Royal Pains

Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee: The Scandals She Has Endured (Photos)

Charles’s phone calls. Harry’s Nazi costume. A look at the Windsor’s worst moments. By Nina Strochlic.

Clockwise from top left: Getty Images, AP Photo (3)

Clockwise from top left: Getty Images, AP Photo (3)

Although Queen Elizabeth II appears to be a calm-and-collected public figure, her 60-year rule has not been without scandal. She’s been awoken by an unknown intruder and dealt with her son’s leaked lewd phone calls. She’s never lost her famous composure, but after a combination of divorces and public humiliation for the royal family in 1992, she dubbed the year her most horrible. From a loose-lipped husband to a hard-partying grandson, here are the most difficult scandals the queen has had to weather.

Anwar Hussein / Getty Images

Philip’s Gaffes

Queen Elizabeth has glided through her reign with tight-lipped restraint, but the same can’t be said for her other half. From asking an Aborigine leader if they still throw spears at each other to telling the president of Nigeria that he looks like he’s ready for bed, Prince Philip has notoriously stirred trouble with his culturally insensitive one-liners. On a visit to China in 1986, the Duke of Edinburgh warned a British student on the dangers of spending too much time in the country, saying, “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.” In the late ’90s he referred to the German chancellor by Hitler’s title of “Reichskanzler.” He doesn’t hold back against his own family’s affairs, either. In 2000 he called the new £18 million British Embassy in Berlin “a vast waste of space” during the queen’s ceremonial opening.

AP Photo

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend

As Elizabeth prepared for her coronation in 1952, her sister confided in her that she had accepted a marriage proposal from divorced commoner Peter Townsend. Townsend, who was working in her mother’s house and had been a close associate of King George, was 16 years older than the 22-year-old Margaret. Elizabeth asked they wait a year, but the British Parliament and Church of England quickly made it clear that they would not approve the marriage. Torn between Townsend and succession rights, Margaret told the country that she would not marry Townsend, saying, “Mindful of the church's teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others.” She later married but was rumored to have had multiple extramarital affairs and the 18-year union ended in the first royal divorce since King Henry VIII.

AP Photo

The Palace Intruder

Prince Philip isn’t the only one who’s seen the queen in her nighty. On a summer morning in 1982, Queen Elizabeth woke up to 31-year-old Michael Fagan sitting on the edge of her bed, bleeding from his hand. In what one tabloid called “the most gross and scandalous lapse of security in her 30-year reign,” Fagan managed to elude alarms, cameras, and palace staffers to hold a 10-minute conversation with the queen before a footman came in and seized him. This wasn’t his first royal visit—just one month earlier Fagan had slipped into the palace undetected, drank a bottle of wine, and left. No charges were pressed and Fagan did a stint at a psychiatric institution. In an interview last February with The Independent, Fagan described the moment he pulled back the bed curtains to see the queen looking up at him: “She speaks and it’s like the finest glass you can imagine breaking: ‘Wawrt are you doing here?!’”

Anwar Hussein Collection, ROTA / Getty Images

The BBC Documentary

In 2007 viewers of a trailer for a new BBC documentary, A Year With the Queen, were surprised to see Elizabeth storming out of a photoshoot after photographer Annie Leibovitz suggested she take off her tiara. “Less dressy? What do you think this is?” the queen is heard saying. “I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this, thank you very much.” It was soon revealed that the footage had been spliced from an earlier scene of her walking into the shoot and had been modified to misrepresent the queen. Buckingham Palace intervened, leading the BBC to issue an apology and BBC1 controller Peter Fincham to resign. Leibovitz later said she loved her feistiness and that the queen had been “a little cranky” for the shoot.

