What really happened when Michael Fagan broke into the Queen's bedroom?

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·9 min read

Watch: Real interview footage with Michael Fagan, the man who broke into the Queen's bedroom

It was one of the worst royal security breaches of the 20th century, and even led to the Home Secretary offering his resignation.

Now, the infamous break-in at Buckingham Palace is coming to the small screen, as Netflix recreates the moment Michael Fagan got into the Queen’s bedroom in 1982.

Fagan is to be played by Tom Brooke, best known for his role as the angel Fiore in Amazon’s Preacher, and also known to Sherlock fans as Bill Wiggins.

The episode involving Fagan opens with the news bulletins after he broke in and managed to speak to the Queen. But he’d actually been able to get into the palace on another occasion, while the Queen was in Windsor Castle.

The Crown shows Fagan and the Queen speaking for some time, suggesting that Fagan wanted to tell her what was really going on in the UK. He’s discovered when a member of staff brings in the Queen’s morning cup of tea, and she asks her to summon the police officer.

Yahoo UK looks at what actually happened that night.

The encounter - in Fagan’s own words

Fagan has spoken about the night a few times over the years, including in a 2012 interview in which he recounted the tale of the break-in in his own words.

“I was scareder than I'd ever been in my life,” he said.

He described the Queen’s reaction upon seeing him in her room: “Then she speaks and it's like the finest glass you can imagine breaking: 'Wawrt are you doing here?!'

He also gave a conflicting report about whether the Queen had a conversation with him while she waited for security, saying: “Nah! She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor.”

Fagan, now 70, said he was looked after by an unarmed footman until the police came.

Michael Fagan broke into the Queen's bedroom at Buckingham Palace in March 1982. (PA Images)
Michael Fagan broke into the Queen's bedroom at Buckingham Palace in March 1982. (PA Images)

He told the Independent on Sunday: “The footman came and said, 'Cor, f****** hell mate, you look like you need a drink'. His name was [Paul] Whybrew, which is a funny name for someone offering you a drink, innit?

“He took me to the Queen's pantry, across the landing, where I presume she cooks her baked beans and toast and whatever – and takes a bottle of Famous Grouse from the shelf and pours me a glass of whisky.”

That unarmed footman still works for the Queen, and is understood to be one of her most trusted aides. Dubbed ‘tall Paul’, Whybrew has been an essential part of Her Majesty’s coronavirus quarantine bubble.

In August 2020, Fagan spoke to The Sun about the event, giving a colourful description of his arrest.

He said: “Working in Buckingham Palace is a posting before retirement, opening and shutting doors, and clearly the two policemen coming towards me hadn’t made an arrest in years.

“One had his hat on askew, while the other was patting his pockets looking for a notebook.”

Fagan explained that he had broken into the palace because he “was fixated on the Queen”.

Paul Whybrew, left, who spoke to Fagan when he got into the palace. (PA Images)
Paul Whybrew, left, who spoke to Fagan when he got into the palace. (PA Images)

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He added: “I knew she liked helping people and thought she might help me. I wanted to speak to her but I never planned to end up in her bedroom.”

Fagan also denied reports that he had intended to cut himself in front of the Queen, saying the reason he smashed an ashtray and carried a piece with him was to cut back through some pigeon netting on his way out of the palace.

Speaking in 2012, he also claimed he had broken into the palace a month earlier, and had urinated “on the corgi food” and drunk wine which he found in Prince Charles’s room.

What did Fagan and the Queen talk about?

The Crown suggests Fagan got the idea after going to see his MP, and finding him unsympathetic to his struggles.

The MP tells Fagan he might like to take his problems up with the Queen.

The character of Fagan tells the Queen the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, is ruining the country.

But Fagan said he doesn’t have an explanation for his break-in, even decades later. He does say he was frustrated by joblessness and the break-up of his marriage.

He admits he shared anti-Thatcher sentiment, telling the Telegraph: “A lot of people thought like that. She did a lot of damage to children. She was like Trump.”

What was the official account of the break-in?

According to the police report, which was printed in the New York Times in 1982, Fagan was seen on the railings of the palace at 6.45am on 9 July, 1982.

After failing to get into the palace one way, he climbed up the drainpipe and got into the palace via a window which had been left open.

He walked around the palace for 15 minutes. He was seen by one member of staff, however, she didn’t think his behaviour was suspicious, so no alarm was raised.

