What Was the Tampongate Scandal and Why Isn't 'The Crown' Covering It?

Laura Martin
·4-min read
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

From Esquire

The Crown is sometimes accused of overly sensationalising the real-life stories of the Royal family, but there’s one famous moment from the 80s that even series writer Peter Morgan chose to steer clear of.

Had Morgan dreamt up the storyline and dialogue of Prince Charles telling his then-mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, that he wished he could be reincarnated as a tampon, so he could live inside her, the audience would have surely deemed it crass and too far-fetched.

But, as we’ve often found out by running to Wikipedia at the end of each episode, the truth is much stranger than fiction. And, absolutely mortifying to all involved, Tampongate was one bloody scandal that rocked British society in January 1993.

The press had an absolute field day when, just three months after Charles and Princess Diana had formally separated, a full transcript of a ‘sexy’ telephone call between Charles and Camilla in 1989 was printed in the People newspaper.

Under a headline ‘Charles and Camilla - the tape’, the explicit six-minute phone call went into excruciating detail as the long-time lovers fantasised about being intimate with each other. Even worse, there was full audio to accompany it, thanks to a rogue radio enthusiast who had stumbled upon the chat using a hi-tech scanning device.

30 years on, their conversation is still body-shudderingly cringeful.

Photo credit: Serge Lemoine - Getty Images
Photo credit: Serge Lemoine - Getty Images

Early on in the call, the couple - both married to other people at the time - dabbled in double entendres, before going full-on raunch:

CHARLES: Oh stop! I want to feel my way along you, all over you and up and down you and in and out . . .

CAMILLA: Oh!

CHARLES: Particularly in and out.

CAMILLA: Oh, that's just what I need at the moment.

CHARLES: Is it?

Then - in an idea that they probably both still wake up in a cold sweat about even now - they went...even deeper:

CHARLES: Oh, God. I’ll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!

CAMILLA: (laughing) What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers? (Both laugh). Oh, you’re going to come back as a pair of knickers.

CHARLES: Or, God forbid, a Tampax. Just my luck! (Laughs)

CAMILLA: You are a complete idiot! (Laughs) Oh, what a wonderful idea

Then the conversations veers off into more the sort of chat you’d expect from an older couple as they discuss the quickest way to get to Bowood, a suggested meeting place [CHARLES: Oh, right. What do you do? Go on the M25 then down the M4 is it? CAMILLA: Yes, you go, um, and sort of Royston or M11, at that time of night], but the damage had been done.

According to Princess Diana’s former personal protection officer, Ken Wharfe, in his book Guarding Diana: Protecting The Princess Around The World: “The backlash was savage. Establishment figures normally loyal to the future King and country were appalled, and some questioned the Prince’s suitability to rule.”

It once again highlighted the Royal family’s obsession with appearances and reputation - with the opinion that Charles had brought shame on the family. Even Diana, who had known of her ex-husbands transgressions with Camilla since before her wedding was said to have been “genuinely shocked” - and said repeatedly about the tampon comment: “It’s just sick”, according to Wharfe.

The Crown has not pulled any punches in avoiding controversial Royal history in series four; choosing to focus on the Queen’s disabled cousins abandoned by the Royal family, Diana’s bulimia and of course, Charles’ ongoing affair with Camilla and the cruel, mistreatment of his young wife.

But it seems we’ve got Josh O’Connor - who plays Prince Charles - to blame for this particular salacious part of royal history not making it to the small screen. In fact, O’Connor told SiriusXM that he practically made it a condition of his contract that he wouldn’t be forced to act in a reconstruction of Tampongate.

“When they offered me the role,” he said. “One of my first questions was — I say questions, I think it was pretty much a statement — ‘We are not doing the tampon phone call’."

He explained that he was thinking about his parents and his acting legacy: “This was my one chance for my parents to see something with no shame and there’s no way I was going to scuttle that by talking about tampons on Netflix.”

He added: “All the fans of Tampongate will be very disappointed.”

But Charles and Camilla are breathing a huge sigh of relief at Highgrove.

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