Phone Hacking Scandals That Rocked The Royal Family

In many ways, members of the British royal family belong to the people of the Commonwealth. After all, British taxpayers help fund the family's luxurious lifestyle. And, in return, royals must expose their lives to the public, televising important family events, like royal weddings, and allowing viewers a glimpse into their mysterious world of protocol and fancy dinners.

However, while the British public certainly enjoys keeping up with the royals' shenanigans, it remains unclear just how much insight they are actually owed into their lives. While it may seem fine for tabloids to talk about Princess Catherine's favorite workout routine, for example, it might be considered more invasive to discuss the actual state of her physical health. Likewise, reporting on how Prince Harry popped the question to Meghan Markle could be construed as cute. Meanwhile, knowing the duke's pet name for her could be more of a violation of privacy. 

Unfortunately, from a historical perspective, the British press has rarely respected these fine lines between public interest journalism and salacious sensationalism. This became all the more clear in 2023, when Prince Harry accused tabloid conglomerate Mirror Group Newspapers of illegally hacking his phone to obtain information about his personal life. Sadly, this is not the only time U.K. tabloids have been accused of similar privacy violations. From Princess Diana's Squidgygate embarrassment to Prince William's pillow talk revelation, these are some of the most invasive royal phone hacking scandals of all time.


Princess Diana and King Charles III may have had a fairy tale wedding, but the pair did not exactly live 'happily ever after.' While the couple was still engaged, Diana realized that Charles was helplessly in love with the future queen, Camilla Parker-Bowles. The naive young princess ignored the red flags and married Charles anyway, a decision that led to years of extramarital affairs and overall discontent for all parties involved.

Unfortunately, in 1992, Charles and Diana's unhappiness was revealed to the world after a royal phone hacking scandal. The British tabloid The Sun published transcripts of a deeply personal phone call between Diana and her dear friend, James Gilbey. In this conversation, Diana and Gilbey sent each other kisses and referred to each other by pet names. Gilbey, in particular, called Diana "darling" and "squidgy." At one point in the tape, he told her, "Squidgy, kiss me. Oh, God. It's so wonderful, isn't it, this sort of feeling. Don't you like it?" (via The Washington Post). To all of this, Diana responded enthusiastically, "I love it, I love it."

After this conversation was published, royal fans from across the world pored over every word exchanged between Diana and her friend. Astonished by Gilbey's unconventional nickname for the princess, the public nicknamed the scandal "Squidgygate." Sadly, though, this exchange never should have reached the public's view; tabloids likely obtained this transcript after Diana's phone was wiretapped. 


When 'Squidygate' first hit the press, it was viewed as one of the most compromising royal phone hacking scandals of all time. However, it would not take long for that to change. In 1993, just months after Princess Diana's private conversation was aired, numerous tabloids printed King Charles III and then Camilla Parker-Bowles. The extremely private exchange, which is now remembered as "Tampongate," was taped when both Charles and Camilla were still married to other people. In this conversation, Charles famously told Camilla that he might come back in the next life as her "Tampax." He also joked, "Oh, God. I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier" (via Insider).

Tampongate ultimately proved humiliating to all parties involved. Its explicit content made it clear to the world that neither the prince of Wales nor his so-called "friend" Camilla were being faithful to their respective partners. Indeed, the scandal ultimately led Camilla and her then-husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles, to officially call it quits. It also cast Charles in a negative light, cluing the public in to the fact that he cheated on Diana over the course of their marriage. 

In the eyes of Diana's former bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, Charles suffered greatly following this incident. As Wharfe wrote in his book, "Guarding Diana: Protecting The Princess Around The World" (via Esquire), "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."

Diana's personal conversations with Michael Barrymore were aired

In the 1980s and 1990s, Princess Diana was arguably the biggest celebrity out there. Consequently, the princess of Wales often found herself bombarded by paparazzi, tabloid rumors, and overall press attention. As the media seemed to track her every move, it seemed that Diana had very few people she could rely on. For a time, however, the princess was able to connect with the actor Michael Barrymore, who was also being stalked by paparazzi and journalists.

After Diana and Barrymore first crossed paths in 1997, the princess mailed the actor a letter, encouraging him to call her. As reported by the Daily Mail, Diana wrote, "Dear Michael. What joy it was to finally meet you tonight. I did want to emphasize that I'm here for you – whenever. It's very easy to pop round and see you or please telephone now you have my number. You're doing just fine and believe me, I know." This note marked the beginning of a short yet intense friendship between Diana and Barrymore, who relied on the princess emotionally as he grappled with his sexual identity.

