When we think of the British royal family, we tend to think about a number of qualities in particular. “Grace,” “poise,” and “decorum” are a few words that could be used to describe the Windsors in almost any situation.
The key phrase there was “almost any.” Royals are still people, with all the proclivities of people. To err is human, and as we will see below, just like everyone else, the British royal family is far from perfect.
Although it has been pretty widely acknowledged for decades that the rich hide their money in offshore tax havens, the leaking of 11.5 million documents known as the “Panama Papers” in 2015 grabbed the public’s attention, as it finally gave them some familiar names and faces. Among those implicated were actor Jackie Chan, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and former UK PM David Cameron’s father.
In 2017, a further 13.4 million documents were leaked, dubbed the “Paradise Papers.” While there was considerable overlap between the names mentioned in both leaks, involving many high-ranking officials from across the globe, the Paradise Papers contained names more recognizable to the average person, including Shakira, Madonna, Wilbur Ross, Bono, Prince Charles, and Queen Elizabeth II.
The papers revealed that the queen had invested around £10 million in offshore tax havens. But while the papers reveal how much was invested, they offer no insight into the kind of returns Her Majesty enjoyed before she was caught. Prince Charles, meanwhile, had a conflict of interest controversy when it was revealed that he had invested in a carbon credits scheme while lobbying international lawmakers to adopt carbon credit schemes. In defense of the royals, the palace pointed out that they obviously don’t sit down and decide all of their investments personally but use the finest investment advisers in the UK.
For all the fancy frivolities and splashy splendor that comes with being a member of a royal family, there are also plenty of expectations and responsibilities you have to live up to. For example, all members of the British royal family, but particularly one as high-profile as the king-to-be, are expected to attend a certain number of engagements on the royal calendar. Of these, one of the biggest is Commonwealth Day, a day to honor and unite the 53 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations and their 2.4 billion people.
By 2017, William had attended over 30 of these, so it’s not too difficult to see how the glitz and glamor would have faded a little bit. Even still, his decision to skip the 2017 event was not a popular one with royalists, with the press giving him the nickname “throne idle,” something that just barely meets the minimum legal requirements to qualify as a pun. But the real controversy arose when a video surfaced revealing that William was on a boozy, boys-only ski trip in Verbier, Switzerland’s most expensive ski resort. In the video, William can be seen dancing with and touching an unidentified woman, while his wife Kate was at home looking after two children under the age of five. Rumors take the story a little further than that, but there is no way to confirm that anything more took place. Either way, Kate Middleton was understandably less than impressed.
Extramarital affairs are far from a new phenomenon among royalty, but they’re still usually something they try to keep under wraps (often unsuccessfully). In their defense, one of the reasons cheating is so common among royals is that their marriages tend to be about preserving wealth and bloodlines, rather than love, so it’s hardly surprising that they should go astray. The high-profile nature of royals, and the fact that we are drawing comparisons across generations, may also make it seem as though they have a disproportionate amount of infidelity.
In recent years, the most public British royal affair was that of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, which reportedly began in 1986 but was not confirmed until 1994. Around the same time, apparently between 1986 and 1991, Diana was having an affair with her riding instructor, James Hewitt. Despite the fact that the first recorded encounter between Diana and James was two years after Harry’s birth, Harry’s ginger hair and notable lack of resemblance to the cross-generational triplets that are Philip, Charles, and William has led to endless speculation that he is, in fact, a Hewitt. For his part, James has repeatedly and strenuously denied the rumors for years but admits that they will probably never go away.
Sarah Ferguson, aka Fergie, was married to the queen’s “favorite son” Prince Andrew between 1986 and 1996. While their marriage was far from ideal, there wasn’t a lot of scandal for the tabloids to cover, other than rumors of the two drifting apart. That was until a few months after Fergie and Andrew had announced their separation in 1992, when Fergie was caught in a compromising position with her “financial advisor.”
