Royal Hoaxes That Had Everyone On Edge

It seems unlikely that people will ever stop talking about the royal family. They're a fascinating mixture of old world wonders and contemporary novelty, and — though some might feel like their existence is antiquated and has no place in modern society — their impact cannot be underestimated. Just look at Netflix's "The Crown" or the many retellings of Princess Diana's life in film and documentaries. Numerous books have also been written about the fascinating Windsor family. 

A big part of that fascination, however, is the family's darker side, like the scandal of Prince Andrew's connection to Jeffrey Epstein, or the tragic death of Diana. And sometimes, the stresses of public life and its requirements push members to step back from their royal duties, like what Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did.

Despite the tiaras and palaces, royal life isn't easy — or necessarily desirable. Prince William and Harry lost relationships prior to meeting their wives because the women didn't want to live through that level of exposure, and they may have been on to something. Members of the royal family face endless coverage in the media, which means that all kinds of people get invested in them, including pranksters and sneaks. In fact, the famous family has fallen prey to numerous hoaxes throughout the years. Let's take a look at some of the more intense ones. 

The queen got pranked by a Canadian radio host

In 1995, Queen Elizabeth II got into an embarrassing situation with a Canadian radio station. Pierre Brassard, a Montreal-based radio personality, impersonated then-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, according to the Associated Press, and reached out to Buckingham Palace. The palace corroborated the call with the Canadian's Governor General's office, which certified it, due to its plausibility. A senior member of Chretien's office assumed the prime minister wanted to brief the queen on the upcoming vote for the succession of the Quebec province, and so scheduled the call with the queen.

However, she ended up speaking to Brassard. The call lasted 17 minutes and, according to The Telegraph, the queen confirmed that in her speech, she would address unity in Canada. They also spoke about personal topics, like the royal family's plans for Halloween.

Once the news aired that the call was a farce, the palace called the event "irritating" and said it was a waste of the queen's time. However, according to Brassard, she came across as quite likable. "She is very funny. ... I said: 'I am nervous, my English is not good. Could we talk in French?' and she said, 'Yes, of course,' and we talked for five or four minutes in French,″ he told BBC Radio 4 (via the Associated Press). He added, "​​That kind of conversation is a good thing because we see the human side of the person." The hoax could have been much worse.

Princess Diana had a curious phone call with 'Stephen Hawking'

In a bizarre turn of events, Princess Diana got pranked in 1996 by radio personality Victor Lewis-Smith, who pretended to be theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, according to the Daily Mail. Lewis-Smith recorded the call, but ended up keeping it to himself for almost 20 years.

Lewis-Smith pretended to first be Hawking's rep and called Buckingham Palace to speak to the princess, who was then unavailable. A few days later, Diana called back and spoke to Lewis-Smith, who was pretending to be the rep. He then began acting as Hawking, who said: "Get the Princess on the line now or I'll knock your teeth so far..." according to The Telegraph. The two exchanged pleasantries and then Diana informed "Hawking" that she had read his book, "A Brief History of Time," an opportunity that Lewis-Smith didn't seem to want to pass up. He asked her a deliberately impossible question about physicists, to which Diana replied, "Yes, I entirely agree with that," though she then quietly let out an expletive, understandably upset with her unpreparedness. 

They then moved to an even more uncomfortable exchange about Diana's alleged affair with English rugby player Will Carling. The fake Hawking asked about "Wills," and Diana responded, "Oh, he's doing very well at Eton," thinking he was talking about Prince William. "Hawking" corrected her assumption, though, clarifying that he meant Carling. Lewis-Smith finally released the full 18 minute conversation in 2015. 

Prince Harry had a hoax call with 'Greta Thunberg'

Prince Harry also fell for a hoax phone call. Maybe these royals should have better call screening! Russians Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexey Stolyarov, known as Vovan and Lexus, managed to get Harry on the phone when he was staying in Canada. The two pranksters called his landline both on New Year's Eve and on January 22, 2020, per The Guardian, pretending to be Greta Thunberg and her dad, Svante Thunberg.

