Times The Royal Family's Security Was Completely Compromised

It's no secret that the British royal family is one of the most heavily guarded dynasties in the world. The British royal family spends millions of pounds a year making sure that security is tight both at home, and when they venture out to events to greet their (hopefully) adoring public. However, no matter how many man-hours go into locking down a street or patrolling the halls of Buckingham Palace, security breaches can — and do — happen, more often than you think.

Over the years, there have been some truly terrifying encounters that the royals won't forget in a hurry, from kidnap attempts to projectiles. Despite the security teams' best efforts, breaches do occur. After all, when you're dealing with enormous crowds and palaces that are over 830,000 square feet, it's difficult to maintain a tight perimeter all the time. Some of these security breaches were near misses, while others were just a day in the life of the House of Windsor. Let's take a look at some of the most jaw-dropping security gaffes royals were subjected to, from a brush with a convicted murderer to bribery.

The queen's private driver accepted a bribe for a private tour

One thing any member of staff employed by the royal family knows is that the monarch's safety is totally paramount. Above all else, the king or queen must be taken care of and protected at all costs. It's part of the reason that employees are so heavily vetted. Not just anyone can be put in a position of trust, especially the monarch's chauffeur who must ensure they are delivered from A to B without a hitch. In 2009, Queen Elizabeth II's driver put her in harm's way for his own personal gain.

As ABC News reported at the time, some reporters claiming to be Middle Eastern businessmen gave driver Brian Sirjusingh around £1,000 to take a look at the queen's collection of cars. Evidently, Sirjusingh agreed to take the reporters into the inner sanctum of the garage without so much as a thought. After the palace found out about this unapproved tour, Sirjusingh was suspended from his duties. 

Per the Daily Mail, former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent Dai Davies noted the seriousness of the infraction. "I find it remarkable that anyone can enter the royal garage, for example, without having to pass through even a basic security swipe on the door," he said. "The Queen deserves better protection than that. Terrorist sleeper cells are a worry to our security services at the moment and just because someone passes a vetting procedure once, doesn't mean that they will never prove a danger in the future."

A man casually strolled past a strict security cordon

When the royals appear in public, it's important that cordons are put in place to stop things from getting out of control. Even well-meaning fans can get a little too excited and no one wants the royals to be swarmed. The police and security teams are so well-practiced at doing these cordons that they usually go off without a hitch, but shortly before King Charles III's coronation, one man casually came within touching distance of Prince William and Princess Catherine.

Per the Mirror, when Catherine and William paid a visit to a Soho pub in 2023, they were greeted by a sea of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the prince and princess. Of course, there was a security team present as well as barriers between the royals and the commoners — but that did not stop one gentleman from accidentally wandering into the no-fly zone and walking right next to the royal couple. 

A security guard confirmed that the man posed no threat — he really was just trying to cut through the crowd with his shopping bag and get on with his day of errands — and Catherine smiled at the gaffe. Regardless, it was still a bit unnerving to see someone get so close to the royals with such ease.

A man broke into Queen Elizabeth II's chamber while she was sleeping

Perhaps the most famous security breach of all time came in 1982 when Queen Elizabeth II woke up to find a strange man in her bedroom. As The New York Times reported following the incident, Michael Fagan managed to break into Buckingham Palace by scaling a fence and entering through an unlocked window, before walking through the residence for around 15 minutes without raising suspicion. According to Scotland Yard's police report, "Fagan entered Her Majesty's bedroom at about 7:15 A.M. carrying one piece of the broken ashtray, with which he has said that he intended to slash his wrists in the presence of Her Majesty. He claimed that he had not entered the palace with this intention but that it formed in his mind for the first time when he saw the ashtray." 

Thankfully, Fagan did no such thing, but the rude awakening was enough to leave Elizabeth incredibly shaken. At the time, there was no guard outside her room and despite raising the alarm using the telephone next to her, it was several minutes before anybody arrived. As for why Fagan did what he did, no one really knows. He once blamed his behavior on hallucinogenic drugs, but also stated he was in love with the sovereign. Perhaps surprisingly, Fagan was never jailed for this incredible security breach, but he did spend time in a mental hospital after being tried for an unrelated crime.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were cut off

When Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, decided they wanted out of the royal family and stepped down as senior royals, they were cut off from their security detail. Even though they decided to take a step back from the monarchy, Harry is and will always be a prince — and princes are still at risk. However, the Royal and VIP Executive Committee evidently didn't quite see it that way and decided it would no longer fund police protection for the couple. Harry and Meghan have paid for their own security team since, but they've had a few close calls, such as a paparazzi chase that they dubbed "near catastrophic" in 2023. 

