What 'The Crown' gets right and wrong about 'Tampongate,' a phone-tapping scandal that rocked the monarchy
The fifth episode of "The Crown" season five spotlights Prince Charles' phone-tapping scandal.
The married royal told Camilla Parker Bowles that he wished to be her tampon.
There are differences between the show's portrayal and the actual event.
"The Crown" recently returned to Netflix, and this fifth season covers some saucy scandals that shook the monarchy to its core.
The 1990s brought a turbulent period to the royal family, mainly due to advanced surveillance technologies capable of unearthing more than a holiday radio show or staged photo op ever could.
One such scandal was widely referred to as "Camillagate" or "Tampongate" by the British tabloids in 1993.
In episode five, a married Prince Charles (Dominic West) has a phone call with Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams), his mistress who would later become his wife in 2005 and, in 2022, the Queen Consort of England. The most famous part of the exchange went as follows:
Prince Charles: "Oh, God. I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!"
Camilla Parker Bowles: (laughing) "What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers?" (Both laugh). "Oh, you're going to come back as a pair of knickers."
Prince Charles: "Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck!" (Laughs)
Camilla: "You are a complete idiot!" (Laughs) "Oh, what a wonderful idea."
Prince Charles: "My luck to be chucked down a lavatory and go on and on forever swirling round on the top, never going down."
According to Time, the conversation was intercepted by an unnamed man tapping Charles' phone lines for tabloid scoops on December 17, 1989. In 1993, multiple outlets including the Sunday People newspaper and the Sunday Mirror published a full transcript of the call, sensationalizing the conversation and embarrassing both the royals and the Parker Bowles family.
Netflix's portrayal of the call adds levity to the scene. Here's what the show got right (and wrong) about the famous conversation.
Prince Charles really did say he wanted to live inside Camilla's trousers. The show treats it as an out-of-context joke.
On the show, their call was interpreted not as a steamy phone sex session as the media had implied, but as a phone call about a speech that included a silly joke. Charles and Camilla had briefly dated in 1970 and remained friends for years, so the Netflix show interpreted their conversations as playful and respectful rather than overtly sexual.
Though Prince Charles did say he wanted to live inside Camilla Parker Bowles' trousers, the show implied he was joking.
"It's not meant to be a sexy scene. I did laugh, and the laughter is there onscreen for you to see, and that's the point," Williams (who plays Camilla on the show) told Vulture in a recent interview.
The published transcript picks up a few minutes into the call. 'The Crown' interprets those first few minutes as the pair discussing an upcoming speech by Prince Charles.
On the show, the call began with the pair discussing an upcoming speech by Prince Charles about the need for the traditional English language to be taught in schools.
It's not beyond reason that Charles would seek Camilla's advice. According to those who know the couple, the Prince always considered her to be a great resource and often sought her opinion.
"They love and respect each other and laugh at the same thing," Camilla's nephew Ben Elliot told Vanity Fair of their real-life connection in 2022.
That said, the official transcript of the call didn't include mention of this upcoming speech. You can read the full transcript here.
The royals were as worried about phone tapping in real life as they were on 'The Crown'
"The Crown" shows how the royals' paranoia about their conversations being recorded persists throughout the season. Charles' wife Princess Diana also believes she's the victim of phone tapping. (It turns out she was right — Diana's conversation with James Gilbey (heir to Gilbey's Gin) was a scandal of its own known as "Squidgygate," a whole other chapter of royals' history.)
In real life, phone tapping was used to glean information from several other members of the royal family as well as high-profile figures in Hollywood by individuals who sold tapes to tabloids and newspapers, including News of the World.
Celebrities, politicians, and even the victims of violent crimes have all been the victims of tabloid phone tapping, as have their friends, family members, and romantic partners.
Today, Prince Harry, Elton John, and a number of other UK celebrities are involved in an ongoing lawsuit against Associated Newspapers, the publisher they say tapped their devices.
The show has a tense moment where Camilla's husband Andrew answers the phone when Charles calls. This likely never happened, according to a royal biographer.
On "The Crown," the episode showed the future Queen Consort at home with her first husband Andrew Parker Bowles and their children when Prince Charles rang her up. Right before the conversation happens, Andrew and Prince Charles awkwardly remain on the line, making small talk, while Camilla settles into a secure location to speak with Charles privately.
This interaction while both men wait for Camilla likely never happened.
Sally Bedell Smith, a royal biographer, told Vanity Fair in 2022 that the idea that Andrew answered the phone call was fictionalized. According to her book, Andrew was traveling for work at the time of the call.
The show barely makes mention of Andrew after this, but he and Camilla remained close friends following their divorce in 1995
Though he's not a major part of the show, Andrew and Camilla were married for 22 years and remain friends in real life.
While the show erases Andrew from the narrative entirely after his divorce from Camilla, Bedell Smith reported that the two have remained friends since their divorce in 1995. He even stepped in to represent Camilla at a funeral service in 2019 for a royal relative (something that's unusual for a former spouse to do, according to Newsweek).
Andrew and Camilla are also parents to their two adult children, Tom Parker Bowles, 47, and Laura Lopes, 44.
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