The Netflix historical drama recreates one of the more scandalous moments in the royal family's history.
As previously confirmed by Dominic West, who takes over as Prince Charles in the final two installments of The Crown, season 5 features the infamous leaked phone call between the then-heir to the throne and Camilla Parker Bowles (played by Olivia Williams).
In the episode, "The Way Ahead," the conversation known as Camillagate – or Tampongate by others – is recreated by the two actors as creator Peter Morgan's historical drama covers the royal family's many scandals that became public during the early 1990s.
Here's the story behind that recording, in which Charles is heard comparing himself to one of Camilla's tampons, and what the actors think about performing that scene on the series today.
When the Call First Took Place
The call between Charles and Camilla first took place in December 1989, as the prince was preparing to give a speech at Oxford about the teaching of the English language in schools. (This was a topic of great concern to the royal, who the New York Times reported had "been commenting on the way the citizens of today's Britain speak and write their own language," complaining that there was "a 'fundamental problem' about the way English is taught in British schools.)
At the time, Charles was visiting the Cheshire home of Anne Grosvenor, the Duchess of Westminster who was also known as Nancy, when he made the six-minute call to Camilla, who was at her residence with her family, including her then-husband Andrew Parker Bowles, and mentioned her son's upcoming birthday.
What Was Actually Said
While Charles and Camilla initially discuss the speech at hand, the conversation becomes flirtatious, with the prince eventually making reference to her tampons, which is the most notorious part of the transcript:
Camilla: "Mmmm, so do I. I need you all the week. All the time."
Charles: "Oh, God. I'll just live inside your trousers, or something. It would be much easier!"
Camilla: "What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers? ...Oh, you're, you're going to come back as a pair of knickers!"
Charles: "Or, God forbid, a Tampax! Just my luck!"
Camilla: "You are a complete idiot! Oh, what a wonderful idea!"
Charles: "My luck to be chucked down the lavatory and go on and on, forever swirling round on the top, never going down."
Camilla: "Oh, darling!"
Charles: "Until the next one comes through."
Camilla: "Oh, perhaps you could come back as a box."
Charles: "What sort of box?"
Camilla: "A box of Tampax, so you could just keep going."
Charles: "That's true."
When the Call Became Public
While recorded in 1989, the phone call wasn't leaked in the press until years later, in 1993. According to The Mirror, the transcript of the call was published by People in January of that year, just one month after Charles and Princess Diana announced their separation in December of 1992.
The Mirror also reports that "the tape sent shockwaves through royal spheres as both were married at the time of the conversation. It also triggered Camilla’s divorce from Andrew Parker Bowles because it made his position as the Duchess of Cornwall’s husband untenable although all three remained friends."
It also had a lasting effect on Charles, who author Howard Hodgson wrote in Charles - The Man Who Will Be King that "he remains deeply ashamed of the embarrassment that he caused his mother, deeply sorry for the pain it caused both his and Camilla’s children."
Not only that, but Diana reportedly was disgusted by the conversation, calling the recording "sick." Though, the late princess was the subject of her own scandal, when a conversation between her and James Gilbey was leaked to the press in 1992. The incident became known as Squidgygate because of the way Gilbey referred to Diana as Squidgy.
Depiction on 'The Crown'
To the surprise of many longtime fans of the series, Camillagate was not featured in season 4, when Josh O'Connor and Emerald Fennell were portraying Charles and Camilla from 1979 to 1990. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor explained that when they offered him the role his first question was about the scandal. "I think it was pretty much a statement — 'We are not doing the tampon phone call,'" he recalled being told.
Years later, West and Williams recreated the call (largely in full) during a flashback scene that opens episode 5. Prior to season 5's debut on Netflix, West revealed in an interview with EW that the call would be featured on the series.
"I remember thinking it was something so sordid and deeply, deeply embarrassing [at the time]," he said of the call. "Looking back on it, and having to play it, what you're conscious of is that the blame was not with these two people, two lovers, who were having a private conversation."
"What's really [clear now] is how invasive and disgusting was the press's attention to it, that they printed it out verbatim and you could call a number and listen to the actual tape. I think it made me extremely sympathetic towards the two of them and what they'd gone through." West said.
While speaking ET, Williams echoed her co-star's sentiment. "The thing that I felt most strongly having read the transcript and the script is that they were joking. It's a joke. It's a self-deprecating joke. It may not be your sense of humor, but the way it was represented as some sort of sexual fantasy is not representative of what was said and what happened in the conversation," she says.
"It was extraordinary to play, actually, because I remember it as being something other than what it came out as when we played it," West says now.
"Really, the point of that scene isn't what was said. It's the fact that it was recorded and kept for two years and then released by the press at the point that it could do maximum damage to the crown," Williams adds.
If nothing else, it was a moment that was unavoidable -- and couldn't be overlooked in the series, especially considering how many people were asking for it earlier on.
"I mean, Peter said there's a lot of what he writes about is what he wants to write but there are certain things that if he doesn't tackle, you know, people wonder why," West points out, explaining that "these things [are in] the popular imagination. I think that particular event reimagined in this season is particularly interesting and I think it'll puts a very different light on what happened."