The Crown S4 E6 real history: Charles and Diana’s 1983 royal tour of Australia & the start of ‘Dianamania’
Episode 6 of season 4 of The Crown sees Charles and Diana, deep in the midst of marital troubles, called upon to tour Australia and New Zealand in an effort to stem feelings of republicanism in one of the Commonwealth’s key countries
Diana’s priorities as a mother become clear and the couple are seen to momentarily reconcile. Meanwhile, the tour is hailed as a huge success. But how historically accurate is all this? Let’s unpick the historical truths of episode 6…
(This article contains spoilers for season 4, episode 6 of The Crown)
Episode six of the new season brings the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, back to centre stage, covering the couple’s 1983 tour of Australia. It was the job of incumbent Australian Labour prime minister Bob Hawke to welcome the young royals to the Commonwealth country as part of a royal tour aimed at shoring up the royal family’s reputation. Hawke is clearly sceptical about Charles’s ability “as a different breed” to connect with the Australian public, and there is a lot riding on the tour. In reality, Hawke did want Australia to become a republic by 1988; in The Crown it’s made clear to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) ahead of their tour that if Australia were to strike out on its own away from the Commonwealth, other countries would “fall like dominoes”, in the words of one adviser.
The Queen (Olivia Colman) expresses her hope that the couple will be alright. Yet amid a harrowing depiction of Diana’s struggle with the eating disorder bulimia, and Prince Charles’s visits to the Parker Bowles estate, it seems as though the tour will be anything but.
In the opening scenes of episode 6, the strength of Charles and Camilla’s enduring chemistry is made plain as the pair perform a joke at a dinner party while Camilla’s husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, looks on. Charles and Camilla’s relationship was, according to most records, platonic during this stage of Charles’s marriage to Diana, and royal expert Penny Junor says that he and Camilla were not mixing socially: “If Camilla knew Charles would be at a party during this time, she didn’t go.”
It is true that Andrew knew about Charles and Camilla’s close connection. And he had been aware of their initial affair in the late 1970s, over which he “didn’t make a fuss,” writes Junor in her biography of Camilla, explaining that Andrew’s own infidelities perhaps made it difficult for him to complain.
Charles and Camilla started seeing one another again in 1986, and Camilla would visit Charles at Highgrove, “although usually in the company of Andrew or other friends,” says Junor. Gradually it turned into a sexual relationship. In some ways this was “a perfect arrangement” because it allowed Camilla to see the prince while Andrew continued his own affair with Rosemary Pitman, says Junor.
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The royal tour begins
Hearing that Diana wishes to take the baby Prince William on the tour, the Queen expresses disbelief. (During the Queen’s 1954 tour of Australia, five-year-old Charles and three-year-old Anne remained at home in the care of nursery staff and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The pair were famously greeted by their mother with handshakes upon her return.) In contrast to Queen Elizabeth’s hands-off parenting, Diana hovers over nine-month-old William on the flight to Australia, describing him as “perfect in every way”, making clear her feelings at being separated from her son for two weeks (when William was stationed at a large sheep ranch in Woomargama with his nannies).
Diana tells Charles and his aides she is determined to bring up her son with “a vestige of humanity”.
This is true to history. “I want to bring them up with security,” Diana is quoted in Andrew Morton’s 1992 biography as having said. “I hug my children to death and get into bed with them at night. I always feed them love and affection; it’s so important.”
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Yet this desire to be close to her children (rather than leaving them behind while she carried out her official role), and her very public displays of affection, were incongruous with how the royals had always done things. The drama chooses to show this through royal aide Edward Adeane, who tells Diana: “You married the Prince of Wales, ma’am. And that is an act of service… which you signed up to for willingly and with open eyes.”
This, surely, would have been what Charles had hoped for, too. Penny Junor says: “In the mid-1970s, when asked about marriage, Charles had said that when he marries it must be to someone who understands what she’s marrying into; who understands the job. And because it would have to be a marriage for life (because divorce was out of the question), this is one area where his heart must be ruled by his head, he said.
“Charles understood that his marriage wouldn’t be any old love match, he couldn’t just marry someone he was utterly mad about and live happily ever after. His wife would one day be queen and would have a hell of a lot of royal work to do. She would need to have the discipline to put up with the life she was entering into – no spontaneity, no freedom, no privacy. His wife would have to understand and be willing to accept all these handicaps.”
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Reception in Australia
In episode 6 of The Crown, Charles and Diana initially seem to flounder when arriving in Australia. A press report from the royals’ arrival in Alice Springs on 21 March 1983 stated that the Princess of Wales “stood holding Prince William with something less than a smile on her face. She seemed uneasy, even glum, and looked at the tarmac with downcast eyes throughout much of the brief airport picture session.”
In the episode, Charles’s jokes to the press fall flat, and Diana makes a gaffe referring to Ayres ‘Dock’, leading prime minister Hawke to see an opportunity to cut Australia “free” of the monarchy. In reality, some of Charles’s less-tactful remarks did make headlines, one notably in Sydney: the Prince of Wales upset animal lovers when he joked during a speech that Prince William was being given “warm milk and minced kangaroo”. In The Crown the Queen says trip was always designed to be Charles’s tour, and Philip bemoans the fact that his wife sent the “B team” for something so important, putting the tour’s objective in peril.
Later in the episode, Diana and Charles appear distant and divided – in reality, royal press officers assured reporters and photographers that any signs of distress were due to jet-lag and adapting to the heat – and Charles continues to rely on Camilla as a close confidant (though both maintain there was nothing more between them than close friendship during this time). Yet things come to a head when Diana becomes insistent that the tour is paused so she can see William (who had been stationed in Woomargama with his nannies).
In reality, royal press officers assured reporters and photographers that any signs of distress were due to jet-lag and adapting to the heat
The royal tour of Australia was a challenging time for the young princess, who had suffered postpartum depression after William was born and was still battling an eating disorder. “I find I can't stop playing with him,” Diana had said at William’s first press conference in Australia, and she insisted that she and Charles should return to Woomargama to see him as much as possible.
This prioritisation of her child over royal duty, often viewed as a departure from royal protocol, would continue; Diana later shifted her official responsibilities so that her schedule matched that of her children as much as possible, and in her official calendar the princess had all the everyday details of her sons’ lives marked in green ink.
A royal reconciliation?
The drama chooses to depict a confrontation between the couple behind closed doors at the sheep station, used as a touchstone for a number of issues facing them: the most prominent being Charles’s connection with “her” (Camilla). Though Charles insists that his relationship with Camilla remained platonic until his marriage had “irrevocably broken down”, the drama has Diana citing love letters, a photograph in Charles’s wallet, and the ‘G’ & ‘F’ bracelet. These are all real accusations levied by Diana in Andrew Morton’s biography, which also mentions the cufflinks that Charles wore on their honeymoon, engraved with two interwoven Cs. Charles reportedly dismissed Diana’s reaction to them, saying they were “a present from a friend”.
The gulf between Charles and Diana is emphasised, with both parties bemoaning the fact they feel misunderstood and unappreciated, and both saying they are in need of praise and encouragement – characteristics upon which many differing biographical views seem to agree. “How awful incompatibility is,” Charles wrote to one friend, according to Sally Bedell Smith’s 2017 biography of the prince. “How dreadfully destructive it can be for the players in this extraordinary drama.”
Yet as the pair reconnect, the drama emphasises how the couple’s children offered common, and often happy, ground. Describing this time with William and Diana in a letter to a friend, Charles said: “The great joy was that we were totally alone together,” and how he and his wife “laughed and laughed with sheer, hysterical pleasure” at William’s antics as a baby.
The drama depicts the strength of this reconciliation in Charles failing to return a phone call from Camilla. Stuart Higgins, an editor at The Sun who had a close friendship with Camilla in the 1980s, believes there was a definite “cessation” in her relationship with Charles and that Charles made an effort with Diana. But he also noted that there was no sense Camilla was ever “out of contact”. In Jonathan Dimbleby’s 1994 authorised biography, much was made of the fact that Charles and Camilla had “virtually no contact” between 1981 and 1986, but they still hunted together and mixed in the same circles during this time.
The start of ‘Dianamania’
Post-reconciliation, in The Crown Charles and Diana are seen to continue the tour, and as they greet crowds as a pair all seems well. Arthur Edwards, one photographer present on the tour, said: “They just looked at each other like they wanted to go and rip the clothes off each other. They were so much together and in love.” As shown in the drama, the couple did famously dance together at a charity ball in Sydney, and Charles “prided himself on his ballroom prowess”, writes Bedell Smith. Meanwhile, “the British press reported on how the royal pair were working to reinvigorate the historic ties of friendship and political unity that existed between the UK and Australia,” says Dr Ed Owens, a historian of the British monarchy.
“Diana proved a real hit with the Australian public and media,” Owens adds, “and was noted not only for her fashionable dress style, but also for the informal way she interacted with crowds by exercising her famous ‘common touch’.”
Yet as Charles and Diana take on separate engagements, it becomes clear that Diana is the real star – the 1983 tour is often regarded as the birth of ‘Dianamania’. “Hundreds of people fainted, flowers and flags were thrown at the couple, and police became seriously concerned about crowd surges. Police numbers were increased by 25 per cent,” the Telegraph reported, while in Melbourne the couple drew crowds of 200,000.
Before Diana, Charles had been the main draw. After one walkabout in California during his tour of the USA in 1977, writes Bedell Smith, his hands were “swollen to twice their size and covered in bloody cuts from the diamond rings of his fervent admirers who had grasped him so tightly.” Yet, once married to Diana, the picture changed. Though the prince often made light of the crowds’ preference for his young wife, says Penny Junor – he once “quipped that all he was good for these days was collecting flowers for his wife” – it was a new and uncomfortable experience for him. When crowds chanted for Diana, the prince said: “You will have to make do with me.”
The drama chooses Princess Anne to voice how the public’s preference for Diana will make Charles feel: “This was meant to be his grand debut, his moment in the sun, as future king,” she says. Her prediction is not wrong; “In those moments, the form of their public life together was set,” writes Bedell Smith. “Diana’s umbriferous presence disquieted Charles, a feeling that would soon become full-blown resentment.”
The final straw for Charles in The Crown comes when Bob Hawke makes clear that it is Diana, not the prince, who can claim credit for derailing his hopes of making Australia a republic. “No offence, but if it had just been you [on the tour] I might have got my wishes!” he jokes, before telling the prince “That superstar [Diana] may have just set back the cause of Republicanism in Australia for the foreseeable future.” True to history, the Telegraph reported that the couple’s popularity had set back the cause by “two decades”.
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A couple divided
In The Crown, upon their return to the UK, it becomes clear the tour has driven a wedge between Charles and Diana. They are seen going their separate ways – Diana to Kensington Palace, and Charles to his beloved Highgrove. Ed Owens says that “the private tensions that emerged during the tour took fuller form on the couple’s return to Britain, where the Prince of Wales (and other members of his family) expressed concerns about the way he, as next-in-line to the throne, was consistently outshone by his wife.”
Diana herself told Morton that though the tour was “basically a great success”, when crowds favoured her over Charles “he wasn’t used to that and nor was I. He took it out on me. He was jealous; I understood the jealousy but I couldn’t explain that I didn’t ask for it.”
The episode ends with Diana requesting an audience with the Queen, asking for the monarch’s support, telling her mother-in-law: “I don’t know who to turn to anymore.” While this meeting is further example of The Crown writer Peter Morgan speculating what happens behind closed palace doors, the Queen’s avoidance of overt emotional displays and confrontation, and Diana’s need for approval are certainly well-chronicled. In Morton’s biography, Diana said of the tour: “I was thrown in the deep end […] No one ever helped me at all. They’d be there to criticise me, but never there to say: ‘Well done’.”
The drama chooses this moment, with Diana splashed across the front pages of newspapers splayed over the Queen’s table, to show that Diana had a new and different understanding for what the public wanted from the royal family and of how to connect with the modern world. But the Queen dismisses Diana’s appeal for love and approval – a misjudgement that cuts Diana further adrift.
Diana later described the 1983 tour to Andrew Morton as a “make-or-break time for me” – a sentiment echoed at the end of the episode by the royal women gathered at Buckingham Palace. The Queen Mother’s brutal assessment that Diana will eventually “bend” under the pressure (or “break”, Princess Margaret quips) is testament to the increased isolation Diana felt.
But Diana returned from the tour, in her own words, “a different person… more grown up, more mature”. It seems the predictions of The Crown’s royal women may be off course.
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Elinor Evans is deputy digital editor at HistoryExtra
With thanks to Penny Junor, royal biographer and author of 10 books on members of the royal family; and Dr Ed Owens, a historian of the modern British monarchy and author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932–53 (University of London Press, 2019)