Warning: contains minor spoilers about events covered inThe Crown Season 5
Season Five of The Crown is arguably the most sordid season of this historical drama so far, focusing heavily on the royal family’s messy marital breakdowns. Unsurprisingly, this involves a detailed depiction of Princess Diana’s infamous Martin Bashir interview on Panorama in November 1995, but this has led to the show skipping over a truly bonkers royal moment that is well worth revisiting.
In October 1995, Her Majesty the Queen fell victim to a hoax phone call by a Canadian radio DJ, who was posing as Canada’s then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien.
The seven-minute phone call – in which our late monarch discussed getting involved in Quebec’s referendum on breaking away from Canada, as well as confirming the royal family’s Halloween plans – was the work of Pierre Brassard, a skilled impressionist and presenter of a satirical radio programme on CKOI FM in Montreal.
As this recording of the extraordinary prank call confirms, the Queen and Brassard spoke in both English and French:
In the call, we hear Brassard as Chretien claiming he’s ‘really stressed out’, to which the Queen responds, ‘I’m sure you are.’ He then goes on to ask her to make a televised address asking the people of Quebec to vote against the upcoming independence referendum. A little thrown, the Queen checks with an adviser, before confirming she will ‘would be delighted to do anything I can to help’ if they can send over a proposed statement by fax. Brassard duly promises this.
Brassard then says he is ‘very nervous’ and asks the Queen if they can speak in French, a request she complies with for the rest of the call. When the Queen asks if she should keep the address short, he agrees and jokes about keeping it less than the length of a box of cornflakes.
Later in the call, during which Brassard asks after the royal family’s health (and hears confirmation they are all well), he asks if the Queen has plans to celebrate Halloween. ‘Certainly for the children’, she replies, and then laughs at Brassard asking if she will be dressing up, confirming she won’t. The call ends shortly afterwards, as Brassard promises again to fax the statement, and suggests if she wants to dress up for Halloween she needs only wear one of her hats.
How did this call even get through to Her Majesty? The radio station claimed it took just one phone call to the main switchboard at Buckingham Palace, and Brassard was passed around a few offices before making it through to the Queen. The Palace disputed that, saying they’d put in checks with Mr Chretien’s office, who said he was away campaigning but had no reason to doubt he’d be calling the Queen to discuss the upcoming referendum.
This isn’t the only time a royal has been the subject of a prank call. In 2020, Prince Harry fell victim to Russian YouTubers pretending to be Greta Thunberg, and in 1996 Princess Diana was duped into thinking she was on the phone with Stephen Hawking.
After Brassard’s hoax was revealed, the Palace described it as ‘regrettable’ and ‘irritating’ and an enquiry was launched, but many were quick to point out that it actually reflected very well on the Queen. The call shows her to be down-to-earth and eager to help, patient and friendly, and breezily switching from English to French to accommodate the speaker she thinks is Jean Chretien.
Brassard was similarly complimentary when describing the hoax: `She is very funny. She talked to me in English. 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. That kind of conversation is a good thing because we see the human side of the person. She is a person like you and me.’
After Queen Elizabeth’s death in September 2022, Chretien spoke about his special bond with the monarch, and he famously made her laugh out loud by swearing at an official event, which might explain why she wasn’t fazed by Brassard’s playful jokes while posing as the Canadian PM.
Season Five of The Crown is available to stream on Netflix.