Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

Where there’s royalty, there are always secrets, scandals, and spies. The authors of The Secret Royals lay bare the royal family’s sensational - and at times disturbing - relationship with Britain’s security services.

The intrigue stretches from Queen Elizabeth I and her 16th-century spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham to lingering questions around Princess Diana’s 1997 death. Here are 10 sensational snippets from this fascinating history book.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

1. A drunken man broke into Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom while she slept

When Michael Fagan shimmied up Buckingham Palace’s drain pipe in 1982 he triggered one of Britain's biggest security scandals. The drunk laborer smashed an ashtray and broke into the Queen’s bedroom carrying a shard of glass. It was 7:15 am. The Queen pressed her alarm and… nothing. Her footman was walking the Corgis. Her overnight police guard left an hour earlier. Not missing a beat, the Queen offered Fagan a cigarette and waited for backup. The maid arrived incredulous: “Bloody hell, ma’am, what’s he doing here?” Queen Elizabeth took it in stride but she was angry, criticizing her security team once Fagan was led away.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Secrets


2. King Charles & Princess Diana avoided a bomb at a Duran Duran concert

The Irish Republican Army plotted to kill then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana at a 1983 Duran Duran concert and instructed Sean O’Callaghan to plant a bomb at London’s Dominion Theater. Luckily, O’Callaghan was an Irish police informer but - despite telling his police handlers about the plot - O’Callaghan found himself en route to London with $2,300, a fake driving license, and plans to collect explosives. He wasn’t sure how far he should go. Scotland Yard finally leaked news that an IRA ‘Jackal’ was in town, raising the heat and allowing O’Callaghan to back off without suspicion. Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor called it the ‘scariest moment’ of his life.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

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Where there’s royalty, there are always secrets, scandals, and spies. The authors of The Secret Royals lay bare the royal family’s sensational - and at times disturbing - relationship with Britain’s security services.

The intrigue stretches from Queen Elizabeth I and her 16th-century spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham to lingering questions around Princess Diana’s 1997 death. Here are 10 sensational snippets from this fascinating history book.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

1. A drunken man broke into Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom while she slept

When Michael Fagan shimmied up Buckingham Palace’s drain pipe in 1982 he triggered one of Britain's biggest security scandals. The drunk laborer smashed an ashtray and broke into the Queen’s bedroom carrying a shard of glass. It was 7:15 am. The Queen pressed her alarm and… nothing. Her footman was walking the Corgis. Her overnight police guard left an hour earlier. Not missing a beat, the Queen offered Fagan a cigarette and waited for backup. The maid arrived incredulous: “Bloody hell, ma’am, what’s he doing here?” Queen Elizabeth took it in stride but she was angry, criticizing her security team once Fagan was led away.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Secrets


2. King Charles & Princess Diana avoided a bomb at a Duran Duran concert

The Irish Republican Army plotted to kill then-Prince Charles and Princess Diana at a 1983 Duran Duran concert and instructed Sean O’Callaghan to plant a bomb at London’s Dominion Theater. Luckily, O’Callaghan was an Irish police informer but - despite telling his police handlers about the plot - O’Callaghan found himself en route to London with $2,300, a fake driving license, and plans to collect explosives. He wasn’t sure how far he should go. Scotland Yard finally leaked news that an IRA ‘Jackal’ was in town, raising the heat and allowing O’Callaghan to back off without suspicion. Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor called it the ‘scariest moment’ of his life.

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Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

3. Diana once jumped off a first-floor balcony In the Austrian mountain resort of Lech to shake off her protection team.

Despite the threats against their lives, Charles and Diana became intensely secretive as their marriage came to an end, at times even evading their own security teams. “Diana was the worst,” according to The Secret Royals. “Even early in her marriage, she became rather good at giving her own security the slip. Like an intelligence operative, she knew how to elude her tail. This caused periodic panics when royal flunkies realized she had slid out to go shopping down the King’s Road, protected only by a pair of stylish sunglasses.”


Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

4. King George VI asked MI5 to spy on his brother Edward amid fears he and American divorcee Wallis Simpson supported Hitler.

Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry American Wallis Simpson, triggering a constitutional crisis. Wallis was twice divorced and a suspected Nazi sympathizer, so not considered a suitable match for Edward. King George asked Britain’s security services to put surveillance on the couple. They discovered Wallis - still married to her second husband - had many male visitors including a charming car salesman who she paid and showered with gifts. Wallis also seemed to be in a relationship with Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. PM Winston Churchill ordered Edward, by then married to Wallis, to the Bahamas where he rode out the war as governor.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets
Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets
  Hear Francis Walsingham’s story on True Spies podcast: Her Majesty’s Secret Service

5. Elizabeth I’s inner circle included Britain’s first ‘spymaster’ Francis Walsingham who built an intriguing network of informants.

