For a country hell-bent on scything itself off from mainland Europe, the U.K. has begun to demonstrate an intriguingly Continental attitude when it comes to the matter of threesomes. Wherever you look, the stories to emerge from Britain this week all have a touch of the ménage à trois about them.
The first concerns what may still be the country’s most notorious threesome. For some years, The Crown has been bobbing along on a cloud of not very much. There was the episode where Princess Margaret got a bit sad, the episode where Prince Philip grew a beard, a long stretch of episodes where Queen Elizabeth pulled a face that suggested she was trying to contain a bout of gastroenteritis, and that was about it.
But Season Four, released last week, is an entirely different beast. This season is all about the good stuff: Charles and Diana and Camilla, and their complicated network of intermarital shagging. When Princess Diana announced that “there were three of us in this marriage” a quarter of a century ago, she was specifically referring to these 10 episodes of television.
The result is a sudden resurgence of interest over a dark time in royal history, and the family itself is thought to be furious at Netflix for dredging it all back up. Charles and Camilla have now been married for 15 years, Camilla is by all accounts a wonderful companion and royal wingman, and Charles will become king before too long. But The Crown has brought all the nastiness to the surface again, enhanced apparently by the production’s imagination, and tempers at the Palace are fraying.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, an insider described the series as “trolling with a Hollywood budget,” with another claiming that Prince William “feels that both his parents are being exploited.” To make matters even more excruciating, an alleged $100 million of Netflix money will be fed straight back to his own brother, as part of Prince Harry’s recently signed deal with the streaming service. Indeed, emotions are so high that there have been calls for Prince Harry to abandon Netflix altogether, leading to the very real possibility that the series finale of The Crown will conclude with a scene where the royal family is permanently fractured because Prince Harry indirectly profited from an episode of The Crown that Prince William didn’t like.
This season is all about the good stuff: Charles and Diana and Camilla, and their complicated network of intermarital shagging.
But the biggest ménage à trois to grip British life concerns a relationship that everyone had previously assumed was watertight; a pairing the sanctity of which was never in question. That’s right, the relationship between Boris Johnson and his gnomish sidekick and Svengali, Dominic Cummings.
Since the earliest days of Brexit, Johnson and Cummings had been inseparable. Theirs was a relationship where the strengths of each half compensated for the other’s deficiencies. Johnson is charismatic and populist but sloppy with details. Cummings is difficult to like but granular enough to write sprawling, novella-length, diagram-filled blog posts about the minutiae of cognitive technology.
Cummings was so important to the Johnson machine, in fact, that Johnson stuck by him no matter what. When Cummings was found to have broken the nationwide coronavirus lockdown so that he could drive his sick and potentially infectious wife across the country, the smart political choice would have been for Johnson to simply sack him. That he refused, harming his own reputation in the process, should speak volumes.
But now it’s all over. Last week, Cummings was seen leaving Downing Street with a storage box in his arms, forced out of his job after a “shouty” 45-minute meeting with Johnson. A possible instigator of the split is another party: Johnson’s 32-year-old fiancée, Carrie Symonds, a former government adviser who has enjoyed a much stormier relationship with the prime minister. It reportedly began in 2018, while Johnson was still married to Marina Wheeler, and last year survived a domestic fight so loud that police were called to Symonds’s home.
Emotions are so high that there have been calls for Prince Harry to abandon Netflix altogether.
But now she appears to hold the reins. There were already signs that Symonds was on the ascendant—unconfirmed reports from the Daily Mail suggest that Johnson hired the new Downing Street press secretary, Allegra Stratton, on the basis that “if I don’t, Carrie will go fucking crackers”—but the ousting of Cummings takes her influence to a new level.
That said, the exact circumstances of his dismissal—Cummings apparently left after Johnson withdrew a promotion offer to Cummings’s friend because, according to The Sun, Symonds was still sore that the friend had beat her to a Foreign Office job in 2016—are embarrassingly schoolyardish. And that’s fine. It’s not like we’re in the middle of a pandemic or economic meltdown or anything.
As you’d expect with a war between two government advisers, the feud shows no signs of abating and is spilling out across the media with various “unnamed sources” going at each other as hard as they can. Team Symonds has insisted that she is “on the side of the angels.” Meanwhile, Team Cummings—which, according to the Daily Mail, has long referred to Symonds in text messages as “Princess Nut Nut”—has gone one further and claimed via a source in The Sun that Symonds “wants to be a new Princess Di character.” If that last one is true, you’d really have to question her judgment. After all, doesn’t she watch The Crown?
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL