Early on Friday morning, July 9, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II woke to find a strange man sitting at the end of her bed. The man, dressed in jeans and a dirty T-shirt, was cradling a broken ashtray and dripping blood onto the royal linens from a lacerated hand.
The Queen kept calm and picked up the phone from her bedside table. She asked the operator at the palace switchboard to summon the police. Though the operator did pass the message to the police, the police didn't respond.
Some reports say the intruder, 31-year-old Michael Fagan, had planned to commit suicide in the Queen's bedroom but decided it wasn't "a nice thing to do" once he was there.1 He wanted to talk about love but the Queen changed the subject to family matters. Fagan's mother later said, "He thinks so much of the Queen. I can imagine him just wanting to simply talk and say hello and discuss his problems."2 Fagan thought it a coincidence that he and the Queen both had four children.
The Queen attempted to summon a chambermaid by pressing a button, but no one came. The Queen and Fagan continued to talk. When Fagan asked for a cigarette, the Queen again called the palace switchboard. Still no one responded.
After the Queen had spent ten minutes with the mentally disturbed, bleeding intruder, a chambermaid entered the Queen's quarters and exclaimed, "Bloody hell, ma'am! What's he doing in there?" The chambermaid then ran out and woke up a footman who then seized the intruder. The police arrived twelve minutes after the Queen's first call.
How did he get in there?
This wasn't the first time that protection of the royal monarch had been found lacking, but it had supposedly been increased since the 1981 attack on the Queen (a man fired six blanks at her during the Trooping the Color ceremony). Yet Michael Fagan basically walked into Buckingham Palace - twice. Only a month before, Fagan had stolen a $6 bottle of wine from the palace.
Around 6 a.m., Fagan climbed the 14-foot-high wall - topped with spikes and barbed-wire - on the southeast side of the palace. Though an off-duty policeman saw Fagan climbing the wall, by the time he had alerted palace guards, Fagan could not be found. Fagan then walked along the south side of the palace and then along the west side. There, he found an open window and climbed in.
Fagan had entered a room housing King George V's $20 million stamp collection. Since the door to the interior of the palace was locked, Fagan went back outside through the window. An alarm had been set off both as Fagan entered and exited the Stamp Room through the window, but the policeman at the police sub-station (on palace grounds) assumed the alarm was malfunctioning and turned it off - twice.
Fagan then went back as he had come, along the west side of the palace, and then continuing along the south side (past his point of entry), and then along the east side. Here, he climbed up a drainpipe, pulled back some wire (meant to keep pigeons away) and climbed into Vice Admiral Sir Peter Ashmore's office (the man responsible for the Queen's security).
Fagan then walked down the hallway, looking at paintings and into rooms. Along his way, he picked up a glass ashtray and broke it, cutting his hand. He passed a palace housekeeper who said "good morning" and only a few minutes later he walked into the Queen's bedroom.
Normally, an armed policeman stands guard outside the Queen's door at night. When his shift is over at 6 a.m., he is replaced with an unarmed footman. At this particular time, the footman was out walking the Queen's corgis (dogs).
When the public learned of this incident, they were outraged at the lapse of security around their Queen. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally apologized to the Queen and measures were immediately taken to strengthen palace security.
1. Kim Rogal and Ronald Henkoff, "Intruder at the Palace," Newsweek July 26, 1982: 38-39.
2. Spencer Davidson, "God Save the Queen, Fast," TIME 120.4 (July 26, 1982): 33.
Davidson, Spencer. "God Save the Queen, Fast." TIME 120.4 (July 26, 1982): 33.
Rogal, Kim and Ronald Henkoff. "Intruder at the Palace." Newsweek July 26, 1982: 38-39.