Harry got remarkably candid on the calls and spoke about the challenges his wife was facing with the media and excused their use of private jets, reported The Telegraph, explaining it was the only way to ensure their security. He stated that "marrying a prince or princess isn't all it's made up to be." He admitted that he vastly preferred their life in Canada to working as senior royals. Harry also criticized then-President Donald Trump, claiming he "has blood on his hands" in light of his views on climate change. Harry also praised Greta and said that, thanks to her activism, she was able to "reach into his soul and get him to feel."

Of course, Harry wasn't speaking to Greta, so the situation was slightly embarrassing when revealed. Former palace press secretary Dickie Arbiter used it as a moment to emphasize the potential dangers of the Sussexes' move away from the royal family, but, as Buckingham Palace has put through prank calls as well, that statement doesn't really hold water.

Prince Charles hung counterfeit paintings

Prank calls aren't the only hoax the royal family falls for. In some cases, they are also the victims of art fraud. One time, Prince Charles inadvertently hung counterfeit paintings at Dumfries House in Scotland, a home restored as part of his Prince's Foundation. Controversial character James Stunt loaned Charles three paintings allegedly by Monet, Picasso, and Dali to display at Dumfries, per the Daily Mail. Collectively, the paintings were insured for their estimated value at $134 million. A spokesperson for the famous house told People, "Dumfries House accepts artwork on loan from time to time from individuals and organizations such as the Scottish National Gallery."

However, these particular paintings were actually made by art forger Tony Tetro, who claimed he painted the replicas for Stunt for fun, per the Daily Mail. Stunt's plan was to hang them in his home and trick his friends and Tetro alleged there was no financial incentive besides what Stunt paid him to produce the replicas.

Unfortunately, Charles was unaware of this joke and he displayed the replicas in Dumfries as if they were the real masterpieces. While the prince wasn't at fault for not recognizing the forgeries, some questioned why he dealt with Stunt, who was a widely reported "disgraced bullion dealer." For their part, a spokesperson for the foundation said, "It is extremely regrettable that the authenticity of these particular few paintings, which are no longer on display, now appears to be in doubt."

Prince Charles and Princess Diana had a rumored secret daughter

There's an ongoing tale about a mysterious daughter belonging to Prince Charles and Princess Diana who was born before Prince William. While it seems like a tall tale, the story has received considerable traction.

Apparently, in 1980, prior to Diana's wedding to Charles, Queen Elizabeth II instructed Diana to have a gynecological exam, according to the Daily Mail, to ensure that she could conceive a child. Allegedly, some of Diana's eggs were extracted and when combined with Charles' sperm, they created successful embryos. Once successful fertility was confirmed, the embryos were supposed to be destroyed, though one of the doctors allegedly took one and "implanted it in his own wife." His wife gave birth to a daughter named Sarah, shortly after Charles and Diana's show-stopping wedding, per Reader's Digest, in 1981, making her older than William.

According to reports, Sarah does take after Diana and as a kid, was called "a dead ringer" for the princess, per the Daily Mail. Both of Sarah's parents died in a car accident and she later found a diary, allegedly, with the details of her secret origins. Rumor mills and tabloids made much of the story, even claiming that Kate Middleton had a secret meeting with Sarah. But as the story goes, Sarah began digging into her past a little too intensely and received an ominous phone call, so she now lives in the United States under an alias. What a fanciful story.

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles allegedly had a love child

Prince Charles and Princess Diana aren't the only ones with rumors of a secret child. An Australian man by the name of Simon Dorante-Day has come forward, claiming to be the son of Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. While it sounds improbable, Dorante-Day's story isn't totally impossible. He was born on April 5, 1966 in Portsmouth, England, according to Australia's 7 News. When he was 8 months old, he was adopted by Karen and David Day.

