Patrick Jephson has claimed that he could not find any “malicious twisting of words” or “lies” in the show’s latest series, and that some scenes were so real that he “forgot to breathe”.
The latest series of The Crown has landed, released on Netflix on November 9, the first since the Queen’s death. This season depicts the Royal Family in the Nineties, and has further sparked debates over the hit show’s presentation of fiction as fact. Since receiving backlash, Netflix has added a banner that describes the series as a “fictional dramatisation […] inspired by real-life events”. However, Patrick Jephson, the late Princess Diana’s private secretary of almost a decade, said he could not find falsehoods in a new revealing article.
Writing in The Telegraph on Tuesday, the day before Netflix released the much-anticipated series of The Crown, Mr Jephson told of how he was invited to watch a screening of the final version a few weeks ago. Although he was on “maximum alert”, looking out for “malicious twisting of words”, “dishonest presentation of historical facts”, lies, and “cruel falsehoods”, he could not find any. Mr Jephson did note, however, that the chronology was occasionally adjusted to cram events into the time constraints of the series.
The first episode depicts the then Prince of Wales taking Diana on the naval yacht Alexandra for a seemingly romantic cruise around the Mediterranean in August 1991. The couple had tied the knot ten years prior at St Paul’s Cathedral with one billion viewers tuning in from across the world to watch them become husband and wife. However, the jaunt to Italy where Charles and Diana were accompanied by Prince William and Prince Harry, was an “illusion”, hiding how unhappy their marriage was at the time, Mr Jephson explained.
The Crown presents this holiday as a “second honeymoon”, getting “considerable dramatic value out of the contrast between the romantic idea and fractious reality” which the bestselling author said is not a “cheap and cynical invention” at all. He wrote: “A second honeymoon was exactly how the media reported it in 1991, encouraged (I was told that summer) by sources in the prince’s office who calculated that such an apparent show of romance and generosity would counteract rumours of his adultery (also – coincidentally – angrily dismissed as “lies” at the time). The public, understandably, was happy to buy into the falsely optimistic illusion.”
Charles and Diana’s split was announced in December 1992 by the then Prime Minister John Major following years of media speculation that their marriage had been on the rocks. The Crown also depicts a tense scene where Charles, played by Dominic West, and Diana, by Elizabeth Debicki, disagree in front of their guests while on the yacht in the Mediterranean. While the new Monarch wanted to visit historical sites in Italy, Diana instead wanted to go shopping. Mr Jephson said this conversation did not happen on the yacht, claims that it had happened in “more damaging circumstances”, during an official visit to the Middle East.
Two years prior to their “second honeymoon”, Charles and Diana visited the UAE as part of their six-day trip to the Middle East in 1989 where they watched camel racing and sought to improve business with Britain and the region. Mr Jephson, who was Diana’s private secretary for eight years, questioned whether the fact the disagreement happened on a different trip affected the integrity of The Crown. He said: “Does that make it a damnable Crown lie – or a truth justifiably transposed to meet the demands of coherent and essentially accurate storytelling? If so, it has the incidental effect of mitigating the prince’s ill-judged jibe by shifting it from a very public setting, in front of royal hosts, to the relative privacy of a family holiday…
“What I saw in the preview theatre created in my mind a story that chimed truthfully with the reality through which I had lived. And not just in my mind: there were scenes so real that I forgot to breathe, my heart thumped alarmingly and my palms grew clammy with cold sweat.” Despite this, The Crown has stirred controversy in recent months, the series covering the messy breakdown of the King’s first marriage with calls for a disclaimer to be added to the show to ensure that viewers are aware that the portrayal is not necessarily true.
In an open letter to The Times in October, Dame Judi Dench joined those asking for the disclaimer while hitting out at Netflix for “being willing to blur the lines between historical accuracy and crude sensationalism”.