Lying next to a pool where her four-year-old daughter was playing in their private villa in Saint Tropez, France, a topless Fergie was snapped by paparazzi, having her toes sucked by Texan multimillionaire John Bryan. As sex scandals go, it’s not the most salacious story that has ever been told, but it was apparently enough to enrage the queen. Many members of the royal family, Fergie included, were at the queen’s castle of choice, Balmoral, when the story broke. Elizabeth was said to be so ashamed that she sent Fergie away immediately and only began to readmit her to royal life in 2013. In their defense, Bryan said he was kissing Fergie’s toes, not sucking them, while Fergie claimed they were playing “Cinderella.”
While James Hewitt may be suspected of fathering a prince, he’s not the only person with whom Diana had an affair during her unhappy marriage. In 1989, Diana was involved with a man by the name of James Gilbey. Coming from old money, Gilbey is a member of the elite class in Britain, although he had never been particularly high-profile. That all changed in 1992, when the National Enquirer published excerpts of a secretly recorded phone call between Diana and James. Although the call had taken place on New Year’s Eve 1989, the British press had sat on the story until it looked like the National Enquirer in the US was running it and would get all the credit.
The excerpt begins mid-conversation and includes plenty of incriminating evidence, such as kissing noises, discussions about their most recent “encounter,” Diana worrying she may be pregnant, and James saying he hasn’t “relieved himself” in two days. The public could read the transcript of the conversation in the papers, or for 36p a minute, they could call a special line and listen to it in full. The scandal soon became known as “Squidgygate,” as James referred to Diana as “Squidgy” 53 times during the call. Initially, two copies of the tape were made by separate amateur radio enthusiasts, who claimed to have picked up the signal by mistake before taking the story to sell to reporters.
Although the subject matter of the tapes was never disputed, there are some odd discrepancies in the official story of how the tapes came to be. The first person to come forward claimed he recorded the conversation on January 4, even though from the context, it clearly takes place on New Year’s Eve. The second person claimed she recorded it on New Year’s Eve. Two more tapes came from unknown sources, and the papers were accused of leaving out sections that would “damage Diana irreparably,” as well as editing the tapes together. There are now many who believe Diana had been bugged by British Intelligence, who then broadcast the tapes until they were picked up by amateur radio enthusiasts.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the British royals should know that Camilla Parker Bowles is far from the most beloved member of the family. Despite the fact that both Charles and Diana had affairs during their time together, Diana seems to have a monopoly on sympathy. While there are lots of reasons for this, the power imbalance between a 32-year-old future king and his 19 year-old bride, Diana’s unrivaled popularity among the general public, and her untimely death have ensured that she gets a pass.
This all came to a head in 1992, beginning with the release of the Squidgygate tapes in August. Less than three months later, pretty much the exact same scandal hit in reverse, when recordings of an intimate conversation between Charles and Camilla surfaced. In the call, the two talk about how they need each other “several times a week,” before Charles suggests that he wants to live in her pants. They then muse about what would happen if Charles were to be reincarnated as a tampon, and from that point, the conversation becomes surprisingly lowbrow. The following month, it was announced that Diana and Charles would be separating.
Interestingly, this conversation was also recorded by an amateur radio enthusiast the day after it had taken place, with very few people now disputing that Charles had been bugged by British Intelligence.
Everyone knew that the marriage between Diana and Charles was not a happy one, but it wasn’t until 1993 when the extent of her despair became clear with the publication of Diana: Her True Story. Written by Andrew Morton, a journalist who specializes in celebrity biographies, the book was replete with insider information and looked at everything from the extramarital affairs to Diana’s much-publicized struggles with mental health, which included issues such as self-harm and bulimia.
Probably the most shocking revelation was that Diana had thrown herself down a flight of stairs while four months pregnant with William, in an apparent suicide attempt aimed at proving to Charles how unhappy she was, as he had accused her of “crying wolf.” Apparently, a panicked Queen Elizabeth came rushing out, but Charles wasn’t particularly concerned. Upon her death in 1997, Morton revealed that Diana herself had been the source for his book, having recorded tapes of herself describing the marriage and sending them to Morton.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “I wish there was another affair thrown into Charles and Diana’s mix,” then you won’t be disappointed. During the early 1970s, before Charles had met Diana, Andrew Parker Bowles had just broken up with Camilla (who he would later marry and divorce). Despite having split up a few times, Camilla was still smitten with him, but he had eyes for Princess Anne (pictured above), the queen’s only daughter, who felt the same way about him. Charles, meanwhile, was in love with Camilla, obviously unaware of the fact that he was pining for the woman who would bear the children of the man his sister was sleeping with.
