On July 9, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II woke to be confronted by a young man watching her as she lay in bed.
Michael Fagan, 33, had seemingly done the impossible, breaking into Buckingham Palace and finding his way to the monarch’s bedroom.
The overnight police sergeant who usually watched the corridor outside her room had gone off duty at 6am as scheduled. Domestic staff had begun their shifts, a footman had taken the Queen’s corgis outside for a walk and a maid was cleaning a nearby room. The maid had closed the door so she wouldn’t wake the Queen.
Things were running smoothly at the palace. So smoothly, that nobody had heard the Queen’s night alarm bell. Her two calls to send police to her bedroom didn’t send off urgency because she spoke in a calm tone.
However, Her Majesty had come face-to-face with an unemployed, strange man, who had pulled back the curtains of her four-poster bed with bloody hands. In his hand he held a piece of broken ashtray he had destroyed in another room.
But Fagan didn’t intend on using the piece of glass to hurt the Queen. Instead, he was planning on using it on himself.
IT JUST TOOK AN UNLOCKED WINDOW
Fagan’s palace break-in didn’t take months of meticulous planning. In fact, he had managed it once before, climbing through a maid’s bedroom window in Buckingham Palace June 7, 1982.
His wife had just left him, and suffering mental health problems as a result, he broke into the royal residence by shimmying up a drainpipe. He later said he only had one intention – to use the bathroom.
“I found rooms saying ‘Diana’s Room,’ ‘Charles’ Room,’ – they all had names on them. But I couldn’t find a door which said ‘WC,’” Fagan told The Independent UK. “All I found were some bins with ‘Corgi Food’ written on them. I was breaking my neck to go to the toilet. What do I do? Pee on the carpet? So I had to pee on the corgi food. I got into Charles’ room and took the wine off the shelf and [drank] it. It was cheap Californian.’”
Fagan said he was “like Goldilocks And The Three Bears”, trying different chairs and roaming through the palace and out into the gardens – all without being caught.
After this initial break-in, Fagan stole a car in London, driving it to Stonhenge to look for his wife. He was arrested for auto theft and spent three weeks in Brixton jail before being released on bail.
The day after he was set free, he went back to the Buckingham Palace.
At around 6.45am, he climbed the railings of the gates near the ambassador’s entrance and got into the building through an unlocked window. This led into a room where the Royal Stamp Collection was held.
While every other room was locked, he was determined to find the Queen.
Going back out through the window, Fagan climbed a drainpipe to the roof, where he found an unlocked window which was opened for the day by a maid.
Fagan left his socks and sandals on the roof as he climbed through the window, into the office of Sir Peter Ashmore, Master of the Household.
Somehow, without anybody noticing, he wandered through the building.
AUDIENCE WITH THE QUEEN
The man claimed to have no prior plan of what he would do, but he has said that he found his way to the private room by “following the pictures”.
When he saw the ashtray in the anteroom, he came up with a plan. Breaking it, he said “he intended to slash his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty”.
Holding the broken piece of ashtray, he made his way to her bed.
Many years later he toldThe Independent UK: “It was a double bed but a single room, definitely – she was sleeping in there on her own. Her nightie was one of those Liberty prints and it was down to her knees.”
THE ALARM THAT NOBODY HEARD
It didn’t take long for the Queen to push her alarm bell, but because of the timing nobody was in the corridor near the pantry where it rings. It went unanswered.
Using the telephone by her bed, she phoned the Palace’s telephonist asking them to send police to her room.
The police lodged the received call at 7.18am and six minutes later nobody had come to help.
She called again, and while she waited, caught the attention of a maid. The two then worked together to lead Fagan into a pantry by offering him a cigarette.
At this time, her footman had returned from walking the corgis, and the police eventually showed up, removing Fagan from the palace.
FAGAN WALKS FREE
Fagan recalled the event differently, claiming that when the Queen spotted him, “She went past me and ran out of the room; her little bare feet running across the floor.”
Interestingly, Fagan wasn’t charged over the break-in.
A palace spokesperson said he had simply trespassed, a civil law violation, but not a crime in Britain.
He did end up being sent to court again – not for intruding in the Queen’s bedroom but for drinking Prince Charles’ wine, which was considered “stealing”.
The judge acquitted him.