In her public appearances, the Queen of the United Kingdom may look like the most gently behaved and, frankly, boring monarch possible – the kind of old lady who never does anything more risqué than putting a second cube of sugar in her tea. So she must be seriously embarrassed by some of her family.
With great wealth comes great irresponsibility, and over the years, various members of the Royal Family have been involved in a shocking range of scandals, from saucy affairs and secret love children to ill-advised fancy dress costumes. Plus, there have been some much darker revelations that old Elizabeth would much rather have stayed out of the public eye.
And so, here is our line of fifteen surprising times the royals have fallen significantly short of being prim and proper...
15 The Nudes Of The Queen’s Sister
Being the younger sister of the Queen, Princess Margaret was blessed with a whole lot of money and access to any high-class social event she felt like going to. She used these privileges scandalously, enjoying a partying lifestyle that rocked the royal family way before the likes of Prince Harry would take on that job.
Firstly, there was her relationship with Peter Townsend, a divorced man sixteen years older than her. The 22-year-old Margaret wanted to marry Townsend, but her very Christian family wouldn’t let her keep her royal life if she did. She ultimately decided not to. She later married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, a marriage dominated by rumors of heavy drinking, drug use, and affairs with famous people including Peter Sellers and Mick Jagger.
But most scandalous of all was what robbers found when they broke into a London branch of Lloyds Bank – photos of Margaret partying naked with one of her extra-marital lovers. If you’ve ever seen the Jason Statham film The Bank Job – this is the reveal event that inspired that movie!
14 Prince Harry Dresses As A Nazi
Being the Grandson of the Queen, you’d think Prince Harry would think twice about his fancy dress costumes in case any of his choices would risk causing offense. Apparently, he’s not that far-sighted, as in 2005 he was snapped at a friend’s party wearing a Nazi Afrika Korps uniform, complete with Swastika armband.
As you’d expect, this move offended a lot of people, not least Britain’s Jewish community, particularly given that it hit headlines just two weeks before Holocaust Memorial Day. Harry was forced to give a public apology, stating: "I am very sorry if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize.”
Unlike his more sensible brother William, Harry is no stranger to scandal – three years before this, he admitted to having smoked marijuana. Nevertheless, he somehow pulled his reputation back enough to be admitted into Sandhurst Military Academy later in 2005 – though we suspect his royal title helped get his application through!
13 Kate’s Topless Snaps
Kate Middleton was a very popular addition to the Royal Family when she married Prince William in 2011. But the Queen’s new granddaughter-in-law ended up getting involved in a scandal of her own just one year later.
When holidaying in Provence, France, Kate relaxed with a perfectly innocent spot of topless sunbathing, unaware that a paparazzo working for the French magazine Closer was snapping her with a long lens. When these pictures were published, they caused a lot of embarrassment for Kate’s in-laws, for whom a public display of ankle is usually seen as racy.
Justifiably, the Royal Family were pissed off at this and said so in a no-holds-barred statement: “We certainly feel a red line's been crossed ... Their Royal Highnesses have been hugely saddened to learn that a French publication and a photographer have invaded their privacy in such a grotesque and totally unjustifiable manner. ... It is unthinkable that anyone should take such photographs, let alone publish them.”
12 Gay Group Fun On The Queen’s Yacht
One of the stranger consequences of the death of Princess Diana is the rise to fame (well, D-list fame) of her former butler, Paul Burrell, who has since made several appearances on British reality and entertainment TV. He’s somehow not left the public eye, either; just this week, Burrell came out as gay, and a remarkable scandal followed.
Allegedly, back in 1981, Burrell was involved in a gay orgy on the Britannia – the Queen’s royal yacht – with ten other men, who were members of the Royal Navy. These other men were dismissed, as homosexuality was illegal in the UK military at the time, but Burrell, being a close friend of the Royal Family, was let off.
Not without a telling-off, though – apparently, the Queen had a word with him and recommended he find a nice girl to settle down with. Given her age, we’re not entirely surprised the Queen wouldn’t be happy with her employee’s same-sex antics, but it just makes it funnier that this happened on her boat.
11 The World’s Grossest Chat-Up Line, Courtesy Of Prince Charles
Prince Charles’ marriage to Diana in 1981 was seen by fans of the royal family as a great, fairytale moment – she was attractive, popular, and charitable. But Charles just couldn’t get over his ex, Camilla Parker Bowles.