Elizabeth I’s spymasters in the 16th-century included William Cecil, Francis Walsingham, and the Earl of Leicester - all of whom ran competing intelligence networks. Although Walsingham is the most famous, all three men ran separate networks with distinct styles and clientele, often smearing enemies and undermining each other. Elizabeth was in control, however, personally involved in day-to-day decisions including how specific suspects might be tortured and how best to seek plausible denial when it suited. The Queen ensured she took advantage of every spy tool available to defeat her rival Mary, Queen of Scots, in England.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

6. Queen Victoria was often at odds with her government over intelligence.

Queen Victoria’s era (1819-1901) was filled with political upheaval at a time when royal intelligence channels clashed with amateur equivalents used by nation states (Britain’s Secret Service MI6 wasn’t even formed until 1909 or acknowledged until 1994.) The monarch used private sources to bypass her Cabinet and protect her dynasty. Queen Victoria, who often disagreed with her ministers over surveillance issues, used royal intelligence sources to outmaneuver government decisions and policies and acted as an early intelligence gatherer, analyst, and - in modern jargon - ‘consumer’.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

7. King George VI initially had doubts about young Queen Elizabeth dating Prince Philip so he had the Met Police Special Branch compile a secret dossier.

Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, had concerns about Philip as a suitor for his daughter so the King asked Scotland Yard’s Special Branch to compile a secret dossier outlining Philip's background, loyalties, and politics. Surveillance officers reported back about Philip's coarse language, messy rooms, late-night drinking, and a Canadian girlfriend named Osla Benning, who worked in the Naval section of Hut 4 at Bletchley Park. They also noted Philip's sisters had Nazi connections through their marriages. If that wasn’t enough, the King’s eyes and ears doubted Philip would be faithful if they married. Elizabeth had made up her mind, however. The rest is history.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets


8. Princess Anne swore at her attempted kidnapper and refused to get out of the car at gunpoint.

Princess Anne and her husband were driving toward Buckingham Palace in 1974 when a lone gunman tried to kidnap her. Out of nowhere, Ian Ball whipped out a pistol and shot Anne’s protection officer, James Beaton (pictured above) three times. Ball then explained that he wanted to kidnap Anne and collect a £2m ($2.25m) ransom. ”Will you get out of the car?” he asked. “Not bloody likely,” Anne replied. Meanwhile, a pedestrian walked by, looked in the window, and said, “Hmm, so it is” before walking away. Former heavyweight boxer Ron ‘The Geezer’ Russell also walked by and punched Ball twice in the head before police arrived.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

9. The SAS set Princess Diana’s hair on fire during a training exercise with King Charles.

Royals are trained by Britain’s elite Special Forces so they know what to expect during kidnap-and-rescue missions. During one session, the SAS mocked up an assault on a building containing ‘hostages’ where the 'rescuers' used Range Rovers and stun grenades. Princess Diana - delighted with her visit - offered to drive a Range Rover. As she roared up to the building, the Princess forgot to roll up her window, however. When the flash bangs exploded, a pellet stuck in her hair, which soon caught fire. As an officer quickly patted the Princess’s hair to stop it from burning - ensuring there was no harm done - Prince Charles and his entourage laughed.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

10. Queen Elizabeth allowed Russian spy Anthony Blunt to carry on working as her art historian for years after he confessed to passing British secrets to Moscow as part of the Cambridge Five spy ring.

Anthony Blunt was an academic, a former British Army officer, and an MI5 spy during WWII, later working as the Queen’s art historian. Toward the end of the war, Blunt was sent on secret missions to retrieve art, jewels, and rare coins that had once belonged to Britain’s royal family. He also retrieved sensitive correspondence at the request of Queen Elizabeth’s father. Blunt helped retrieved nearly 4,000 letters including correspondence between King George VIII and Prince Philipp of Hesse, Hitler’s art agent and henchmen. The voluminous letters may have shed light on the royal family’s ties to Nazi Germany and explain why the royals were more interested in keeping their enemy close than exposing Blunt’s treachery.

Spies & Scandal: 10 Steamy Royal Secrets

And finally, there are still many unanswered questions surrounding Princess Diana’s death and the relationship of Ritz driver Henri Paul with the security services. The acting head of security at the Paris Ritz hotel was clearly known to several security services, according to The Secret Royals. He was in regular contact with DGSE, the French equivalent of MI6, and the DST, the French equivalent of MI5. According to a US law enforcement official, Paul spent the last several hours before the crash with a DGSE spy where he was paid $1,000 and had the cash on him at the time of the crash. It seems these types of arrangements were common at high-end hotels where security teams had to manage guests with weapons or VIP requests.

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