Royal Photos That Caused A Lot Of Drama
Over the years, the British royal family has enjoyed its fair share of drama — and often, a lot of this drama centers around one single photograph. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The past few decades have brought with them a number of unforgettable photos of the royals. From Sarah Ferguson’s infamous toe-sucking picture to the legendary photo of Princess Diana strutting out of a car in her gorgeous "revenge" dress, these famous photos have sometimes even started a whirlwind of drama in the British press and even within the family itself. Remember when Prince Harry was snapped wearing a Nazi uniform at a Halloween party? Or when Prince Andrew was photographed with Virginia Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell? Those infamous photos are still haunting them to this day.
Curious to find out which royal photos resulted in the most drama? Read on to find out more.
When Fergie was snapped in a compromising toe-sucking photo with her financial adviser
The disc was planned for release in 1992 but it was withdrawn at the last minute because a scandal envolving a British Royal (Sarah, Duchess of York) sucking a toe in a hotel appeared in the tabloids. pic.twitter.com/wRgeATo3yk
— Madonna Daily (@madonnaxdaily) September 14, 2022
Few photos of a royal — or, for that matter, anyone — have caused quite as big a stir as the infamous photo published by The Daily Mirror of Sarah Ferguson, also known as "Fergie," on holiday in Saint-Tropez with John Bryan, her so-called financial adviser. Not only was the photo taken shortly after her separation from Prince Andrew, but it also featured Bryan apparently sucking on Fergie’s toe. Cue international shock and horror!
It’s easy to see why this bizarre photo caused such a stir. It wasn’t just scandalous — it was also, quite simply, strange. Naturally, a fair amount of drama ensued. According to Newsweek, Fergie was actually with the royal family at Balmoral when the photo was published. The queen was reportedly furious. In her memoir, "My Story," Fergie wrote, "The shot that caused the most furor — the one that would define me for years to come — showed John [Bryan] planting his mouth on the top of my foot. ‘Toe-sucking!’ went the tabloids’ refrain, and you could almost hear the grown men giggling." According to Fergie, she and Bryan had been "playing at Cinderella" at the time.
When Diana was photographed wearing her iconic revenge dress after her split from Charles
Think of the most iconic royal photos. Chances are, the image of Diana smiling in her form-fitting black gown probably comes to mind. The photo of Diana in the famous "revenge dress" has stood the test of time. And when it was first taken, it caused a fair amount of drama.
The photo was taken in June 1994 during an event at London’s Serpentine Gallery. What might have been a forgotten moment soon became a turning point in the Diana story. That night, Prince Charles’ documentary aired on TV, in which the prince revealed that he hadn’t been entirely faithful to Diana during their doomed marriage. The press quickly assumed that Diana’s black dress was a statement of revenge against her ex-husband. "We call it the ‘revenge dress’ [because] she wore it the same evening Prince Charles confessed to his adultery with Camilla," auctioneer Kerry Taylor told Reader’s Digest. "While some would have been like, ‘I can’t face it this evening,’ Diana went out in that dress looking drop-dead gorgeous. She made a big statement."
As People notes, the dress and Diana’s big statement went down in history — and successfully caused some satisfying drama on the night of Charles’ documentary!
When the queen was photographed alone at her husband’s funeral during COVID
One of the most memorable photos of the royal family to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic came in April 2021. After the death of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, the queen was photographed sitting alone in Westminster Abbey during his funeral (via The Guardian). Because of COVID protocol, no other family members were permitted to attend the ceremony. It was heartbreaking to see the elderly monarch looking so isolated at such a devastating time.
What made the photo so dramatic was the timing. The image came in the midst of a government scandal and became a symbolic image of the sacrifices people made during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, then the country’s prime minister, had been accused of breaking COVID protocols to hold secret parties at work — one of which occurred the night before the funeral. One woman who was interviewed said that the image of the queen sitting alone at the funeral actually became the tipping point in her opinion of Johnson and his government (via TikTok). "I just felt that was very, very bad," she said.
