Camillagate: The true story behind Charles and Camilla's leaked phone recording

What really happened between the now king and queen?

Camillagate
(Image credit: Keith Bernstein/Future)

Season five of Netflix's hit royal-drama series The Crown has been embroiled in scandal since the show's first trailer hit screens. From Netflix having to release a statement defending the show (opens in new tab) to audiences asking if The Crown is true or fake (opens in new tab) to people wondering what Prince Harry thinks of the show (opens in new tab), conversation surrounding the fifth season has been non-stop.

A lot of that conversation currently centres around an event dramatised in the season's fifth episode. Prince Charles, played by Dominic West, and Camilla Parker Bowles, played by Olivia Williams, have a private moment on the phone, away from their families and the prying ears of the public - or so they think. 

Their chat starts out innocently enough with Charles speaking to his lover about an upcoming speech he’s set to deliver in Oxford, with Camilla giving him some much needed reassurance and feedback. However, the call takes a raunchy turn as Charles coos into the receiver, “I wish I could live inside your trousers.”

The private phone call however, is not so private. Somewhere in the English countryside sits a man surrounded by radio and recording equipment who has recognised the posh voices picked up by his device and quickly presses the record button. 

Did Camillagate really happen?

Camillagate really happened, just as is portrayed in season five of Netflix's The Crown. The Crown may be known for it's exaggerated plot points and sensationalisation of historic royal events, but Camillagate really did happen and its plot needed no dramatisation to fit in with The Crown's scandalous storylines.

Much of the conversation that takes place between Prince Charles and Camilla in the show is lifted straight from a transcript of the actual 1989 phone call between the real Charles and Camilla. 

King Charles and Camilla

(Image credit: TIM GRAHAM/Getty Images)

What was Camillagate?

Camillagate was a royal scandal involving the then Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, in which a 'private' phone call between the two was recorded and leaked, thus proving that the future King was cheating on his then wife, Princess Diana.

In November 1992 British tabloids began reporting that a controversial conversation between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had been intercepted and shared with various newspapers across the country. At the time, the Daily Mirror claimed “a tape recording of an intimate phone call between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles has been played to the Daily Mirror.” The Sun also ran a similar story. 

In an odd move for the notoriously scandal-hungry tabloids, both publications opted to keep the full contents of the call private, choosing to instead only allude as to what was said. This likely stems from the fact that, at the time, the recording’s authenticity was very much in question.

Eventually, by January 1993, both national and international newspapers had published the full transcript of the call in all its graphic detail. In addition to the posh male and female voices saying they loved each other, the man also expressed a wish to “live inside your trousers or something,” before joking about turning into a tampon. 

Prince Charles in The Crown season 5

(Image credit: Keith Bernstein)

Why was Camillagate so controversial? 

Camillagate was so scandalous and controversial because, as well as the Prince's comments simply being odd things to say no matter if you were saying them to your mistress or not, both Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were married - the former to the People's Princess, Diana. Prince Charles' dignity was bought into question and, subsequently, people started to question the dignity of the monarchy as a whole.

The phone call proved that all of Charles' friends were not only aware of the affair but complicit in helping the pair conduct it. The six-minute call was ultimately branded "sick" by Princess Diana.

Colin Myler, the editor of the Sunday Mirror at the time, wrote a piece justifying his decision to publish the details of the phone call, saying, “I believe it is wrong that the near nine million readers of this newspaper should be denied the right to read something so important affecting the future King of England, when people in Australia, Germany, America, and Ireland already have.” 

BBC radio summed up public mood best, “If genuine, [it] would be hard to reconcile with the dignity of the monarchy.”

King Charles III and Camilla Queen Consort

(Image credit: Molly Darlington - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

How did Charles and Camilla's phone call get leaked? 

While it was first thought that Charles and Camilla's phone call was intercepted and leaked simply by accident, decades later, investigations uncovered a clear violation of the royal family's privacy. At the time of Camillagate, the source who had recorded the call was said to just be a radio enthusiast who fell onto the frequency of the famed phone call. But questions soon arose.

Soon after rumblings of the nefarious phone call began to be published, in August of 1992, yet another recorded phone call between royals was leaked and published. This time the call featured the loving voices of Princess Diana and James Gilbey, beginning the second royal 'phone call' scandal which is often referred to as either Squidgygate or Dianagate. 

The second leaked phone call forced journalists to ask if something bigger going on here. As written in the Evening Standard at the time, “there has been considerable speculation as to a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign aimed at the Royal Family.” 

While there has never been any hard proof of the scheme that many suspected, decades later, is was decided that there had been a clear violation of the royal family’s privacy when they were making telephone calls. The fact came to light in 2011 when it was revealed that reporters from News of the World had hacked the voicemails of various royals between the years of 2005 to 2007. 

The editors and writers involved in the scheme were arrested and many were convicted, leading the paper to shut down. Still to this day, Prince Harry continues to seek legal action against the outlets he believes participated in this unethical practice.

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