Here’s the wild true story behind Mark Thatcher’s desert disappearance in The Crown

It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when we couldn’t keep track of all the prime minister’s children


He’s his mum’s favourite. He gets lost driving around the desert. There are many things that make a certain Mark Thatcher The Crown season four episode four’s low-key best character. And yet, the inevitable question we all have when watching The Crown rears its head: is any of it true?

“Favourites” depicts a frantic search around the desert for the prime minister’s son, with Thatcher becoming increasingly strained as the family drama coincides with her burning desire to go to war.

In real life, the ordeal played out remarkably similarly to how it’s shown in The Crown – with a few exceptions.

Who plays Mark Thatcher in The Crown?

The Mark Thatcher actor cast in The Crown is none other than Freddie Fox. He’s got form playing obnoxious poshos, having featured in 2014’s The Riot Club, a Bullingdon Club send-up, as ringleader James.

More recently, he’s appeared in ITV murder drama White House Farm, playing murderer Jeremy Bamber.

Freddie Fox also has some pretty impressive posho credentials himself – his older sister is Silent Witness star Emilia Fox, and he’s part of the esteemed Fox dynasty.

mark thatcher the crown

Did Mark Thatcher really get lost in the desert?

Yes, it really happened. His six-day disappearance during the 1982 Paris-Dakar rally made headlines around the world.

While attempting to complete the infamous 10,000 kilometre desert endurance race – which he had reportedly forgotten about to the extent he was ill-prepared – Thatcher and his team went off course.

In the show, his disappearance is happening at the same time it’s all kicking off in the Falklands, with the strain taking its toll on Prime Minister Thatcher. The rally took place in January of 1982, while the Argentine scrap metal merchants didn’t place the flag on the Falklands until the 19th March.

mark thatcher the crown

Her worry was very real, however. In fact, she spoke to Ronald Reagan, US president at the time, just after the sighting of Mark, telling him: “It’s been a long time, and we’ve had a lot of confused rumours and reports but Denis is out there now, and the Algerians have mounted a very big search today, and we just believe – I’ve just had news two minutes ago that they believe they’ve made a hopeful sighting.

“We daren’t believe anything till they’ve actually found him.”

Reagan replied: “I know that he’s an experienced outdoorsman, so I know that he’ll be able to take care of himself.”

Denis did in fact fly to Algeria to help with the search, in which Mark was spotted by Algerian military planes.

Unsurprisingly, the pair had a massive round of drinks at a hotel when they were reunited. Instead, in The Crown, we’re just treated to an incredibly tense dinner where Mark complains about the lack of gravy.

In a twist, Margaret Thatcher picked up the nearly £2,000 bill herself, insisting no cost should fall on the taxpayer.

Was Mark actually his mother’s favourite?

While Thatcher got to live to see daughter Carol win I’m A Celeb, Mark was widely regarded as her favourite of the twins. In the show, we see Carol’s frustration at living in his shadow. Carol has repeatedly written about being the least favourite twin, while Margaret’s public upset over Mark’s desert dally cemented the favouritism idea in the eyes of the public.

The Crown season four is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• Here’s the real story behind Michael Shea, the Queen’s press secretary in The Crown

• Introducing the Balmoral Test: How the Royal Family find out if they like someone

• Charles told Camilla he wished he was her tampon in leaked dirty talk convo