stop modelling as much and prioritise the relationship. Through tears, she claimed that he had proposed to her (something his family denied) and promised to buy her a house in Malibu. However, she dropped the lawsuit following Dodi’s death.

Diana’s close relationship with paparazzi on France yacht trip

When Dodi and Diana first spend time together on his father’s yacht in France, the paparazzi are never far away. However, when William refuses to go outside until the photographers leave them alone, she takes a boat out to visit them. Wearing a swimming costume, she asks them: “We’re having a lovely time, apart from one little thing: you lot.” “Don’t be like that, you love us really,” they reply. Diana asks them to leave her alone as they’re “freaking out” her sons, before telling one photographer – who she knows by name – that if they go away, “you’re going to get a big surprise with the next thing I do”. She then poses for them in her swimsuit, but complains in a later episode that they can “never relax” with the press “constantly” around.

Diana (Debicki) on the Fayed yacht (Daniel Escale/Netflix)

Former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, who wrote the controversial 2007 book Diana Chronicles, claimed that Diana would often tip off the press and “ couldn’t resist giving them the images they wanted”, including on the boat. Photographer Daniel Pirrie, who ended up selling the photo of the kiss, claimed that Diana herself invited him to photograph her on holiday with Dodi in France that summer. “She told me she’d be on the yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean,” he told The Daily Mail in 2013. “She let me know she was going to be on a tender going out to the yacht. I think overall, she was happy with all the pictures taken that summer… I knew that Diana had wanted [the kiss photo] to be taken.”

Mohamed al Fayed’s role in securing kiss photo

Throughout season six, Mohamed al Fayed (Salim Daw) is shown as heavily invested in his son Dodi’s relationship with Diana, even ringing up the maid to ask if they have been “intimate”. In Arabic, he then asks his secretary if they can find him an Arabic photographer – “not just any idiot with a long lens”, but “the best photographer on the Meditarranean”.

Salim Daw as Mohamed al Fayed (Netflix)

It’s not known whether Mohamed was so instrumental in securing the photo of Dodi and Diana kissing for the first time. However, following the Harrods owner’s death this year, biographer Tom Bower recalled in The Times how Al-Fayed “gleefully” showed him the photographs of Dodi and Diana and allegedly “revealed how he had rapidly bought a yacht suitable for his son’s seduction of her”.

Dodi’s proposal to Diana on the night they died

After bursting into tears  going for dinner at the Ritz, move upstairs, he proposes to her with a ring she had previously pointed out when they sheltered from crowds in a Monte Carlo jewellery shop. She tells him to get up off his knee “I know the whole world is wondering if we’re going to get married, but that’s not a reason to actually do it.” However, they share a drink and bittersweet conversation about how they need to live their lives going forward - advice

Dodi is shown proposing to Diana before they died (Daniel Escale/Netflix)

In real life, Dodi did not propose to Diana on that fateful evening in Paris. However, at the inquest into the death in 2007, the jury were shown CCTV footage of him purchasing an engagement ring worth £11,600 in a jewellers across the square from the Ritz on the afternoon of the crash. It was later believed to have been delivered to their room before they went to Dodi’s flat, where a ring bearing the words “Dis-moi Oui” (“Tell me Yes”) – also the name of episode three – was later recovered, alongside a receipt for a “bague de fiançaille” (engagement ring). Speaking at the inquest, his father Mohamed claimed that the pair had met the jeweller in Monte Carlo during the holiday on the yacht, and that he believed Dodi planned to propose that night.

Prince William goes missing in Balmoral after Diana’s death

After learning of Diana’s death from his father at the royal residence of Balmoral in Scotland, William (Rufus Kampa) is left heartbroken with grief and angry at his family’s response to it. At one point, Charles is informed that the prince is not in his room and that “no one can find him”, prompting Charles and Prince Harry to look for him and a subsequent hunt across the grounds for the young royal. He is not located, but later walks back to the house on his own accord, drenched in rain. “14 hours, that poor boy was gone,” the Queen later says.

William (Kampa) goes missing after his mother’s death (Keith Bernstein)

It’s true that William and Harry initially stayed in Balmoral with their grandmother following the death of Diana. While it’s not known whether he went missing, during a visit to Scotland in 2021, William recalled how that experience was one of the “saddest” moments of his life. “I was in Balmoral when I was told that my mother had died. Still in shock, I found sanctuary in the service at Crathie Kirk that very morning,” he recalled. “And in the dark days of grief that followed, I found comfort and solace in the Scottish outdoors. As a result, the connection I feel to Scotland will forever run deep.”

The Crown season six part two is on Netflix now.

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