In 2020, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall are an enduring love story, one that spans decades and led to them finally marrying in 2005. In the 1980s, they were two people having an affair while referring to each other with the secret nicknames Fred and Gladys. The Crown season 4 depicts the beginning of Charles’ relationship with Princess Diana, and from the start, Camilla plays a big role as the “third person” in their marriage, as Diana later put it. Camilla’s presence is felt clearly in one heartbreaking scene where Diana finds designs for a “Fred and Gladys” bracelet ahead of her royal wedding. And while The Crown tends to take some liberties as it retells British royal history, this situation went down basically as it’s shown.
Weeks before her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles, Diana found a bracelet — the actual bracelet, not the design — in the office of one of Charles’ employees. It was engraved with the letters “G” and “F." The nicknames were taken from BBC radio’s The Goon Show, according to Town & Country.
“I walked into this man's office one day and I said, 'Ooh, what's in that parcel?' And he said 'Oh, you shouldn't look at that,’” Diana told her biographer Andrew Morton in 1997 (via The Sun). “So I opened it and there was the bracelet. I was devastated, and I said 'Well, he's going to give it to her tonight,’” she continued. “So rage, rage, rage. You know, 'Why can't you be honest with me?' But no, absolutely cut me dead. It was as if he’d made his decision, and if it wasn't going to work, it wasn't going to work.”
Diana also recounted how she saw flowers Charles sent Camilla when she had meningitis that were addressed to Gladys from Fred, and how she overheard emotional phone calls between them, including one during their engagement. “You may recall, of course, the picture of me sobbing in a red coat when he went off in the airplane,” Diana told Morton (via the Daily Mail) of Charles leaving for a royal tour of Australia and New Zealand before their wedding. “It had nothing to do with him going. The most awful thing had happened before he went. I was in his study talking to him, when the telephone rang. It was Camilla.”
The Crown shows that Charles returned from his tour and went straight to Camilla’s house, with it seeming like he might have spent the night. In reality, Diana said, “He took the bracelet, lunchtime on Monday. We got married on the Wednesday.” Still, that’s harsh.
Diana realized that her fiancé giving an engraved bracelet to his ex wasn’t a great sign. She told her sisters that she didn’t think she could go through with the wedding and they said, according to Diana, “Well, bad luck, Duch, your face is on the tea towels so you’re too late to chicken out.”
Another account of the situation is more in line with what the character of Charles says on The Crown. In the Camilla biography The Duchess: The Untold Story, author Penny Junor writes that Charles gave presents to several of his exes ahead of the wedding. “The Prince is an inveterate giver of gifts, especially jewellery, as a way of thanking people; and he intended to see each of the women individually to say goodbye,” Junor writes. Express UK notes that Junor is friends with Charles and Camilla, so it would make sense that The Crown would use the goodbye present explanation for Charles’ side, while we see that from Diana’s perspective that he can’t be trusted.
Regardless of exactly how everything went down, it’s clear that Charles was far more in love with Camilla than he was with Diana and the bracelet is just another representation of that. By 1992 Diana and Charles were officially separated, and in 1996 they divorced. In her 1997 recordings with Morton, Diana said that Camilla wears the bracelet “to this day” and she has, in fact, been photographed wearing it. Now, it’s no longer a secret message between “Fred” and “Gladys," but an artifact of Charles and Camilla’s 50-year history.