So much so, that it’s believed Charles spent the night before his wedding with Camilla. When the marriage fell apart, he got back together with her, resulting in a divorce that was a major blow to the crown's reputation – but the worst thing about this affair by a long mile was the flirtatious conversation between Charles and Camilla that was secretly recorded.
“Oh god. I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!” says Charles. Camilla replies with “What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers?” And Charles finishes off the horrific imagery with “Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck!” And now we’re all thinking about a tampon with Charles’ face on it.
10 Prince Philip Is A Massive Racist
We don’t know how the Queen’s managed to stay married to Prince Philip for almost seventy years, as he has an unfortunate reputation for putting his foot in it with jokes that are far from politically correct.
When meeting the President of Nigeria, who was in traditional African dress, Philip commented, “You look like you’re ready for bed!” On another occasion, he told British students studying abroad in China that “If you stay here much longer, you’ll go home with slitty eyes.” And during a visit to an electronics factory, Philip saw a messy fuse box and said it looked “as though it was put in by an Indian”.
It’s hardly the best quality to have in someone who’s meant to be representing the UK to the world. You’d think that, by now, the Royal Family would have learned not to send him on trips to meet foreign leaders.
9 Diana’s Affair, And The £10 Million Love Letters
The marriage between Charles and Diana may have been strained by his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, but the so-called People’s Princess wasn’t exactly a model wife either, as she also engaged in some extramarital action.
Over five years, Diana, fed up of her miserable marriage to Charles, had an affair with military officer James Hewitt, who she later admitted to being in love with. This wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret, and the Princess admitted all in a 1995 interview. There was even a rumor that Hewitt could be Prince Harry’s father, though this was denied, as their relationship apparently began after Harry’s birth.
But it seems Hewitt wasn’t the greatest guy to be in a relationship with, either. After Diana’s death, Hewitt tried to sell off love letters she’d sent him for £10 million, a move which was blasted by the Royal Family as a betrayal of Diana’s trust.
8 Harry’s Strip Billiards
What’s worse than a member of the Royal Family being photographed wearing a Nazi uniform? Well, them being photographed not wearing a Nazi uniform... or anything else. In August 2012, Prince Harry went on a trip to Vegas, and some unfortunate photos leaked onto the internet.
While partying at the Wynn hotel, Harry apparently decided that everyone should play a round of strip billiards, leading to a cell phone photograph being taken of him completely naked, his hands clasped strategically over his crown jewels, with a naked girl behind him. He can’t be that good at billiards, then.
Buckingham Palace, presumably annoyed at him putting yet another disgrace upon the family, refused to comment, and it took a few months for Harry to get around to apologizing for this one. For him, though, the party was a bit of harmless fun, and the leak of the photo an invasion of his privacy – you have to be careful when everyone has a camera in their pocket!
7 Prince Andrew’s Slave Scandal
One of the more unpleasant scandals to face the royals, this one can’t be written off as just harmless fun. Prince Andrew, the Queen’s third child, found himself faced with allegations of serious sexual impropriety in January 2015.
Virginia Roberts claimed that, at the age of 17, she had been held as a sex slave by billionaire investment banker Jeffery Epstein and loaned out to several high-profile figures, including Prince Andrew. The young girl had apparently been pressured into having sex with the Prince on more than one occasion, afraid that Epstein, who had since been convicted as a pedophile, could have her killed or abducted if she refused.
Though these horrifying allegations have not yet been proven, photographs showing Andrew and Roberts together were uncovered, and the case is still ongoing. It can’t have been a happy story for Andrew’s monarchic mother to read about.
6 Mark Phillips’ Affair And Lovechild
In 1973, Princess Anne, the Queen’s only daughter, married Lieutenant Mark Phillips. The event was broadcast around the world and seen by an estimated 500 million viewers – not even the Super Bowl gets that kind of ratings! But the marital bliss was not to last...
In the 1980s, Mark had an affair with Heather Tonkin, an art teacher from New Zealand. He even had a child with her – his paternity was confirmed when a DNA test later took place. As you’d expect, this puts a strain on the marriage, and Anne divorced Mark in 1992.
