Episode 5 of The Crown season 4, “Fagan” focuses on the July 1982 morning when 32-year-old Michael Fagan broke into Buckingham Palace—specifically, the queen’s bedroom—while she was in her bed.
In The Crown, Fagan is a father having difficulty finding work. He can’t get the help he needs to make his apartment a safe place for his kids, and when he loses custody, he feels let down by the leaders of his country. He’s particularly disappointed in Margaret Thatcher, whose handling of the Falklands War and economic policies known as “Thatcherism” made life difficult for the country’s poorest—including people like Fagan. As The Guardian pointed out after Thatcher’s death in April 2013, the prime minister’s approach to home ownership in the country—including the Housing Act of 1980, which gave Britons the right to buy council homes but only benefited households capable of purchasing said homes—contributed to a U.K. housing crisis that reverberates to this day.
“Fagan” gets into some of the frustrations that people like Fagan were feeling toward their Prime Minister. But what does the episode get right about Fagan—and how much of it used his story as a tool to make a point about Thatcherism?
What exactly happened when Fagan broke into the palace?
As The Crown portrays, Fagan (played by Tom Brooke) was a painter-decorator born in Clerkenwell, London—and yes, he really did break into Buckingham Palace twice.
On June 7, 1982, he broke in through a chambermaid’s window, per a 2012 interview with The Independent. Though she alerted the staff, he was not caught, and wandered about until he happened upon a room full of gifts for the expected royal baby Prince William. He drank from a bottle of wine, as The Crown depicts, then left.
Three days later, Fagan drove a stolen car to Stonehenge, where he was reportedly looking for his wife. He was arrested and spent three weeks in jail in Brixton. He got out on bail and returned to the palace the next day.
On July 9, 1982, at about 6:30 a.m., he arrived at the Queen’s bedside, with what The Washington Post reported as “a piece of jagged glass from an ashtray in his hand, blood dripping from a cut.” At the time, his lawyer said he “spent just over 10 minutes” talking to the queen. Since then, Fagan himself has provided accounts that contradict the amount of time he spent in the queen’s bedroom.
He told The Independent that when he pulled back the curtains, the Queen said, ‘Wawrt are you doing here?!’” and “went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor.” The way Fagan tells it, Elizabeth called for a footman who stayed with Fagan—and even offered the intruder some whiskey—until the police arrived.
In 1982, Fagan told the court, via an archival article from The Guardian, about his first break-in on June 7: “I walked straight in. I was surprised I wasn’t captured straight away. I could have been a rapist or something. I knew I could break the security system because it was so weak.”
He said he walked past bedrooms with names of the royals on the door, including one that said “Mark Phillips,” Princess Anne’s husband, whom she divorced in 1992. He reportedly told police that he didn’t want to disturb the couple. “I was waiting to be captured,” he told the court. “I drank [the wine] because I was waiting for someone to come.” He added: “I couldn’t find anyone,” he told police later, “so I thought, ‘Sod it’ and I went out and went home.”
Let’s get one thing straight: This whole thing stemmed from a lot of mushrooms.
The way The Crown tells it, Fagan was motivated by his desire to talk to the queen about Margaret Thatcher’s harmful policies. But, in fact, his little trip to the palace had a lot more to do with a bunch of mushrooms than it did his interest in righting Britain’s wrongs.
In 2012, he told The Independent: “I don’t know why I did it, something just got into my head,” he said, and then he started singing the Pink Floyd song “Brain Damage”: “There’s someone in my head and it’s not me…”
He added: “I went back because I thought ‘that’s naughty, that’s naughty that I can walk round there.’” And then came the real culprit: “I forgot you’re only supposed to take a little handful [of mushrooms],” he said. He had added a bunch to soup he’d eaten five months earlier. “Two years later I was still coming down. I was high on mushrooms for a long, long time.”
Fagan also revealed he suffered a mental breakdown after his wife left him in the weeks leading up to his second break-in.
The queen and Fagan did not get into a 10-minute discussion about the state of the country
The Crown didn’t totally make up this long interaction between Fagan and the monarch; there were reports at the time that the two chatted for a while. But Fagan told The Independent in 2012 that their meeting was a pretty brief one. The queen was also not asleep when Fagan entered her bedroom; he told The Sun, “She was wide awake when I got in there.”
He also told The Guardian that he did not ask the queen for a cigarette, like his character in The Crown: “That would have been cheeky and disrespectful.” Fagan did, however, admit to sitting on the corner of her bed and even peeing in corgi food on his way to the queen’s bedroom.
There are some things The Crown doesn’t show you.
First of all, per The Washington Post’s 1982 reporting, Fagan visited the palace a few times in the months before he met with the queen, telling his family that he was going to visit his “girlfriend, Elizabeth Regina.”
In 1984, Fagan attacked a policeman at a cafe and received a three-month jail sentence. Fagan was also found guilty of indecent exposure in 1987, and in 1997, he was sentenced to four years in prison for dealing heroin.
This doesn’t have to do with any run-ins with the law, but in 1983, he recorded a version of “God Save the Queen” with the Bollock Brothers. Here you go:
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Per an interview Fagan did with The Telegraph this month, he is now 70 years old, recovering from a heart attack and COVID-19, and lives in Islington in North London with his partner of 17 years, Rhian. He has three great-grandchildren. He also seems pretty pleased that he’s become infamous in Britain—and now, to the world: “I’ve met children downstairs who say, ‘We were learning about you in our lessons.’ Kids get taught about me at school, I swear,” he told the newspaper.
He doesn’t seem to be a fan of The Crown.
“I was taken aback when I saw [Tom] Brooke playing me,” he told The Sun. “They could have surely found someone who looks a bit like me. I’m actually better looking and he seems totally charmless.” In the publication’s August interview with Fagan, he predicted the show would not get the details of his palace break-in right: “I’m sad they never thought to speak to me before they made this rubbish because the truth is a much better story.”
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