‘ The Crown’: How true to his­tory is the new season?

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kelly Lawler

Does the queen have a fa­vorite child? How bad was Charles and Diana’s mar­riage?

Spoiler alert! The fol­low­ing con­tains de­tails from Season 4 of “The Crown.” ● Noth­ing gets An­glophiles Googling harder than a new season of “The Crown.” ● Netflix’s fiction­al­ized se­ries about the reign of Queen El­iz­a­beth II ( Olivia Col­man) is in its new season that tack­les the monar­chy in the 1980s, mean­ing Princess Diana ( Emma Cor­rin) and Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher ( Gil­lian An­der­son) play prom­i­nent roles. And while the se­ries is edg­ing closer to the cur­rent era, there are plenty of his­tor­i­cal events, royal fam­ily dra­mas and fash­ion state­ments that Amer­i­can view­ers may be un­fa­mil­iar with. To sort out fact from fluff, USA TO­DAY spoke with Sally Bedell Smith, author of biogra­phies “El­iz­a­beth the Queen,” “Prince Charles,” and “Diana In Search of Her­self.” The his­to­rian – who con­sulted on “The Crown” cre­ator Peter Mor­gan’s roy­als- themed stage play “The Au­di­ence” – ex­plains what hap­pened with Charles, Diana and Camilla, whether the Queen had a fa­vorite child and more.

The se­ries in­di­cates that Prince Charles never re­ally stopped see­ing Camilla Parker Bowles, even when he and Diana were dat­ing and en­gaged. How much do we know about that?

Sally Bedell Smith: Charles and Camilla parted company at the end of De­cem­ber 1972. ( They) didn’t re­sume their love affair un­til late 1978. They sel­dom saw each other but spoke fre­quently on the phone. When Charles and Diana be­gan dat­ing, he in­tro­duced her to his social cir­cle, in­clud­ing ( Camilla and her hus­band).

Once Diana and Charles were en­gaged in Fe­bru­ary 1981, Charles was away fre­quently. He scarcely had time to see his fian­cée, and there’s no ev­i­dence he saw Camilla. Shortly be­fore the wed­ding he ar­ranged for more than a dozen gifts to friends – in­clud­ing Camilla – as ges­tures of grat­i­tude. Camilla’s gift was a bracelet with the mono­gram “GF,” which stood for “Girl Fri­day,” his nick­name for Camilla. Diana found the bracelet and con­fronted him. He re­it­er­ated that it was over with Camilla, but on July 27, two days be­fore the wed­ding, he trav­eled to Camilla’s home and gave her the keep­sake.

Through all the tur­bu­lence of the fol­low­ing years, Charles and Camilla did not re­sume their affair un­til mid- 1986. That was af­ter Diana had al­ready had an affair with her pro­tec­tion officer Barry Man­na­kee but be­fore she be­gan her affair with James He­witt in Novem­ber 1986.

In the wed­ding episode, Mar­garet is against Charles and Diana get­ting mar­ried be­cause she knows he loves Camilla. In a later episode, Charles com­forts his aunt through a men­tal health cri­sis. Were they re­ally close?

Smith: ( Charles and Diana) and Princess Mar­garet were neigh­bors at Buck­ing­ham Palace, but Charles

didn’t have much to do with his aunt. Iron­i­cally, it was Mar­garet who showed kind­ness and ten­der­ness to Diana. On the publi­ca­tion of the Andrew Mor­ton ( tell- all book about Diana) in June 1992, Mar­garet turned sharply against Diana and took Charles’s side.

The se­ries de­tails Diana’s bat­tle with bu­limia and in­di­cates that most of the royal fam­ily knew about her eat­ing dis­or­der. How open was Diana about it?

Smith: Nei­ther the Queen nor Prince Philip nor the Queen Mother knew about Diana’s bu­limia, nor, in all like­li­hood, did other mem­bers of the royal fam­ily. The essence of an eat­ing dis­or­der is its se­crecy and shame.

Diana had suffered from bu­limia since her board­ing school days ( her head­mistress and ma­tron told me of her er­ratic eat­ing habits, and shortly be­fore her death, Diana dis­closed that she had been bu­limic as a teenager). The pres­sure of be­ing in the royal fam­ily and un­der in­ces­sant scru­tiny by the press trig­gered her bu­limia shortly af­ter the en­gage­ment was an­nounced. Over the years, ser­vants at Charles and Diana’s homes heard her retch­ing in the bath­room, so they were aware. Charles may have been aware of it as well.

In the au­tumn of 1981, Charles was so alarmed by Diana’s rages, signs of de­pres­sion and over­all volatil­ity that he took her to Lon­don to see a psy­chother­a­pist, Dr. Alan McGlashan.

One episode of the new season is de­voted to the Queen’s meet­ings with all her chil­dren, try­ing to de­cide her fa­vorite. At the end of the episode she says it’s Andrew. I’m sure we can’t know for sure who her fa­vorite child is, but is there ba­sis for the claim?

Smith: The Queen meet­ing with her chil­dren to dis­cover her fa­vorite is a com­plete fab­ri­ca­tion. It is utterly out of char­ac­ter for the Queen to do any­thing re­motely like that and shows how lit­tle the writ­ers of “The Crown” un­der­stand her. It has long been spec­u­lated that Andrew is her fa­vorite child, with no ev­i­dence. Her cousin, Lady Pa­tri­cia Mount­bat­ten, told me if the Queen pri­vately fa­vored any child, Ed­ward was the one ... be­cause he is most like her in tem­per­a­ment and char­ac­ter. Lady Mount­bat­ten’s son Ti­mothy Knatch­bull told me that as her youngest child, the Queen re­garded Ed­ward as her “ewe lamb” to whom she gave an ex­tra mea­sure of love and warmth when he was a child.

In “The Crown,” the Queen and Mar­garet Thatcher are in conflict many times, and pub­licly when the Queen al­lows a Sun­day Times story about her dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the prime min­is­ter to be pub­lished. Later the palace blames her press sec­re­tary, and he re­signs. How did this episode re­ally hap­pen?

Smith: The Queen’s re­la­tion­ship with Mar­garet Thatcher was un­easy at times. In tem­per­a­ment they were, as the Bri­tish would say, “chalk and cheese.” But they had great re­spect for each other as pro­fes­sional women and work­ing moth­ers. They did not have conflict in their pri­vate au­di­ences, ever. Thatcher was scrupu­lously def­er­en­tial to the Queen. Thatcher did feel un­com­fort­able on her manda­tory au­tumn vis­its to Bal­moral, ar­riv­ing in tweed suit and heels. ... This awk­ward­ness amused the Queen.

In July 1986 the Sun­day Times pub­lished a sen­sa­tional Page One story claim­ing that the Queen was up­set about Thatcher’s poli­cies. ... While Thatcher was fu­ri­ous about the story, ( Thatcher ad­viser) Charles Pow­ell told me she didn’t think the Queen had any­thing to do with it.

Her press sec­re­tary, Michael Shea, had se­cretly briefed the Sun­day Times reporter, who led him to be­lieve he was writ­ing a spec­u­la­tive story on the monar­chy in the 21st cen­tury. Shea said he talked in general terms and that the reporter had “mis­in­ter­preted” his words.


Emma Cor­rin wears a replica of Diana’s iconic wed­ding dress on Season 4 of “The Crown.”

Emer­ald Fen­nell plays Camilla Parker Bowles in Season 4 of “The Crown.”


Olivia Col­man stars as El­iz­a­beth II in Season 4 of “The Crown.”

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