When Prince Harry was snapped wearing a very controversial Halloween costume
If you’re at all familiar with the royals, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this particular scandal. Back in 2005, a photo of Prince Harry wearing a highly inappropriate Nazi uniform as a costume at a Halloween party was published by The Sun. Naturally, the photo sent the royal family into turmoil. "Prince Harry has apologized for any offense or embarrassment he has caused," read a statement from the palace. "He realizes it was a poor choice of costume" (via BBC).
Despite his apology, the photo caused a huge scandal and has never been forgotten. In fact, Harry is still reckoning with the impact of his costume choice. In the 2022 Netflix documentary "Harry & Meghan," he said it was "probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life" before he explained how he visited a Holocaust memorial to try to better understand the impact of his choice. And then, in his 2023 memoir "Spare," he revealed that Prince William and Kate Middleton had reportedly encouraged him to wear it. "I phoned Willy and Kate, asked what they thought," he wrote. "’Nazi uniform,’ they said."
It’s hard to believe, but this is one photo that is still causing drama almost 20 years later.
When Prince Andrew was in a photo with Virginia Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell
One of the biggest royal scandals in recent years has been Prince Andrew’s connection to the Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell case. Epstein was a convicted sex offender and an accused sex trafficker (per BBC). Maxwell was accused of grooming underage girls for Epstein. In 2014, Andrew was tied to their crimes when a woman called Virginia Giuffre claimed that she had been groomed by Maxwell for sex with Epstein and Andrew, according to Time.
One photo taken in 2001 became the center of the scandal. The photo showed Andrew and the then-17-year-old Giuffre in the foreground and Maxwell looking on from behind. Andrew went on to claim that the photo had been edited, saying he had "no recollection" of meeting Giuffre. Maxwell also told The Guardian that the photo was fake. As Wendy Murphy, a former sex crimes prosecutor, told The Guardian, the photo was quite telling. Andrew "has no innocent explanation, because there is no innocent reason for him to be hugging her, even in a social situation," she said.
When a photo of Kate Middleton at a university fashion show was published
One of the earliest photos of Kate Middleton to emerge from the British tabloids was also one of the all-time most dramatic photos of her. The photo in question was taken at a fashion show at St. Andrews University — yes, that fashion show where Prince William allegedly fell for her. The image showed Kate wearing a sheer dress over black underwear. Rumor has it, when William saw her, he said, "Wow, Kate’s hot" (via The Daily Mirror).
The photo was taken by Walter Neilson, who had been commissioned to cover the fashion show. According to The Courier, the photo was considered so salacious, it was published 50,000 times. "It was only later when word got out that she and William were an item that one of the tabloid newspapers learned I had a picture, published it, and the interest exploded from there," he said. "It’s definitely a career-defining picture."
The photo became so famous, Kate’s outfit was eventually sold at an auction in 2011 for over $125,000, according to People.
When the 2022 royal family portrait didn’t include Harry and Meghan
Whenever the royal family is pictured together, the public examines the photos closely for clues to their lives. In 2022, one image caused a little more drama than usual. The photo showed the newly named King Charles III, his wife Camilla, his eldest son Prince William, and William’s wife, Kate Middleton. There were two notable omissions: Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle.
Of course, it’s not that strange that Harry and Meghan weren’t included — after all, they now live on the other side of the world in Los Angeles. However, as The Telegraph notes, the pair was reportedly "uninvited" from the reception where the photo was taken — in other words, it sounds like they were initially meant to be present and in the picture.
One royal commentator for The Daily Mail wrote that the photo would probably have been noticed by Harry and Meghan and that it would either increase their feelings of isolation or "remind them why" they left, especially since they were in England at the time and could have attended. Regardless of how Harry and Meghan reacted, it’s clear that this photo caused a lot of drama in the press.
When Harry and Meghan released a revenge portrait
Shortly after King Charles III released the 2022 family portrait that excluded his younger son Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the young royal couple appeared to respond with their own photo. Page Six dubbed it the "Battle of the Portraits." The photo by Misan Harriman featured Meghan and Harry holding hands looking proudly and defiantly into the camera. As Tom Bower, royal expert, said, "It was all about, we’re back now on course to build ‘Brand Meghan’ and the book, the Netflix series, the podcast. Everything is money. And to their advantage, they were in the public eye for seven days during the funeral or more, every day they were filmed."