Tragically, however, the Daily Mirror published an article detailing Diana and Barrymore's highly personal phone calls. Perhaps unaware of the issue of phone hacking, Barrymore blamed Diana for the leaked information and did not reply to her apology letter. Ultimately, this incident left both celebrities feeling more isolated than ever.

Princess Diana's boyfriend, Hasnat Khan, also suffered from phone hacking

It is not easy falling in love with a British royal, and no commoner may be as aware of this as Hasnat Khan. As a lung and heart surgeon, Khan was living a fairly normal life before he fell for Princess Diana. However, as soon as he got involved with the Princess of Wales, Khan's life was turned completely upside down. He became a major target not only for the paparazzi, but also for tabloid journalists. In 2012, it was revealed that reporters likely tampered with the surgeon's phone in order to listen in on the personal voicemails he left for Diana.

When the information came to light, Khan expressed disgust and dismay. Speaking to the Daily Mail, the doctor shared, "To know that someone has been listening to your private messages is awful. It is absolutely terrible. It feels as if you have been robbed. We live in the UK. We are supposed to have civil liberties. I feel really, really violated. I am very angry." In many ways, Khan's reaction is unsurprising. After all, most commoners would be astonished to realize that you don't have to be a royal to get sucked into a royal phone hacking scandal.

Interestingly, following the news, Khan publicly defended Diana, saying, "There is no way at all that Diana was mentally unstable. There is nothing wrong with expecting your husband to be faithful and being angry when he isn't."

Prince Harry's privacy was threatened by Diana's hacked phone

Prince Harry has long complained about the British news media, and with good reason. In addition to the intense stalking that he has received as an adult, Harry experienced several violations of his privacy during his early years. This is especially clear in the written statement that Harry submitted to the civil suit against Mirror Group Newspapers in 2023. Among other things, the document alleges that the press used illegal means, like phone hacking, to monitor the young Harry through his mother's phone.

According to Harry's account, one example of this occurred on his twelfth birthday. Apparently, Princess Diana came and picked Harry up from school, a fact that was covered in the papers the following day. Compellingly, however, it seemed that the tabloids had startling insight into the personal thoughts of the young prince. As per Harry's witness statement, one "article also reveals that I was 'distressed' at the ill health of Paddy Whiteland, a gardener that used to work with my father who we were all close to, along with saying that I was taking the divorce of my parents 'badly'" (via The New York Times). 

Reflecting on what it was like to have his private tribulations shared with the world at such a tender age, Harry explained, "Having every detail of your family life played out publicly is particularly difficult as a child." Indeed, royal phone hacking scandals do not just impact adults.

Prince William's opinions about Paul Burrell were leaked

Back in the 1990s, Paul Burrell was known as Princess Diana's trusted butler and good friend. However, as time went on, members of the royal family began to doubt his good will. After all, following Diana's tragic 1997 death, Burrell published several tell-all books that betrayed some of her most intimate secrets. In the view of the princess' sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, this behavior was unacceptable. To try to stop Burrell from doing any more damage to the royal family, the boys phoned each other to come up with a plan.

Unfortunately for the princes, their private conversations about Burrell leaked to the press. In 2003, The People reported that William wanted to meet with Burrell, much to Harry's chagrin. According to Harry's witness statement in a 2023 civil suit against the Mirror Group Newspapers, this was report was eerily accurate. The Duke of Sussex wrote, "The article accurately sets out the position that my brother was open to fixing a meeting with Paul to discuss his ongoing exposés about our mother, however I had made up my mind about the kind of person I thought Paul was and was firmly against meeting him" (via The New York Times). 

In the lawsuit, Harry alleged that the tabloid gathered this information via a royal phone hacking incident. Harry also claimed that the outlet quoted him using the voicemails he had left on William's phone.

Paul Burrell said that his phone was hacked

It's hardly a secret that Prince Harry and Prince William are not huge Paul Burrell fans. For many years, Burrell was one of the people Princess Diana trusted the most. However, after she passed away, the former butler began to tell stories about the time he spent with her. Reflecting on Burrell's actions in his lawsuit against the Mirror Group Newspapers, Harry recalled, "Both my brother and I had very strong feelings about how indiscreet Paul had proven to be with the way he sold our mother's possessions and how he had given numerous interviews about her. We firmly believed that she would have expected some privacy in death" (via The New York Times).

While William and Harry reeled over Burrell's indiscretions, however, tabloids were keen to uncover everything that the butler knew. According to Burrell, journalists hacked his phone to gain insight into his connection to Diana. In an interview with Insider, Burrell explained, "If they wanted to know a story about Diana, where would they go? Who was the closest source? Well, her son, and her closest confidant, of course." This alleged violation of Burrell's privacy led him to join Harry's lawsuit against the Mirror Group Newspapers. Speaking on how the royal phone hacking scandal impacted him, the former butler told Insider, "Before the princess's death and after, I had a mobile phone. I don't have one today. And that's because the media were hacking my mobile phone."