The link gets interesting when it was discovered that Winifred and Ernest Bowlden, his adoptive grandparents, were employed by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, per the Daily Mail. They worked in the royal household as a cook and a gardener. Dorante-Day claimed that Winifred agreed to have her daughter take the baby.

Dorante-Day told 7 News that his grandmother told him plainly that he was the son of Charles and Camilla. "She didn't just hint at it, she told me outright," he said. Dorante-Day also claimed to have memories of being in grand houses in Portsmouth with a blond woman, whom he believed to be Camilla. His full name also supposedly has significance. "My adoptive mother told me that it was a condition of the adoption that my name — Simon Charles — stay the same, my middle name stay the same," he explained. "Charles and Camilla had a close friend called Simon at the time." Charles and Camilla have never acknowledged Dorante-Day's claims.

Sophie Wessex accidentally let her political affiliations come out

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, married Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. She operated a public relations firm called R-JH with business partner Murray Harkin, according to The Guardian, and in 2001, they were duped into thinking they were going to land a contract with a Saudi prince. British journalist Mazher Mahmood pretended to be the Sheikh's assistant and they met at the Dorchester Hotel in London to discuss the phony business deal.

Mahmood secretly taped the conversations, The Telegraph reported, and once they were exposed, both Sophie and Harkin got in trouble. During the conversations, Sophie spoke candidly about her political affiliations, a big no-no for the royals, and dissed then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling him "ignorant." She also said that his wife was "even worse." She made fun of William Hague, who was then the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the United Kingdom. While this was embarrassing for Sophie, Harkin was recorded saying that he liked "the odd line of coke," per The Telegraph. He stepped down from the PR firm after the tapes were leaked.

Despite this awkward experience, Sophie and Edward have risen above the mistakes of their past and come forward as key players in the royal family. As Vanity Fair noted, Sophie has always been incredibly down-to-earth, which has been good for Edward, and they've passed the test of time as likable faces in an otherwise turbulent family.

Kate Middleton was the subject of a dark prank while in the hospital

By far the worst hoax to ever happen to the royal family occurred when Kate Middleton was pregnant with her first child, Prince George. She was staying at the King Edward VII Hospital in 2012 for acute morning sickness, according to The Telegraph, when Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian called the hospital. Greig pretended to be Queen Elizabeth II on the line and nurse Jacintha Saldanha took the call and transferred it to another nurse, who spoke to Greig about Kate's symptoms, thinking she was speaking with the queen.

Three days later, Saldanha commited suicide in "her hospital lodgings," according to Australia's ABC News. The experience was deeply humiliating to Saldanha, who wrote in an email, "I don't know how to face the bosses tomorrow. I feel so ashamed of myself." Her husband, Ben Barboza, said that Saldanha took her own life because of the "guilt" and "humiliation" she felt about the call, per The Telegraph.

For her part, DJ Greig attended the court hearings in London and addressed the nurse's family, saying, "This tragedy is always going to stay with me as a constant reminder," according to the BBC. The radio station with which she was affiliated made a donation to Saldanha's family and Greig later said that others shouldn't be involved in pranks. "The joke should always be on us, the DJs," she said.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

People alleged that Kate Middleton used a surrogate

Another conspiracy theory surrounding Kate Middleton and her pregnancies revolves around the idea that Kate used a surrogate for her pregnancies and attended events with a fake baby bump. The rumors started in Russia, the Daily Mail noted, because the duchess looked too good right after giving birth. "There is nothing which would help a woman, even if she gave birth with the help of [the] best doctors, stand up five hours after giving birth — and leave the clinic on her feet," a woman wrote in the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Another alleged, "It was a surrogate mother who gave birth but not her. Kate must have been wearing a fake belly. ... It is just not real to walk yourself several hours after birth and wave to the public."

Others claim that Kate gave birth to her children days before making the public appearance outside of the hospital, giving her more time to rest and therefore look so refreshed. (She probably wished she could have had more time to rest after labor!) In the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, one woman said: "If she really gave birth naturally, it was surely some days ago."

