Who was Michael Fagan and how did he end up in a Smiths song?

21 November 2020, 20:00

Morrissey of The Smiths and Michael Fagan, the man who broke into The Queen's bedroom
Morrissey of The Smiths and Michael Fagan, the man who broke into The Queen's bedroom. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns/ R. Brigden/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

How Morrissey took the case of the man who broke into the Queen's bedroom and turned it into a lyric.

The fourth season of the Netflix hit The Crown dropped this month and one incident has - incredibly - links to a classic song by Manchester legends The Smiths.

The series takes a look at the life of the Royal Family and the latest batch of episodes has reached the 1980s.

The fourth instalment, titled "Fagan", details one of the most notorious incidents of Her Majesty's reign - and certainly one of the most alarming. It details the night that an intruder managed to get into Buckingham Palace and enter the Queen's bedroom as the monarch slept.

Even stranger, however, is the fact that the incident prompted Morrissey to write one of his most memorable lyrics for The Smiths.

The tale dates back to the early morning of 9 July 1982, when a man, 33 year old Michael Fagan, scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace and climbed a drainpipe before entering the building.

It was the second time that Fagan had been able to access the Palace - the first occasion saw the unemployed painter and decorator from Clerkenwell wander around the Royal household undetected. He reportedly sat on the royal throne for a moment and drank half a bottle of wine that he'd found.

On the occasion of his second break-in, sensors were tripped, but the Queen's security thought it was a false alarm and ignored the warning. Fagan was able to wander around the Palace until he came across the royal apartments. Her Majesty was shocked to wake and find an unwanted visitor in her bedroom.

Originally, reports from the palace suggested that Fagan had sat on the Queen's bed and engaged Her Majesty in a short conversation before security noticed something was up and arrived to remove the intruder.

An artist's impression from July 1982 of Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan sat at the end of the Queen's bed.
An artist's impression from July 1982 of Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan sat at the end of the Queen's bed. Picture: Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

This image - of the head of the Royal Family chatting with one of her subjects who had no work and no prospects - captured the imagination of the country. This is how The Crown depicts the incident as Fagan, played by Tom Brooke, discusses the state of Britain and the unemployment situation with the Queen as played by Olivia Colman,

The scenario certainly caught the imagination of one Steven Patrick Morrissey.

The frontman of The Smiths - who played their very first gig at Manchester's Ritz three months after Fagan scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace - could not be described as a monarchist in any way.

In 2012 he said: "The monarchy is foremost a business, and it's important to them that the British public continue to finance the excessive luxurious lifestyles of the now quite enormous, wasteful and useless 'royal' family. I find it very sad."

The Smiths in 1985: Johnny Marr, Morrissey, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke
The Smiths in 1985: Johnny Marr, Morrissey, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke. Picture: Ross Marino/Getty Images

For The Smiths' third album, Morrissey had planned a "state of the nation" diatribe about Britain as it was in the mid 1980s under the policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: unemployment was at its height, the miners' strike had taken its toll in many towns across the UK and the country's assets were being privatised left right and centre.

In the midst of this were the Royal Family, who the singer saw as a drain on the country and an irrelevance.

The song The Queen Is Dead was to open the album with a Big Statement. Morrissey attacks Britain, society and modern values. He wonders about Prince Charles and his status as the heir to the throne. What, he wonders, has happened to Great Britain?

Morrissey told the NME on the album's release in June 1986: "I didn't want to attack the monarchy in a sort of beer monster way but I find as time goes by this happiness we had slowly slips away and is replaced by something that is wholly grey and wholly saddening."

He added: "The very idea of the monarchy and the Queen of England is being reinforced and made to seem more useful than it really is."

At the centre of the lyric to The Queen Is Dead was a Morrissey fantasy: instead of Michael Fagan breaking into Her Majesty's bedroom, it was the Smiths' lead singer.

"So I broke into the palace / With a sponge and a rusty spanner / She said, 'Eh I know you and you cannot sing' / I said 'That's nothing, you should hear me play piano'."

The idea of Morrissey sitting on the edge of The Queen's bed and discussing the state of the nation is an appealing one.

But, according to Michael Fagan, the much-reported "discussion" between himself and the Queen never happened - once the monarch had awakened, the intruder claims that he left the room and was quickly apprehended by Palace security. The encounter on the bed was an invention.

Fagan told the newspapers that the makers of The Crown used this scene to "have a pop at The Queen".

Michael Fagan, the man who broke into The Queen's bedroom, picture in 1982
Michael Fagan, the man who broke into The Queen's bedroom, picture in 1982. Picture: James Mullin/Shutterstock

"It’s a complete fiction, the bit about me and the Palace," Fagan told the Daily Mail in November 2020 after the episode of The Crown aired. "It was a fiction, I wouldn't have a go at the Queen."

Fagan was later sent to a psychiatric hospital for three months after he was apprehended trying to leave Buckingham Palace. Some serious questions were asked about the security arrangements around the Royal Family - this was, after all, only two years after John Lennon was murdered by a "fan" outside his home in New York. The year before Fagan's trespass, US President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded by a man who was trying to impress actress and Reagan critic Jodie Foster.

As for The Smiths... The Queen Is Dead was released on 16 June 1986 and went to Number 2 in the UK charts. It's widely thought to be the Manchester band's best album.