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“Peering Into the Palace: Insider Stories From Those Who Were Present”


Royal documentaries are ten cents. Dozens hit the airwaves every year, filled with pundits speculating about what goes on behind closed castle doors. But a new ITV series, The Real Crown: Inside The House Of Windsor, seeks commentary only from those who were there, giving five hours of high-profile insights into royal life that are enlightening, moving and sometimes funny.

Like the day Princess Margaret ignored her sister, the Queen. Lady Glenconner, Margaret’s lady-in-waiting, recalls an awkward encounter when the Queen visited her ailing sister after Margaret suffered a stroke. When the Queen arrived, Lady Glenconner says, she left them alone.

“I heard the Queen go up the stairs to her bedroom,” she recalls. “Two minutes later I hear these footsteps coming down so I went outside to see who it was and there was the Queen. I said, “Ma’am, is something wrong?” And she said, “Yes, there is. Margaret listens to The Archers and every time I say something she tells me to shut up!”‘

Lady Glenconner escorted the Queen back to Margaret’s room, turned off the radio and reminded the Princess that the Queen had very little free time. “Then I poured them a cup of tea and left them alone!”

It’s one of dozens of fascinating nuggets that pop up in the series. “This is the inside story of the royal family of the people who were in the room,” says series director Ella Wright.

Clockwise from right: Camilla, Harry in Afghanistan, the Queen, William and Kate. The documentary provides insight into the late Queen and her loved ones

“We interviewed everyone from the head of the British Army, Mike Jackson, to the head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, even the likes of Michael Fagan, who broke into the Queen’s bedroom.

“We have set the bar high in terms of contributors. We wanted people who could talk thoughtfully and nuancedly about their experiences.’

Other contributors include former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and interior designer Nicky Haslam, a friend of Princess Margaret and Camilla and former lover of Margaret’s husband Lord Snowdon.

The documentary provides insight into the late Queen and her loved ones, including occasions when their lives were threatened. Jim Beaton, the security guard who took three bullets for Princess Anne during a terrifying kidnapping attempt in 1974, recalls how the princess’s calm demeanor helped him do his job.

It is said that after being ordered out of the car by gun-wielding kidnapper Ian Ball, Anne replied, “Not damn likely.” Beaton, now 80, tells Weekend exclusively that while he didn’t hear Anne utter that line, he does remember a few words exchanged in the back of her limo during the frantic ordeal.

“Anne was talking about how many shots he had fired,” says Beaton. “Because she wasn’t yelling and screaming, I was able to get on with what I was trying to do. The assailant tried to drag her out of the royal car, so I scrambled past Captain Phillips to sit next to Princess Anne on a thick (fold-down) chair. I looked out the window at him and he pointed his gun at the princess. I put my right hand in front of the gun and he fired and the bullet went through the window and into my hand, then he shot another bullet into my stomach. She didn’t panic. She stayed calm, I think if she had screamed he probably would have shot her.”

Anne came to the hospital to visit him and the others who were injured – police officer Michael Hills, Anne’s driver Alex Callender and journalist Brian McConnell, who was nearby and tried to intervene, were all shot by Ball.

“She said thank you,” Beaton says. “I was impressed that she got to the hospital so quickly, and she visited all of us who were there. She was attentive.’

Beaton was later awarded the George Cross for bravery.

Other threats to the family come from their long association with the military. The Queen faced a difficult choice when both Prince William and Prince Harry joined them as the war raged in Afghanistan.

Former CGS (Chief of the General Staff – the head of the British Army) General Sir Michael ‘Mike’ Jackson remembers the Queen struggling with the difficult decision to send her grandsons off to war.

The series also deals with the personal scandals the family has endured, including King Charles's messy marriage to Diana and his affair with Camilla.  Pictured: Peckham Road where Camilla met the Archbishop

The series also deals with the personal scandals the family has endured, including King Charles’s messy marriage to Diana and his affair with Camilla. Pictured: Peckham Road where Camilla met the Archbishop

I wanted a secret place, so I said to Camilla, ‘This is my son’s address in Peckham. Can we meet?’ – George Carey (ex-Archbishop of Canterbury)

“I will break the rule on this one occasion not to reveal what happens at royal meetings, when she was very clear,” he explains.

She said, ‘My grandsons have taken (i.e. enlisted) my shillings, therefore they must do their duty.’ And that was that.’

In the end, the Queen decided that while Harry would serve in Afghanistan, William would serve as heir at home.