He got into the Queen’s room at about 7.15am and woke her when he moved her curtains.

The report explains that even though the Queen rang the alarm, it didn’t attract anyone’s attention because the night duty officer had finished, the maid was cleaning another room and the footman was walking the dogs.

Michael Fagan, the intruder who gained access to the bedroom of Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace in 1982, pictured at the Tower of London, UK, 9th February 1985. (Photo by R. Brigden/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Michael Fagan, the intruder who gained access to the bedroom of Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace pictured in 1985. (R. Brigden/Express/Hulton Archive)

She then called the police lodge and asked for an officer, but six minutes later, had to call again because no one arrived.

The report said: “Before police officers arrived, Her Majesty attracted the attention of the maid, and together they ushered Fagan into a nearby pantry on the pretext of supplying him with a cigarette.”

The conclusion was that it was a series of failures by the police that enabled Fagan to get into the palace.

However, the window being open, a lack of working alarms, and the drainpipe being easy to climb up also contributed, the report said.

The Guardian reported at the time: “His penetration of the private apartments is unprecedented since Queen Victoria's reign, and defied another network of wires and beams which theoretically sound an alarm at Scotland Yard if anyone makes an unauthorised entry through any door or window.”

What happened after the break-in?

Fagan was not charged with the break-in as it was decided it was a civil matter and not a criminal one.

He was charged over the alleged theft of the wine from the first break-in he claimed, but the charges were then dropped.

The incident did result in then-home secretary Willie Whitelaw offering to resign. However the Queen refused his resignation.

Two police officers were removed from duty at the palace and one was suspended. Security was stepped up, with increased patrols in the private apartments.

The Conservative Party Conference, Blackpool. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Willie Whitelaw, October 1989. (Photo by Rowntree/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Margaret Thatcher with Willie Whitelaw, in October 1989. Whitelaw tried to resign but the Queen would not let him. (Rowntree/Mirrorpix)

Alarm systems were also improved.

The palace doesn’t discuss security arrangements now, so there’s no telling for sure whether measures have stepped up again since then.

A change in the law means the break-in would now be classed as a criminal offence.

What happened to Michael Fagan afterwards?

Fagan did go to prison in 1982, but on charges unrelated to the break-in at the palace. He served time at Brixton Prison for assault and taking a car.

He was also sent to Park Lane secure hospital in 1982 but only stayed there for about 19 weeks.

In 1983 he took a musical turn, recording a cover of the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, with the punk act Bollock Brothers.

In 1984, two years after the break-in, Fagan attacked a police officer in Fishguard, Wales, and was given a suspended jail sentence.

EXETER - MARCH 31: Queen Elizabeth II  after the Maundy Service at Exeter Cathedral on March 31, 1982. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II in 1982. Security was heightened after the break-in. (David Levenson/Getty Images)

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Three years after that, according to the Independent, Fagan was found guilty of indecent exposure after a woman saw him running around with no trousers on in Chingford, Essex.

Ten years on from that incident, in 1997, Fagan, his wife and their son, were convicted of conspiring to supply heroin, and Fagan served four years in prison.

According to the Irish Times, after he was sentenced Fagan told the judge: “Have a nice Christmas”.

In 2011, Fagan appeared on a documentary by Banksy, called The Antics Roadshow, which looked at pranks or events which had become iconic.

He recounted what had happened on that day with the Queen, and told the producers “I looked into her eyes, they were dark”.

The infamous Michael Fagan, who broke in to the Queen's bedroom in Buckingham Palace, performing with band 'Bollock Brothers', April 26th 1983. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
The infamous Michael Fagan, who broke in to the Queen's bedroom in Buckingham Palace, performing with band 'Bollock Brothers', 26 April 1983. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

In 2012, the event was referenced on the small screen in a comedy starring Emma Thompson called Walking the Dogs.

According to one review it followed “the Queen, her footman and the intruder over the dramatic half hour which he spends in her bedroom”.

The review added: “The absurdity of these two people being brought together by such an extraordinary event is intriguing and captivating, but even more so is the fact that the Queen, a woman of such an untouchable status, is reduced to a normal, sympathetic human being who listens to and advises a distressed man.

“As they talk about love, happiness and personal freedom, we are reminded of how different and yet alike people can be, and we get a glimpse of the bigger picture from an outside perspective.”

Fagan is now living in Islington, north London, with his partner Rhian. He has three great-grandchildren.

The Crown is streaming on Netflix now.