The true story behind 'Tampongate' in The Crown season 5

Olivia Williams as Camilla Parker Bowles and Dominic West as Prince Charles in The Crown season 5
(Image credit: HBO)

The Crown Season 5 dropped on Netflix today (November 9), and it finds director Peter Morgan reenacting some of the biggest scandals The Royal Family has seen, in the latest series of one of the best Netflix shows

In addition to the controversial Princess Diana/Martin Bashir interview, the divorces of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and Princess Anne and Mark Philips, Morgan is also tackling Tampongate, and it’s making headlines (again). Of course, beware spoilers for The Crown season 5, but you're probably already aware if you're reading this article.

But is the dialogue on screen, where Prince (now King) Charles tells Camilla Parker-Bowles that he wishes to be reincarnated as a tampon (so he could live inside her), fact or fiction? Read on to find the true story behind ‘Tampongate’. Not for you? Here’s what else is new on Netflix this week

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The true story behind ‘Tampongate’ in The Crown season 5 

As The Crown depicts, ‘Tampongate’ refers to an intimate phone conversation between long-term lovers Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. During the six-minute conversation, which was recorded by a radio enthusiast who stumbled across the chat using a scanning device, the Prince and Parker-Bowles spoke about being intimate with one another, and Charles famously spoke about being reincarnated as a Tampax (a brand of tampons). 

The phone call was printed, verbatim, in the People newspaper in January 1993, with the headline, ‘Charles and Camilla — the tape’. As if anyone could be in any doubt to the authenticity of the words said by the future King, the audio was also released. The conversation took place in 1989 when Charles was still married to Princess Diana, and Camilla was married to Andrew Parker-Bowles. 

a photo of prince charles and camilla parker bowles at the Polo in 1972

(Image credit: Getty/Hulton Deutsch / Contributor)

The infamous part of the transcript went as follows: 

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.

According to sources, the comments, and the negative press that accompanied them, rocked the palace. Princess Diana’s former personal protection offer, Ken Wharfe, wrote 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.”

In the press at the time, Prince Charles was widely criticized for the affair. Wharf has since said even Diana, who famously told Bashir “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” branded the tape as “sick”. 

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly (opens in new tab), Dominic West, who plays Prince Charles in the fifth season of The Crown, spoke about the handling of this particular scene. I remember thinking it was something so sordid and deeply, deeply embarrassing [at the time]," West said. "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."

(L to R) Dominic West as Charles and Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in The Crown season 5

(Image credit: Keith Bernstein)

West added that he and Olivia Williams, who plays Camilla Parker-Bowles, approached the storyline with "sympathy" for their characters. "We both felt that we wanted to do right by our characters," he said. "We felt the odds were slightly stacked against their relationship and we wanted to try and bring it across in as sympathetic a light as we could."

This is at odds with Season 4’s Prince Charles, Josh O’Connor, who said in an interview with SiriusXM (opens in new tab), “When they offered me the role, 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’."

The Crown Season 5 is available to stream on Netflix now. 

Next: Here's everything we know about the final season of The Crown season 6. And I finally started The Crown on Netflix — and I'm kicking myself for waiting.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.