While Kate's appearance outside of the hospital was indeed inspiring (and maybe a bit jealousy-inducing), she did have a small postpartum bump after each of her three pregnancies, Hello! — and other news outlets — pointed out, making the idea of the Cambridges using a surrogate far-fetched. 

Prince Harry was the only one who could get away with pranking the queen

Not all of the pranks and hoaxes the royal family has faced have been dark. When Prince Harry was just a little munchkin, he was allegedly a huge trickster around the palace. Once, he managed to get his hands on Queen Elizabeth II's cell phone and recorded a new automated message. Karen Dolby wrote about the event in her book, "The Wicked Wit of the Royal Family," noting Harry's penchant for pranking people. The new message was, "Hey wassup? This is Liz." A curious recording for those looking to reach the Queen of England!

Former royal butler Paul Burrell told OK! magazine (via Marie Claire) that Harry was the only member of the family who could get away with pranking the queen. "I know the Queen very well and I know she's very fond of Harry," Burrell said. "As William would sit and have tea with her after school, Harry would come and put plastic flies in the sugar bowl! It was hilarious. Harry was the only one who could trick his granny."

Princess Diana had the same prankster spirit and Burrell said that she loved getting gag stocking stuffers. "She'd spend hours looking for jokey things for their stockings. One year, Harry got fake dog poo," he said, (via The Mirror). Harry was, of course, delighted with the gift and planned on using it on his grandmother, a plausible trick, since she has numerous corgis.

Errant social media posts reported the queen's death

In one of the more unusual hoaxes involving the royal family, social media in late 2021 went wild with the story that Queen Elizabeth II had died. Influencers claimed the palace was keeping her death a secret, planning to unveil the news at a strategic time. "Queen Elizabeth is actually already dead isn't she," someone said, (via Reuters). The queen had been in the hospital in late October 2021, per Us Weekly. "The Queen has reluctantly accepted medical advice to rest for the next few days," a statement from Buckingham Palace read. However, after one night in the hospital, she was back to work.

The phenomenon happened again in February 2022, when the Instagram account Hollywood Unlocked posted a statement that the queen had died, per USA Today. "Sources close to the Royal kingdom notified us exclusively that Queen Elizabeth has passed away," it read. The queen had previously tested positive for COVID-19 but, as the BBC reported, she was well enough to continue with "light duties" from home.

There is an entire operation in place for the unfortunate time when the queen does die, called Operation London Bridge, per USA Today. Her physician will inform her private secretary, Sir Edward Young, who will then inform the prime minister. Media around the world will receive the information at the same time. It certainly won't come from Instagram.

Rumors circulated social media that Prince Charles would never be king

Another widespread rumor surrounding the royal family was that the line of succession would jump from Queen Elizabeth II to Prince William, skipping Prince Charles entirely. A major underlying reason for those rumors was because Charles has consistently remained one of the most unpopular royals. There was, of course, the long-lasting loyalty to the late Princess Diana, exacerbated in recent years by media content such as "The Crown," which painted her as sympathetic figure, while Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were the villains.

However, the anti-Charles sentiment has, perhaps, an even simpler reason. As The New Yorker pointed out, people simply don't like him. "In a 2016 poll, only a quarter of respondents said that they would like Charles to succeed the Queen, while more than half said they would prefer to see his son Prince William crowned instead," Zoë Heller wrote. To be fair, William and Kate Middleton have done nothing but create an image of perfect familial bliss, quite the opposite of Diana and Charles' relationship. 

Despite the lack of enthusiasm around Charles, though, the order of succession will almost certainly not jump over him. Charles needs to become king to renew the public's faith in the royal family. "Once you start allowing the popular will to determine who wears the crown, people are liable to wonder why anyone is wearing a crown in the first place," Heller pointed out. Therefore, Charles will no doubt become king.