The Crown: Who was Michael Shea?

Isobel Lewis
·1-min read
Nicholas Farrell as Michael Shea in ‘The Crown' (Netflix)
Nicholas Farrell as Michael Shea in ‘The Crown' (Netflix)

The Crown has returned for its fourth season, with the new series focusing on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Things come to a head between the pair in episode eight, “48:1" after Thatcher refuses to cooperate with the Commonwealth in backing sanctions on South Africa in response to Apartheid in the country.

The Queen shares her frustration with her press secretary Michael Shea (played by Nicholas Farrell) and the story is leaked to The Sunday Times with the headline: “Queen dismayed by ‘uncaring’ Thatcher”, the article claiming that the PM was “confrontational and socially divisive”.

In The Crown, the Queen denies speaking to the press, with Shea leaving royal service a few months after the controversy.

The real-life Shea started off his career as a diplomat, finding himself in the Queen’s service for the first time after helping to arrange her official visit to the US in 1976. He became her press secretary two years later in 1978.

<p>Nicholas Farrell as Michael Shea in ‘The Crown’</p>Netflix

Nicholas Farrell as Michael Shea in ‘The Crown’

Netflix

In 1986, after The Sunday Times story leaked to the press, Shea was the number one suspect, with MPs calling for him to resign if responsible.

The Queen’s private secretary confirmed that he had been the contact, but argued that his comments had been misrepresented.

He went on to write more than 20 books, the majority political thrillers, under both his own name and the pseudonym Michael Sinclair.

Shea left the royal service in 1987, but always denied any connection to the controversy.

He died in 2009, aged 71.

You can read The Independent’s four-star review of The Crown season four here.

The Crown is available to stream on Netflix.

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