I Watched the Banned ‘Royal Family’ Documentary—Here Are 5 Shocking Things I Learned

For years, I’ve heard about the infamous fly-on-the-wall Royal Family documentary, filmed by the BBC and banned by Queen Elizabeth (who supposedly regretted the decision to allow cameras in) immediately after it aired in the U.K. in 1969. Despite the fact that nearly 30 million viewers tuned-in to catch a rare glimpse of Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and more at home, it has taken on a folklore status—never again resurfacing until just recently when eagle-eyed royals fans saw it pop up on YouTube. It was quickly removed due to a copyright claim, but—as co-host of the Royally Obsessed podcast—I was quick to make time to watch it.

So, what was my takeaway? Well, my biggest observation was that, honestly, the film pulls the curtain back on royal life in a good way, allowing the public to see a softer and more human side of a family known best for their unflinching pomp and circumstance. Below, five more things I learned from watching the infamous doc that I never realized before (thanks, BBC).

The Full British Line of Succession, from Prince Charles to Princess Eugenie’s Baby

prince charles at home 1969
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1. It Was Always Assumed That Prince Charles Would Be In His 70s Before Becoming King

The first royal to appear in the film is Prince Charles—heir to the throne after his mother Queen Elizabeth and the 64th sovereign to rule the United Kingdom in a family line that dates back 1,000 years. He’s wearing water skis in the shot, a nod to the film’s casualness and “inside” look at the more personal side of the palace. But the narrator, Michael Flanders, alludes to something that so far has come true: The idea that Charles likely won’t step into the role of king until his 70s. A bold prediction? Considering it was made 50 years ago, I’d say so. For reference, Prince Charles is currently 72 and still heir to the throne.

queen elizabeth and family 1969
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2. Queen Elizabeth Comes Across As A Pretty Hands-on “mum”

If you were to judge things based on The Crown alone, you’d write Queen Elizabeth off as a pretty absent mum (emotionally speaking, at least). But after approximately 90 minutes spent watching Royal Family, one of my biggest gut reactions was her warmth and sense of humor, especially when it came to her kids. Cue the often-referred to BBQ scene where Prince Philip mans the grill (one of his fave hobbies, we’ve since learned) at Balmoral Castle in Scotland as the queen, Prince Charles and the other kids lend a hand with some of the food prep. As Charles preps the salad dressing and Anne helps her dad with the meat, the Queen bops between them smiling broadly and projecting an ease and comfortability with her children (Edward included) that reads mother, not queen.

prince charles and prince edward 1969
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3. Prince Edward Is A 5-year-old Scene Stealer Throughout The Entire Film

Maybe he’s climbing on the roof of their car during the BBQ and yelling, “Papa! I’m on the roof,” then lying there quite proud of himself. Or hitting up a small shop with Queen Elizabeth where she buys him candy and an ice cream bar with coins before remarking, “This disgusting gooey mess is going to be in the car, isn’t it?” Finally, it’s the music lesson with his older brother, Charles—approximately 21 when Royal Family was filmed—that cements his star status: When a cello string snaps in his face, Edward gets upset. “Why did that..?” he remarks holding back tears with a hint of anger to which Charles remarks, “Oh, it’s alright, it’s alright!”

royal family documentary cat
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4. Princess Anne And Prince Charles’s Military Training Was Really Intense

Let’s just say there’s a scene where the Queen’s eldest children—Charles and Anne—suit up with life jackets and other gear to carry out naval exercises over the open water while aboard the Royal Yacht Brittania. As part of the drill, they’re whisked via a pulley system from one ship to the next. There’s not a ton of hoopla, but rather a fair number of crew members on hand to ensure that the future heir and his younger sister won’t plunge into the depths of the sea and rough surf below. (As for Anne and Charles, they take it all in stride.)

windsor family brittania 1969
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5. The Perks Of Royal Life Are Vast

For one thing, the news of the day (newspapers, etc.) was delivered daily to the queen via helicopter anytime she’s aboard the Royal Yacht Brittania with her family. (Yes, now all they’d need is a WiFi signal, but talk about a luxury any time they decided to go off the grid.) But that’s not all: Crew members aboard also give orders by hand signal and wear soft shoes to preserve the peace and not make a lot of racket for the royals aboard. Back at Balmoral Castle, the queen awakens to a bagpiper anytime she’s in residence. And at Buckingham Palace, even the royal horses eat their carrots off of cloth napkins. Relatable? Not so much.

Rachel Bowie Headshot

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...