King Charles III and Prince Harry's private conversations about the paparazzi were exposed

In the face of never-ending press scrutiny, members of the British royal family try to remain discreet in public. However, in private, they inevitably discuss this issue among themselves. Unfortunately, in 2004, these lines between private and public life were blurred. The trouble started when Prince Harry exited a nightclub, only to be immediately surrounded by a swarm of paparazzi. Years later, the prince recalled the situation in the written statement he submitted in a complaint against The Mirror Group Newspapers, "The paparazzi had me surrounded ... I couldn't even see where I was going. As I reached the car, I could hear taunting ... A camera hit me across my nose as I was opening the door, I turned, grabbed the nearest camera to me and shoved it backwards" (via The New York Times). 

Naturally, following this altercation, Harry had a serious phone conversation with his father, King Charles III. As Harry remembered, "Everyone in the family, including my father, was sympathetic to the position I was in." That being said, these private chats between Charles and Harry failed to remain under wraps. Indeed, the Mirror published an article titled "I'm sorry, Papa," which exposed the intimate details of these family conversations. In his lawsuit, Harry alleged that the press hacked his phone to inform this article. The prince wrote, "I'm not sure how the Defendant's journalists could have legitimately obtained that information."

Harry blamed phone hacking for his failed relationship with Chelsy Davy

Over the years, Prince Harry has been extremely vocal about the way the media has harassed his wife, Meghan Markle. However, Meghan is far from being the first woman to face tabloid scrutiny due to her relationship with the prince. According to a witness statement that Harry submitted to the British court system in 2023, the prince's previous romantic relationships also failed as a result of media interference. More specifically, Harry said that his romance with Zimbabwean model, Chelsy Davy, ultimately collapsed under the pressure added to the relationship by the tabloids' phone hacking strategy.

Recalling the demise of his love story with Chelsy, Harry wrote, "We could also never understand how private elements of our life together were finding their way into the tabloids, and so our circle of friends became smaller and smaller" (via The New York Times). Interestingly, Harry said that he later realized that journalists were accessing the intimate details of his relationship by hacking his voicemails. Sadly, the prince alleged, this royal phone hacking scandal led him to doubt everyone around him. It also apparently motivated Chelsy to break up with him. 

The prince explained, "I remember finding it very hard to trust anyone, which led to bouts of depression and paranoia. Of course ... this information was invariably obtained by unlawful means ... Ultimately, these factors led [Chelsy] to make the decision that a royal life was not for her."

Prince Harry said that persistent phone hacking prevented him from having any girlfriend

Unfortunately for Prince Harry, Chelsy Davy was hardly the first girl to break up with him as a result of a royal phone hacking scandal. As the prince relayed in a written statement that he submitted to the British courts in 2023, he often felt that the press wanted to ruin his romantic relationships. Harry explained, "I always felt as if the tabloids wanted me to be single, as I was much more interesting to them and sold more newspapers. Whenever I got into a relationship, they were very keen to report the details but would then, very quickly, seek to try and break it up by putting as much strain on it ... as humanly possible" (via The New York Times).

Regardless of whether the tabloids actively tried to ruin Harry's relationships, it is not difficult to understand why the prince would believe that to be the case. As per Harry's account, virtually all the women he dated were subject to phone hacking — and their families were, as well. The prince wrote, "Every time I was in a relationship or even a rumored relationship, that whole person's family, and often their friends, would be dragged into the chaos and find themselves the subject of unlawful activity [like phone hacking] on the part of [Mirror Group Newspapers]. That's horrible for anyone." Apparently, this invasion of privacy motivated girls to stay clear of Harry.

Prince William's early romance with Princess Catherine was also impacted by phone hacking

Prince Harry may have faced some challenges when it came to dating in the spotlight, but he was not the only royal to go through this. Prince William also watched at least one of his relationships flounder under the pressure of a royal phone hacking scandal. In fact, the early days of William's relationship with Princess Catherine were riddled with this type of issue. As reported by The Guardian, a jury found that British tabloids hacked Catherine's private cellphone to access her voicemails while she and William were still dating. At the time, the princess was a private citizen, making this invasion of privacy particularly egregious.

According to The Guardian, journalists listened in on the voicemails that William left for his then-girlfriend. The contents of these messages were often intimate and deeply personal. In one voicemail, the prince of Wales referred to Catherine with pet names, like "baby" and "babykins." He also initiated a bit of flirting, promising Catherine that he would send her "a cheeky text message." While this clear invasion of privacy did not, ultimately, lead to the end of William and Catherine's love story, it likely left the couple feeling violated.