The Crown: what was the real-life ‘Tampongate’ scandal?

One of the Royal Family’s most cringeworthy moments is depicted in season five of the hit Netflix series

Season five of The Crown features Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker Bowles and Dominic West as Prince Charles
Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker Bowles and Dominic West as Prince Charles in The Crown
(Image credit: Dom Slike / Alamy Stock Photo)

The so-called Tampongate phone call that triggered a royal scandal almost 30 years ago is back in the headlines thanks to the upcoming season of The Crown.

The hit Netflix show is revisiting the private conversation between Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles that was made public when now defunct tabloid The People printed a leaked transcript in 1993, just months after the then prince officially split from Diana, Princess of Wales.

During the phone call, which took place in 1989, Charles told his then-mistress Camilla that he wanted to be reincarnated as a tampon so he could live inside her – comments that sparked uproar after being repeated in newspapers worldwide.

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‘Truth is stranger than fiction’

If The Crown screenwriter Peter Morgan had “dreamt up the storyline and dialogue” of the now infamous phone call, “the audience would have surely deemed it crass and too far-fetched”, said Esquire.

But “truth is much stranger than fiction”, the magazine continued. “Mortifyingly to all involved”, Tampongate “rocked British society” after the audio was leaked by a “rogue radio enthusiast who had stumbled upon the chat using a hi-tech scanning device”.

In his 2017 memoir Guarding Diana, the princess’s former security officer Ken Wharfe claimed that she had revelled in the publication of the transcript, reportedly commenting: “Game, set and match.”

“Establishment figures normally loyal to the future king and country were appalled, and some questioned the prince’s suitability to rule,” wrote Wharfe, who described the backlash against Charles as “savage”.

‘Two young people in love’

Many commentators have criticised the decision to feature the scandal in season five of The Crown, which premieres on Netflix on 9 November. But while the TV depiction of the phone call may appear “embarrassing” for the royals, said The Telegraph, the show’s makers are “understood” to have focused on “recasting it sympathetically as two young people in love”.

The scene is “intended to show the genuine affection between the now king and queen consort and elicit sympathy at the intrusion into their private lives”, according to the paper.

Actor Dominic West, who plays Charles in the latest series, told Entertainment Weekly that when the transcripts first emerged, he had thought “it was something so sordid and deeply, deeply embarrassing”. But having filmed the scene, he continued, “what you’re conscious of is that the blame was not with these two people, two lovers, who were having a private conversation”, but rather with the “invasive and disgusting” behaviour of the press.

“They printed it out verbatim and you could call a number and listen to the actual tape,” recalled West, who said he was now “extremely sympathetic” towards the royal couple.

The transcript

Charles: Oh, God. I’ll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!

Camilla: What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers? (Both laugh) Oh, you’re going to come back as a pair of knickers.

Charles: Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck! (Laughs)

Camilla: You are a complete idiot! (Laughs) Oh, what a wonderful idea

Charles: My luck to be chucked down a lavatory and go on and on forever swirling round on the top, never going down.

Camilla: Oh darling!

Charles: Until the next one comes through.

Camilla: Oh, perhaps you could just come back as a box.

Charles: What sort of box?

Camilla: A box of Tampax, so you could just keep going.

Charles: That’s true.

Camilla: Repeating yourself… (laughing). Oh, darling, oh I just want you now.

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