‘The Crown’: The History Behind the Final Episodes

After seven years of seamlessly blending royal fact and fiction, the second part of “The Crown” Season 6 brings the lavish Netflix show to a close.

The final six episodes, which arrived on Thursday, open in 1997, and follow several story lines concerning members of the royal family and aspects of Tony Blair’s tenure as Britain’s prime minister. (Bertie Carvel plays Blair.)

A grieving Prince William (Ed McVey) unexpectedly becomes a worldwide heartthrob and falls in love while studying at the University of St. Andrews. The queen (Imelda Staunton) grapples with her own mortality following the loss of her sister, Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville), and the Queen Mother (Marcia Warren), in a short space of time. In the finale, set in 2005, Prince Charles (Dominic West) finally marries his longtime partner, Camilla Parker Bowles (Olivia Williams).

Here is a look at what The Times and other news outlets reported at the time. You can find more in the TimesMachine archive browser. (Warning: This feature contains spoilers for Season 6 of “The Crown.”)

In this episode, Prince William returns to school soon after Princess Diana’s funeral. He attended Eton College, the prestigious British boarding school known for educating prime ministers, Nobel laureates and, of course, aristocracy.

In April 2017, the British tabloid The Sun reported that William returned to school just four days after the ceremony and received handwritten condolence letters from more than half of his fellow students.

On the show, he is also handed a sack of letters from his fans across the globe, especially adoring young women. It is the beginning of the so-called “Willsmania” of the late ’90s, when William became the focus of intense international attention. This new heartthrob status is also made clear when he visits Vancouver with his father and younger brother Harry (Luther Ford), and young women line up to catch a glimpse.

On June 22, 1998, The Times reported that the trip to Vancouver in March of that year “alerted the palace to what a pinup the 6-foot-1-inch prince with the shock of blond hair, blue eyes and downward looking shy smile so reminiscent of his mother has become to teenage girls.”

The following year, Christina Ferrari, the managing editor of Teen People, a youth-focused version of People magazine, told The Times that Will was “an international superstar almost on the level of Leonardo DiCaprio.”

In Episode 6, Queen Elizabeth seems threatened by the public’s positive reception of Blair, the new prime minister. “People really do seem to love him, and see him as a true son of England,” she says, “and a unifying national symbol, in a way they used to see me.”

In February 1999, Warren Hoge wrote in The Times that Blair was a “youthful, articulate and visionary leader” and “the most popular prime minister in British history.”

On the show, we see Blair telling the queen about his attempts to persuade President Bill Clinton to send troops to Kosovo to drive Serb forces out. The queen is concerned to learn that the prime minister has a new nickname: “King Tony.” According to a Times report from 1999, he was given that sarcastic nickname by attendees of that year’s NATO Summit, because of all the media attention he was getting.

According to that Times report, Blair made a “grand entrance” in Washington before embarking on a “media blitz” to garner American public support for fighting the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic. (White House officials said Clinton “did not feel upstaged.”)

Viewers meet an 18-year-old Prince William, who informs journalists that he has met the requirements to attend his chosen college, St. Andrews, where he will go after taking a year off from his studies.

In “The Crown,” the prince receives his exam results while with his family, but in reality, he had already left Britain for his year abroad. In video footage by ITN of Prince William at a news conference on Sept. 29, 2000, he told journalists that when he received his results, he was “in the middle of nowhere” in a jungle in Belize.

At St. Andrews, the episode follows Kate Middleton (Meg Bellamy) and William as they adjust to university life. Despite William initially dating a woman named Lola Airdale-Cavendish-Kincaid and Middleton a man named Rupert, there is clear romantic chemistry between the pair.

According to The Times of London, Prince William dated two women before Kate: Olivia Hunt, who they newspaper called “a brainy sort,” and Carly Massy-Birch, whom “William had a two-week snog with,” according to an anonymous source. Somebody else (also anonymous) told the paper that Kate had apparently dated Rupert Finch, “a handsome Norfolk boy,” whom she met when she arrived at college.

Flashbacks to the young princesses Margaret (Beau Gadsdon) and Elizabeth (Viola Prettejohn) celebrating the end of World World II on May 8, 1945, or V-E Day, show the pair sneaking out of Buckingham Palace to party among the public on the streets and at the Ritz hotel. An initially shy Elizabeth finds a large group of Americans swing dancing, and she joins in after some initial hesitation.

“You dark horse. Who’d have known you could jive,” Margaret says to her older sister on their way back to the palace. “There must have been 50 men chasing you.”

In reality, while Margaret and Elizabeth did take to the streets of London to celebrate the war’s end, it seems they had their parents’ permission. In 1985, the queen gave a televised speech to the British public, in which she “for the first time told her subjects how she and Princess Margaret had slipped into the crowds outside Buckingham Palace to join the V-E Day celebrations and had walked for miles through the city,” according to The Times.

“I remember we were terrified of being recognized,” Queen Elizabeth is reported to have said.

In May 2020, during another televised address, the queen spoke of the “jubilant scenes” the royal family saw from the balcony of Buckingham Palace earlier on V-E Day. “The sense of joy in the crowds who gathered outside and across the country was profound,” she said.