Around that time, Andrew and Princess Anne began to date. Apparently, Camilla was so upset that Andrew was dating Anne that she began her relationship with Charles as revenge, which is the point at which we must remind ourselves that this is not a screenplay for the British reboot of Not Another Teen Movie. But soon after Anne and Andrew had called things off, the relationship between Camilla and Charles was cut short when he was deployed on military service. Camilla ended up marrying Andrew Parker Bowles just four months later. Four months after that, Princess Anne began her 19-year marriage to Mark Phillips, during which she had affairs with at least two men: her personal bodyguard and her current husband, Timothy Laurence.
While photos of a man sucking Fergie’s toes may have been enough to send shock waves rippling throughout the Commonwealth in 1992, advances in photography and smartphones mean that photos of the crown jewels are more common than ever before.
In what will presumably go down in history as the first-ever photo of a king’s penis, some lucky pervert happened to catch Prince William peeing on a fence during a game of football in 2008. Some people were offended that a photographer had disgraced a royal, others were offended that a prince was urinating in public, and almost everyone was offended at how he held it, which, for the few guys sweating bullets right now, is not how you’re supposed to hold it.
Skip forward to 2012, and we got a much sexier scandal when photos of a naked Prince Harry partying in Las Vegas surfaced, apparently after playing “strip billiards.” Unlike William’s bathroom break, these photos were clearly deliberate, naive, and unbecoming of the royal family. But ultimately, Harry is the spare, not the heir, so he can pretty much do whatever he likes forever and not really face any consequences, as we will see in our final entry.
Of course, the most memorable royal nudes for most people also came in 2012, when, about a year into her marriage to William, Kate Middleton was photographed sunbathing topless. Analysts believe that the photograph was taken using a telescopic lens from at least 0.8 kilometers (0.5 mi) away, raising plenty of questions as to what constitutes an invasion of privacy. Normally, the royals don’t kick up a big fuss about the press, but they decided to begin a very public and drawn-out lawsuit in the hopes of setting an example.
Prince Andrew is one of the royals you’d probably never heard of until recently. Now, he’s the one whose name you’ve been reading alongside words such as “Epstein,” “human trafficking,” “underage,” and “bring down the royal family.” Known as “the Queen’s favorite son,” Andrew has enjoyed an almost perfect life. With few official responsibilities, he has been handed cushy job after cushy job, enabling him to both feel important and fund his carefree lifestyle.
Like every other human being who is immune from consequences, Andrew has little regard for foolish peasant ideas such as “right” and “wrong,” so when his good friend Jeffrey Epstein admitted to the solicitation of minors in 2008, Andrew was faced with a tough choice: Be friends with a pedophile, or don’t be friends with a pedophile. In the years that followed, Andrew continued his friendship with Epstein, declining to ever comment publicly on why he thought it was appropriate.
But with the arrival of the Times Up and Me Too movements, followed by Epstein’s arrest and suicide, avoiding accusations of perversion became a lot more difficult. It then became impossible when it came to light that Virginia Roberts Giuffre had accused Andrew of having sex with her three times when she was underage, with flight logs proving that they were in the same location at the alleged times. They were also photographed together. (These accusations had first surfaced in 2015.) Another woman, Joanna Sjoberg, has made similar claims. This prompted Prince Andrew to release a statement directly, even though a similar statement denying all involvement had already been issued by Buckingham Palace, as per royal protocol.
Despite the fact that guilty people tend to avoid trials, while those who have been wrongfully accused desperately seek them out to clear their names, Andrew doesn’t seem to be in any particular rush to definitely prove which of those two groups he falls into. If his life so far and the history of the royal family are any indications, we can assume that he will never face any serious scrutiny over these accusations.