Whether or not this exact photo caused drama inside the royal family, it’s pretty evident that the photo was a sign of a whole lot of intrigue going on behind the scenes.
When Fergie was caught on camera bribing a disguised reporter
One of the most infamous photos snapped of a royal was the scandalous 2010 image of Sarah Ferguson, or Fergie, ex-wife of Prince Andrew, allegedly accepting money in exchange for information about the prince. As The Guardian reported at the time, she had been set up by News of the World reporter Mazher Mahmood.
Fergie reportedly asked for £500,000 and promised to give information and access to Andrew in exchange. The whole thing was caught on camera and led to plenty of drama both within and outside of the family. For years, Fergie was excluded from royal events — she didn’t even get an invite to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding (per Town & Country).
Fergie later told "The Oprah Winfrey Show" how much she regretted the moment. "There aren’t really very many words to describe an act of such gross stupidity," she said. "I think this is the key to the whole of my life now. It’s like I’m stripped bare."
When Prince Harry was spotted partying naked in Las Vegas
Back in his early 20s, Prince Harry developed a reputation as quite the party boy. The prince was often snapped partying with young friends at clubs or on vacation. However, on one occasion, Harry’s partying antics went a little too far — and a few pictures were taken that caused a massive scandal in the royal family.
In 2012, the then 27-year-old prince was with friends in Las Vegas. Most of the pictures featured Harry chilling in the Jacuzzi. However, a few pictures that were published by The Sun showed the prince and a young woman completely naked. In some of the pictures, the prince was even seen hugging the woman from behind. According to royal biographer Katie Nicholl, this Las Vegas trip cost over £30,000 (via The Daily Mail). The photos of Harry naked in Vegas caused a huge stir in the tabloids.
It wasn’t until Harry’s memoir, "Spare," that the prince opened up about the incident. Apparently, the prince had gotten extremely drunk before inviting several women to his apartment for a game of strip billiards. After the photos became public, Harry recalled he was so ashamed that it was difficult "to draw a clean breath." However, he did note that his father was "gentle" with him rather than angry (via New Zealand Herald). It sounds like this was one of the most embarrassing photos ever for Harry — and it’s easy to see why!
When Harry and Meghan were ignored by Will and Kate at their final royal appearance
There are few things more awkward than a public family feud. In March 2020, that’s exactly what happened to the royals. It was after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had made the shocking announcement to step back from royal life. The couple’s final official royal appearance was at the Commonwealth Day service. After the press had been filled with articles about frostiness between Harry and his brother, Prince William, the photos from the service seemed to confirm the rumors.
As the photos showed, William and Kate Middleton seemed to ignore Harry and Meghan — even though the younger royals were right behind them the whole day. In fact, William and Kate even turned around to speak to Prince Edward and his wife Sophie without seeming to acknowledge Harry and Meghan at all.
As Vanity Fair noted, the previous year, Kate and Meghan had appeared to be the best of friends. "Possibly she was tired but she didn’t look overjoyed," one source said to the publication. "To be honest I think Kate has taken it all badly. She, Harry, and William were once such a happy trio, she thinks what has happened is all very sad." And according to the book "Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family," William nodded hello to his brother and completely ignored Meghan (via Harper’s Bazaar). Yikes, talk about an awkward farewell.
When Meghan Markle caused drama by releasing the first photo of Archie herself
Let’s face it — the royal family likes things to be done a certain way, especially when it comes to public announcements. However, for Meghan Markle, royal protocol didn’t always feel natural. "There’s literally a structure by which if you want to release photos of your child, as a member of the family, you first have to give them to the Royal Rota," she told The Cut. "Why would I give the very people that are calling my children the N-word a photo of my child before I can share it with the people that love my child? You tell me how that makes sense and then I’ll play that game."
So, when the Firm asked her to hold off on releasing any images of her first son, Archie, she decided to rebel by posting on the couple’s Instagram account — and let’s just say it caused a whole lot of internal drama. While the royal family publicly welcomed Meghan and Harry to Instagram, we’re guessing they weren’t too happy that they were using the account to break royal protocol.
In fact, as soon as the pair announced their plans to step away from royal duties, they were apparently banned from using the royal account, which has been dormant since March 2020. Who knew that Instagram could cause so much drama in the royal family?