This episode also follows Princess Margaret’s declining health, and a series of strokes she suffered between 1998 and 2001. The first was at a party on the Caribbean island of Mustique; in a second, in a bathtub, she suffered severe burns; and one more, in her bedroom, left her hospitalized. Margaret died soon after, in February 2002.

“The Crown” shows the princess smoking and drinking against her doctor’s orders, but Margaret’s friends have refuted that she lived such a lifestyle. “I have seen far too much suggesting that Margaret was an unashamed hedonist who spent her life partying,” a friend told The Guardian after she died. “It truly misunderstands her.”

Margaret’s obituary in The Times describes her as an “attractive and fun-loving” woman who “earned a reputation in her youth as a free spirit.”

In a television interview at the start of the ninth episode, the Egyptian businessman Mohamed al-Fayed (Salim Daw) calls the royal family “gangsters” who intentionally killed Princess Diana and his son, Dodi. Al-Fayed claims that when the “dracular British royal family” discovered that Diana was pregnant “with a Muslim child” — Dodi’s — “they killed her.”

In reality, much like the show depicts, al-Fayed gave several interviews over many years in which he accused the royal family of playing a significant role in Princess Diana’s death.

In 1998, The Times reported that al-Fayed told the British media that “there was a conspiracy, and I will not rest until I have established exactly what happened”; speaking on “60 Minutes Australia” in 1999, al-Fayed also claimed that MI6, aided by the C.I.A., had been spying on Dodi and Diana; and in a 2007 interview with Al Jazeera English, he called the crash “absolute clear horrendous murder.”

The show also shows Operation Paget, a police inquiry that was opened to re-examine the incidents leading up to the car crash that killed the couple. In December 2006, The Times reported that the inquiry took three years, and cost British taxpayers 3.69 million pounds, about $7 million at the time. It concluded that Princess Diana “was killed the way the authorities always said she had been killed: in a car accident, along with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul,” Sarah Lyall wrote.

While the investigation into Diana’s death is ongoing on “The Crown,” Prince William continues his studies at St. Andrews, where the recently single Kate Middleton models in a charity fashion show. The show recreates the sheer dress the real-life Kate wore in 2002 for the college show, a piece designed by Charlotte Todd, who was a college student at the time. In 2011, and following the announcement of William and Kate’s engagement, Todd sold the dress for £78,000, according to The Daily Telegraph (around $125, 000 at the time).

On the show, soon after William attends the fashion show, the pair start formally dating and move in together, along with two friends. According to The Sun, the couple moved into 13A Hope Street with Olivia Bleasdale and a fellow Etonian, Fergus Boyd.

Back at the palace, the queen is dealing with her mother’s death and the Golden Jubilee, an international celebration to mark 50 years of her reign. Elizabeth spends most of the episode worried about a lack of public interest, and whether a crowd will gather for her balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace. She is pleasantly surprised by the masses of people who attend.

On June 5, 2002, The Times reported that over one million people cheered outside the gates of the palace for the jubilee. On the same day, The Guardian reported that the event was more successful than both critics and organizers had anticipated.

To wrap the show up, the final episode of “The Crown” finds a way to address the queen’s death — she died in 2022 — while still being set in 2005. We see her planning her own funeral, including choosing the bagpipe lament “Sleep, Dearie Sleep” to play at the funeral.

According to The Times of London, it took 20 years to plan the queen’s real funeral, with the task falling to Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk, whose ancestors have been responsible for planning significant royal occasions since 1672. Before the queen’s death, “we had annual meetings in the throne room of Buckingham Palace,” the duke told the newspaper in 2022. “It started off with 20 people; by April this year, it had reached 280. I have had a lot of help from Buckingham Palace staff.”

The queen’s personal piper, Paul Burns, did indeed play “Sleep, Dearie Sleep” to close the queen’s funeral on Sept. 19, 2022.

Negative press surrounding Prince Harry during his younger years also gets some screen time. The prince is photographed at a “colonials and natives” costume party, wearing a military outfit with a swastika on the arm, which soon makes front-page news. In the aftermath of the scandal, William and Harry argue about the part each had played in the choice of costume, which the show depicts William encouraging when the brothers shop for their costumes.

On Jan. 13, 2005, a photograph of Prince Harry in the outfit, holding a drink and a cigarette, ran on the front page of The Sun. Harry apologized for his unsuitable costume choice in the accompanying article: “I am very sorry if I have caused an offense,” he said. “It was a poor choice of costume.” In his recent memoir, “Spare,” Harry wrote that William and Kate “howled” with laughter when they saw the costume.

“The Crown” also portrays Blair’s fall from public grace. He has a new nickname, “Tony Bliar,” because many believed he misled the public over the invasion of Iraq in 2003. That year, The Times reported that at least 750,000 antiwar protesters gathered at a demonstration in London, and noted that Blair had lost the British public’s approval. “I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor,” Blair is reported to have said. “But sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction.”

With the queen’s blessing, Charles and Camilla were finally married in a televised civil wedding ceremony. In April 2005, The Times said: “Given all the twists of fate and circumstance that have conspired against it, perhaps the most wondrous thing about the wedding on Saturday between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles is that it took place at all.”

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