The scandal in her past, Anne remarried not long after. Interestingly, the couple’s two children, Peter and Zara, do not carry royal titles, the first grandchildren of a monarch not to do so in over 500 years – presumably, that lessens the blow of whatever scandals they inevitably get involved in.
5 Diana Met Charles When He Was Dating Her Sister
Prince Charles was in a relationship with a young noble girl called Lady Sarah Spencer when, in 1977, they attended a garden party together. Here, Sarah introduced Charles to her younger sister, Diana, who was only sixteen years old at the time.
This was the start of the romance that would lead to one of the most famous royal marriages of the twentieth century. Charles didn’t leave Sarah for her sis immediately, though – he only started making his moves on Diana when they were guests at a country weekend three years later, by which time he’d split up with Sarah.
Nevertheless, Sarah must have been a bit annoyed that her younger sister was the one who got to become a Princess. Then again, given how unhappy the marriage ended up being and the tragic way everything ended for Diana, maybe she was the lucky one.
4 Fergie’s Foot Fetish
Known to the press as ‘Fergie’, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, was married to Prince Andrew from 1986, much to the embarrassment of his family, as she couldn’t seem to keep herself out of the headlines.
By 1992, the couple were living apart after the redheaded royal had been spotted with numerous other men, but she still had a knack for stirring up a scandal – and she really put her foot in it with this one. Fergie was snapped sunbathing topless on the French Riviera with her toes in the mouth of Texas businessman John Bryan.
When these photos appeared on the front page of tabloid paper The Daily Mirror, it caused a major public outrage about her generation of royals, growing unpopular for living extravagant lifestyles on taxpayers’ money. Fergie and Andrew eventually divorced in 1996, presumably to his mother’s relief.
3 The King Abdicates – To Marry A Nazi Sympathizer
One of the older royal scandals – unless we want to really go back in time and talk about Henry VIII – but one which seriously shook the monarchy. In the 1930s, it wasn’t a Prince who was up to no good, but the King.
King Edward VIII had always had a thing for married women, but during the first year of his reign, his heart belonged to the socialite Wallis Simpson. Not only was Simpson – shock, horror – twice divorced, but she was also – double shock, double horror – American. He had the choice of marrying her and abdicating or remaining King and losing her. Not really enjoying the responsibilities of being in charge, he chose the second option and let his brother have a go at the whole King thing.
Surprisingly, there’s a darker layer to this – FBI files were later uncovered which suggest that Simpson may also have been a Nazi sympathizer, having an affair with the German ambassador to Britain and passing state secrets on to him and that this may have been the real reason Edward’s family wanted nothing to do with her.
2 Diana’s Brother Criticizes Royals At Her Funeral
When Diana split up with Charles, it became clear that she hadn’t particularly enjoyed life as a royal, and the divorce settlement was a messy one, with the Princess even being stripped of the title 'Her Royal Highness’.
And yet she was still incredibly popular with the British public, leading to a massive outpouring of grief upon her sudden death in August 1997. One of the most remarkable – and controversial – outlets of this grief was the eulogy given by Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother, at her funeral, which was understood by many as seriously critical of the Royal Family and the way they’d treated her.
Spencer talked about his sister’s vulnerability and eating disorder, implying that things could have been much different if she’d been treated better by both press and family. Spencer also referred to Diana’s life as a Princess as “the most bizarre life imaginable” and commented that she didn’t need her recently stripped title to generate her special brand of magic.
1 Sarah Ferguson Tries To Sell Prince Andrew
Even fourteen years after her divorce, Sarah Ferguson just couldn’t keep herself out of a scandal. By 2010, her lifestyle company Hartmoor had collapsed and she had found herself $889,000 in debt, leading the British press to dub her the ‘Duchess of Debt’.
She had a crafty scheme to make some of that money back, but it wasn’t exactly a moral one... Fergie met with a businessman who apparently wanted a meeting with her ex, Prince Andrew. She promised to “open doors” for him and arrange that meeting – for the easy price of half a million pounds.
Unfortunately for her, this businessman was, in fact, an undercover journalist working for the tabloid News of the World, and had been covertly filming the meeting. When this ‘cash for access’ scandal broke, it put serious pressure on Fergie’s relationship with the Royal Family and lost her a seat at William and Kate’s wedding.