Jackson adds that he always tried to keep his meetings with the Queen around noon.

“I used to tell my staff, ‘See if you can get the afternoon slot,'” he recalls. “Because after half an hour or 40 minutes, the Queen rang a bell and said, ‘Time for a sherry, I think, CGS.'”

The series also deals with the personal scandals the family has endured, including King Charles’s messy marriage to Diana and his affair with Camilla. When the idea began to emerge that Charles and Camilla had been reunited after his divorce and Diana’s death, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, invited Camilla to join him for a private pow-wow – in Peckham!

Best known as the stomping ground of Del Boy Trotter, the gritty South London neighborhood hardly cries out for privilege, but Carey thought it was the best location to meet Camilla away from prying eyes.

“I wanted a secret place that wasn’t in my office and therefore wouldn’t pique other people’s interest and go away,” Carey recalls. “I said, ‘I have a son in Peckham. This is his address. Can we meet?”‘

I used to try to get the afternoon meeting with the Queen because after half an hour she said, ‘Time for a sherry’ – General Mike Jackson

A few weeks later, Camilla stopped by his son’s house in Peckham, where Carey was struck by the “nice-looking, intelligent” Camilla over coffee.

“We had a very animated conversation and we talked about her relationship with Charles, going way back to when they were teenagers,” he recalls.

“And after she left, I said, ‘Well, I could never treat her other than as a very nice person who is deeply in love with Charles.’ And that touched me in the conversations with other people behind the scenes.’

The clandestine Peckham conflab convinced him that love conquers duty and was instrumental in paving the way for Charles and Camilla’s wedding in 2005.

After being damaged by Charles and Diana’s divorce and Diana’s death, The Firm was keen for history not to repeat itself with Kate Middleton, says Ed Perkins, press secretary to the Queen and later William, Kate and Harry between 2007 and 2014. He recalls the family feeling that Kate’s arrival in the fold as William’s other half had a positive impact on their image.

“We saw the heir to the throne with a girlfriend who was a bit out of fashion,” he explains.

“This was not someone the family had grown up with. This was a person from a fairly normal background. A privileged background, but not aristocratic or royal. Kate was a breath of fresh air. The public recognized that, but I suspect the family also understood that whatever mistakes had been made with Diana, it was important to embrace Kate and understand that her role could potentially be hugely important.”

Kate, for her part, understood that she had entered a world where personal events, such as childbirth, had to be shared with the world. She was expected to present her first child, Prince George, to the public just 48 hours after giving birth.

“There’s something very archaic about that,” says Perkins. “It’s a very strange combination of a public and private moment. It is the family’s view that in order to continue this mystique, to ensure that this constitutional monarchy has its place and is part of who we are, we need to be invested in it.”

Meanwhile, Prince Andrew’s descent from hero to zero has undoubtedly been painful for the Windsors. The series is about his bravery as a helicopter pilot during the 1982 Falklands War, when he was second in line to the throne.

But it also examines Andrew’s post-military career, when he became a trade envoy to the Middle East in the early 1990s. Simon Wilson, deputy head of the British mission in Bahrain from 2001 to 2005, attacks Andrew’s crass behaviour.

“Andrew has an interesting trajectory,” says Ella Wright. ‘In the 1980s, he’s a war hero. Then we interviewed Simon Wilson, who explains how Andrew’s approach to diplomacy was a bit unorthodox. I won’t give too much away, but he describes Andrew traveling around with an entourage and a huge ironing board and a servant. He had pressed his shirts in a specific way.’

Of course, bad manners became the least of Andrew’s problems when news broke of his dealings with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

In some cases, the contributors’ first-hand accounts contradict what we’ve seen on the hit Netflix drama The Crown.

“One of the key moments in The Crown was Fagan having this huge conversation with the Queen,” Wright explains.

“What he told us was that he actually felt sorry for the Queen. He felt she lived an extremely lonely life; she was a little woman in this big bedroom. That’s a fascinating insight.’

The Real Crown can be seen as a celebration of the Queen’s devotion to duty, a reminder to her son of its importance on the eve of his coronation. By telling the Windsors’ inner story, it showcases them in a way that is both poignantly human and keeps the magic alive.

“It’s an ordinary family, but an extraordinary one at the same time,” muses George Carey.

“It’s a mirror image of how we are in our family life. But they must maintain that mystique in order to maintain their relationship with the rest of the nation and the world. And that is one of the complex problems facing the royal family today.’

The Real Crown: Inside The House Of Windsor, from Thursday, ITVX.

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