Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 her “annus horribilis”, or horrible year, in a speech marking the 40e year of his reign, saying, “1992 is not a year I will look back on with unmitigated pleasure. In the words of one of my friendliest correspondents, he turned out to be an “Annus Horribilis”.
The marriages of three of his four children have ended; there was a fire at his beloved home, Windsor Castle; and the publication of a racy book and the leaking of phone conversations from Princess Diana and Prince Charles to their lovers – known as the “Squidgygate Tapes” and “Camillagate”, respectively – added scandal to a year in which taxpayers questioned the cost of the royal family. The media’s scrutiny of these issues has exacerbated the Queen’s private pain.
Divorce and separation
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1992 was a bad year for royal weddings. In March, the Queen’s son Prince Andrew split from Sarah Ferguson. Ferguson will reappear in the headlines in August when the tabloids publish photos of her having her feet kissed by American businessman John Bryan in the south of France. “The worst thing for the British public was that their young daughters were present and a taxpayer-funded policeman was arguing on a nearby deck chair,” former BBC royal correspondent Michael Cole said.
In April, the Queen’s only daughter, Princess Anne, divorced Mark Phillips, her husband of 18 years. And in December, Prince Charles, heir to the throne, split from Princess Diana after a year of tabloid coverage that aired their marital troubles to the world in a media blitz known as ‘The Welsh War’.
Royal separations and scandals became fodder for critics of the monarchy like then Labor MP Dennis Skinner, who said: ‘It is high time we stopped this charade of swearing allegiance to the Queen and to his heirs and successors, while we know no time to time who they are.
Andrew Morton releases ‘Diana: Her True Story’
by Andrew Morton Diana: her true story caused a stir when it was published in 1992. It named Camilla Parker Bowles as Prince Charles’ lover and detailed Diana’s struggles with mental health and bulimia.
“The Book of Morton effectively shattered the mystique of monarchy,” says Carly Ledbetter, a senior HuffPost reporter who covers the royal family. “One could easily conclude that The Firm was messy, that he was human and that he wasn’t as inscrutable as everyone thought.”
It was not until Princess Diana’s death in 1997 that it was revealed that she had cooperated with Morton on the book, providing him with material and recordings via Dr James Colthurst.
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‘Squidgygate’ and ‘Camillagate’ tapes leaked
In August 1992, The inspector published transcripts of a private telephone conversation between Princess Diana and car dealer James Gilbey from New Year’s Eve 1989. The intimacy of the conversation and its reference to the Princess Bride as ‘sweetheart’ and ‘squidgey’ sparked a scandal…alongside Diana’s comments about “everything I’ve done for this fucking family.” “The public and royal watchers around the world couldn’t get enough of the intimate details,” says Ledbetter. “People were torn between horror and fascination.”
“Squidgygate” was quickly overshadowed by the revelation in November of a private call between then-Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. It was nicknamed “Camillagate”, then “Tampongate” for a particularly intimate wish that Charles expressed to Camilla over the phone. “He was an object of international ridicule,” says Cole. “The royal family has become less popular in public esteem.”
“Tampongate and Squidgeygate have had – and continue to have – a huge impact on the credibility of the royal family,” says Ledbetter. “The recorded phone calls had a huge impact on the public perception of the heir to the throne and called into question Charles’ ability to ever be king.”
Windsor Castle fire
On November 20, 1992, a fire broke out at Windsor Castle which burned for 15 hours and caused an estimated $47.5 million in damage. The historic royal house was first built by William the Conqueror in 1070. Valuable artwork and furnishings were saved from the fire by a human chain that included palace staff and Prince Andrew.
The fire at Windsor Castle was devastating for the Queen, who had spent much of her childhood and teenage years there. “She considered it her home because she spent most of World War II there,” Cole says. “She was not evacuated to Canada. The Queen Mother said: “The children will not leave without me. I will not leave the king. And the king will never leave [England].'” Windsor Castle was also the site of Elizabeth’s beloved Royal Windsor Horse Show, which she had attended every year since its inception in 1943.
The fire has renewed public scrutiny of the cost associated with maintaining the Royal Family. Windsor Castle is owned by the crown, not the monarch personally, and there has been debate over who would pay for repairs, particularly Prime Minister John Major’s suggestion that the public foot the bill. Labor politicians like Alan Williams, a member of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, implored the Queen to pay him out of his untaxed earnings, arguing the fire was an example of “the inconsistency in the relationship between the monarchy and the taxpayer”.
Queen Elizabeth acted quickly. To fund repairs, she opened parts of Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time. In another shrewd move, she volunteered to start paying income tax, a tax the sovereign had been exempt from since 1937. She also reduced the civil list, the number of royals whose expenses are paid by parliament. To make up the difference, she used her income from the inherited Duchy of Lancaster. “She always believed in keeping up with the times,” says Cole. “It was a symbolic effort to join the real world.”
The queen calls for “gentleness” and “good humor”
The Annus Horribilis Speech, as it is now known, marked the end of a difficult 40e year in power for Queen Elizabeth II. She concluded with an appeal for kindness: “No institution…should expect to be immune from scrutiny by those who extend their loyalty and support to it, let alone those who do not. . But we are all part of the same fabric of our national society and… control… can be just as effective if done with a touch of gentleness, good humor and understanding.
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