The incident took place after the couple left an awards ceremony at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York in May. According to the couple, they were chased by paparazzi for over an hour, with their press secretary Ashley Hansen telling Sky News, "I have never experienced their vulnerability as much as I did last night. They were incredibly scared and shaken up. There were several times where the car stopped and security got out. There were instances where the police confronted the paparazzi and had asked them to stop or give them space, to do this safely. Unfortunately, that wish was not respected." Another spokesperson for Harry explained that there were many near-misses during the frantic time on the road.

An intruder stayed the night at Windsor Castle

Royal estates are rather large, so getting into them undetected may not always be as difficult as it sounds. The Windsor Castle main complex covers over 13 acres of land, while the entire estate, including Home Park and Windsor Great Park, is over 5,000 acres. It's an enormous piece of property to protect. In 2022, a man managed to get into the barracks with the Royal Guardsmen, just a short distance from Queen Elizabeth II's permanent residence in Windsor Castle. This man not only pretended to be a priest but a friend of one of the guards. According to reports, he wasn't asked to show any proof of who he was and instead was welcomed to eat, drink, and be merry, and was even given lodgings.

There didn't seem to be any cause for alarm initially, but guards did eventually call the police the following morning. Per BBC News, an army spokesperson addressed the incident in a statement: "The Army takes this breach of security extremely seriously and it will be thoroughly investigated as a matter of priority. This incident is now part of an ongoing investigation and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment further at this time." As for Elizabeth, she thankfully wasn't home when the intruder managed to clamber his way onto her land as she was staying at another estate.

An armed man approached Buckingham Palace days before the coronation

While security is always tight around the royals, special events are treated with extra care. The more people in attendance, the bigger the spectacle is, and the higher the risk to the royal family. The coronation of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, was one of the biggest royal events in history, meaning police and security had to be on top form. However, less than a week before the historic occasion could take place, that security was put to the test. As BBC News reported at the time, a man was detained in front of Buckingham Palace in May 2023 after he was caught chucking things like shotgun cartridges through the gates. Once he was detained, officers detonated the bag he had with him as a safety measure. 

Camilla and Charles were not home, and the man did not cross the threshold, but the gilded cage was still rattled. Thankfully, it did not escalate. As Minister of Security Tom Tugendhat told BBC News, "As you saw last night, the police and security services are absolutely ready to intervene when necessary."

As for the coronation, over 2,200 officials were in attendance, as well as thousands upon thousands of well-wishers lining the streets. Given the scale, it's a small miracle this was the only incident of note.

Sarah, Duchess of York, accepted money to give access to Prince Andrew

Sarah, Duchess of York, isn't a stranger to scandal. As the ex-wife of Prince Andrew, it's simply part of her life. However, this 2010 media frenzy was a beast of her own making and one of the only times on record where a security breach came from one of the members of the family. In one of the most tasteless scandals in royal history, Sarah was caught out accepting £500,000 in exchange to give a businessman "access" to Prince Andrew in 2010. The businessman was actually an undercover reporter for News of the World, Mazher Mahmood. What's more, she was caught on film.

The shady meeting took place in a London apartment, away from the prying eyes of the public — but not from hidden tape recorders. Per The Guardian, Sarah can be seen negotiating with the fake businessman, telling him, "That opens up everything you would ever wish for. I can open any door you want, and I will for you. Look after me and he'll look after you ... you'll get it back tenfold." 

When the report came out, Sarah was understandably left red-faced, releasing a statement that expressed her regret at ever considering the deal and blaming it on a dire financial situation. As for Prince Andrew, he denied having any knowledge about his ex-wife's shenanigans. Amazingly, it didn't seem to damage their post-divorce relationship, with the former couple continuing to live together to this day.

Queen Elizabeth II was shot at six times in 1981

At the 1981 Trooping the Colour ceremony, gunshots rang out. As the Independent recounted, the assailant, 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant, tried to shoot at Queen Elizabeth II, firing off six shots in her direction. The bullets were actually blanks, but no one knew that in that moment. The series of blasts scared the crowd, the royal, and the horse she was riding. A volunteer first air worker named John Heasman was the first to grab Sarjeant. Fortunately, no one was hurt. 

The ceremony continued, despite the shocking — and potentially tragic — incident. In a strange twist of events, the teen assailant sent a letter to the queen ahead of the event warning her not to attend. Evidently, the note got lost in the mail, as it did not show up to the palace for another few days. Upon his immediate arrest, Sarjeant said, "I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a somebody." After getting charged with violating section 2 of the Treason Act 1842, Sarjeant spent three years in prison. 