Adam Butler / AP Photo


On Dec. 18, 1989, a private late-night phone call between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles was recorded by an unknown source. In what would come to be known as “The Camillagate Tapes,” Prince Charles famously told his mistress that he wished he could live in her pants as a tampon. “Oh, what a wonderful idea,” she replied, suggesting that he come back as a whole box of them instead. The tape leaked to the press three years later, throwing Charles’s extramarital activities into the spotlight and shocking the royal family. In an ironic display of foreshadowing, the magazine that broke the story and published a transcript of the call, New Idea, was an Australian publication owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

AFP / Getty Images

Prince Charles and Diana Divorce

Though rumors swirled through British tabloids for years, nothing ended the façade of Charles and Diana’s fairy-tale marriage more swiftly than the princess’s 1995 TV interview. Appearing on the BBC’s Panorama program, Diana freely admitted to having an affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. In talking about Prince Charles’s relationship with Camilla, she famously said, “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” Although Diana told interviewer Martin Bashir that she did not want to end her marriage, the queen asked her son to request a divorce just one month after the interview aired. Less than a year later, Charles and Diana were divorced and The Daily Mail wrote that her confessional interview had “plunged the monarchy into the greatest crisis since the Abdication.” The scandal led the queen to dub 1992 as her annus horribilis (“horrible year”).

Tim Graham / Getty Images

Princess Anne’s Divorce

The queen’s only daughter wasn’t spared the adulterous transgressions that would shake the royal family and provide endless fodder for the British tabloids in the ’90s. The marriage of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, an Olympic equestrian, ended in divorce in 1992 after a paternity test proved that he had fathered another woman’s child. Anne and Mark had been estranged when New Zealander Heather Tonkin sued him for child support, claiming her 5-year-old daughter was the result of a one-night stand at a party in 1984. Heather won, receiving a yearly $12,000 settlement from Mark. The queen was described by People magazine as “sad but not surprised” at the ugly breakup.

Bret Hartman / AP Photo

Sarah Ferguson

No one in the royal family has been plagued by scandal as much as Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife of the queen’s second son, Prince Andrew. It began in 1992, when soon after their separation, “Fergie” was photographed apparently getting her bare toes sucked by an American banker while sunbathing topless near St-Tropez. Trouble continued to follow Fergie after the divorce. In 2010 she was so riddled with debt that she famously agreed to sell access to her ex-husband for £500,000 to an undercover News of the World reporter posing as an Indian businessman. The taped meeting showed her leaving with a briefcase containing $40,000. The incident was a huge embarrassment for the royal family, and Fergie felt her status as persona non grata when she was left off the invite list for Prince William’s wedding the following summer.

Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein

If character is judged by the company you keep, Queen Elizabeth’s second son learned the hard way. When a Florida woman revealed she had been kept as a live-in prostitute since age 15 for billionaire businessman Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew was dragged into the scandal. An old friend of Epstein, the pair was photographed walking through New York’s Central Park just before the case broke. The woman detailed meeting the Duke of York twice, but denied having a sexual relationship with him. As a result of the case, Epstein spent 18 months in jail and a few months later Prince Andrew resigned from his post as the U.K. trade envoy special representative. Andrew’s had his share of controversial friendships—from a Kazakh oil tycoon to a convicted Libyan gun smuggler.

Chris Jackson / Getty Images for Sentebale Royal Salute

Prince Harry’s Parties

Long heralded as the royal wild child, the youngest Windsor has been landing in hot water since he was caught drinking and smoking marijuana at age 16. Prince Charles promptly sent Harry to a day in rehab, and the palace confirmed that the young prince had “experimented with the drug on several occasions.” Since then, Harry has been plastered across the tabloids more often than the royal family might desire. From the infamous video of him allegedly snorting a capful of vodka to skirmishes with paparazzi, Harry cuts quite a different figure than his well-mannered older brother. Highlights of his recent military placement in the U.S. include a motorcycle ride from Arizona to Las Vegas and a hookup with a San Diego cocktail waitress.

Adam Butler / AP Photo

Prince Harry’s Gaffes

Harry proved he had inherited Prince Philip’s provocativeness during a few unfortunate incidents in his younger days. In 2005 someone snapped a picture of the 20-year-old prince clad in a tasteless Nazi getup holding a drink and a cigarette at a costume party. The photo was splashed across the front page of The Sun with the title “Harry the Nazi.” The world was outraged, and Harry’s apology, which was released through his publicist, did little to quell the anger. Four years later, Harry found himself again embroiled in scandal when a video of him calling fellow army cadets “Paki” and “rag head” was released. Just a month after the racially charged comments sparked public outcry, Harry ate his words again when he reportedly tried to joke around with black comedian Stephen K. Amos at Prince Charles’s birthday party, telling him, “You don’t sound like a black chap.”