Heasman was later invited to meet the queen so she could thank him for his heroic actions in person. "She told me 'you know you've done a brave thing,' I said 'not really Ma'am I just turned around and held on to the gun in a certain position,' but obviously at the time no-one knew it was a blank gun," he recalled, per the Evening Standard.

Princess Anne was almost kidnapped

In 1974, Princess Anne was on her way back to Buckingham Palace with her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, after attending yet another charity gala. While the drive home started out as normal, it soon took a sinister turn when their journey was interrupted by another vehicle driven by a man named Ian Ball. As Tatler recounted, Ball then shot at Anne's driver and security detail before approaching the royal and asking her to get out of the car. Evidently, he hoped to hold her ransom for £2 million.

Despite the incredibly chaotic and undeniably scary situation, Anne remained calm and collected, even replying, "Not bloody likely." Before things could escalate further, a random civilian named Ronnie Russell jumped into action. Turns out, Russell was a boxer, and his punch was enough to stop Ball entirely. While Anne remained unharmed, her bodyguard Jim Beaton was shot in the shoulder and hand. Beaton's own gun jammed in the middle of the attack.

In 1983, Anne sat down with Michael Parkinson and reflected upon the kidnapping attempt. While, of course, it was a serious incident, the royal still managed to inject some humor into the retelling. "I was scrupulously polite because I thought it was silly to be too rude at that stage," she deadpanned. "We had a fairly low-key discussion about the fact that I wasn't going to go anywhere, and wouldn't it be much better if he just went away and we'd all forget about it."

A convicted murderer managed to get into Buckingham Palace's garden

In yet another incident of a suspicious person getting too close for comfort, an intruder made his way onto Buckingham Palace grounds in 2016. Per the Evening Standard, the assailant, 41-year-old Dennis Hennessy, climbed the walls of the residence, damaged the security system, and proceeded to wander around for several minutes before he was apprehended by security staff. "He was located in the grounds by officers and arrested without incident — our security measures worked effectively and ensured the safety of those within the Palace," Commander Adrian Usher, the head of London police's Royalty and Specialist Protection unit, said, per Reuters

The very notion of a stranger getting close to Queen Elizabeth II is enough to unsettle most, but Hennessy had a violent past that added an unnerving layer to the entire situation.

At the time of the incident, Hennessy was out on parole after being convicted of murdering an unhoused man in 1992. The perpetrator returned to jail after trying to pay Elizabeth a visit, serving four months for trespassing on a protected site and causing damage to the grounds. Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, were in residence at the time, but were undisturbed by the ruckus.

King Charles III and Camilla were pelted with eggs

As far as security breaches go, a royal getting egged isn't exactly at the top of the threat list, but it's still a breach. Per the Mirror, King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort were greeting crowds in York in 2022 when a protestor threw eggs at them and yelled, "This country was built on the blood of slaves." Security quickly tackled the offender to the floor, while Charles paused briefly to look at the cracked shells beside him, before continuing to shake hands with well-wishers.

The vast majority of onlookers quickly started a rousing chorus of "God save the King", presumably to bolster Charles' spirits. None of the eggs hit him or Camilla, and like the consummate professionals they are, the king and his wife continued their day, taking little notice of the disturbance. 

It wasn't the first time that a senior royal has come under this sort of fire. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, Queen Elizabeth II was egged while visiting New Zealand in 1986. She later made light of the moment in a speech, quipping, "New Zealand has long been renowned for its dairy produce, though I should say that I myself prefer my New Zealand eggs for breakfast."

Princess Diana's phone was reportedly bugged on the night of her death

Princess Diana's time with the royal family was plagued with upset. The early days of her marriage to King Charles III looked idyllic from an outsider's perspective, but behind the scenes, things were quickly unraveling. By the '90s, she was one of the most influential people in the world but also the source of much tabloid speculation, especially after their divorce. Diana's untimely death thanks to a paparazzi chase was a security breach within itself, but that wasn't the only thing that happened that night. 

According to the Observer (via The Guardian), the U.S. Secret Service reportedly tapped Princess Diana's hotel phone on the night of her fatal car accident. The British security services (and the princess) remained none the wiser. It was yet another violation of privacy in what would become a very tragic story.

Scotland Yard reportedly found that agents tapped Diana's Ritz hotel phone line to listen in to the calls she made while staying there. However, the Secret Service disputed the claims, telling NBC News, "The Secret Service had nothing to do with it." Diana believed her phone had been bugged previously. What's more, King Charles III fell prey to the same problems when an intimate phone call between him and then-married Camilla, Queen Consort, was recorded and released.