What to know about Sydney Johnson, the footman who charmed the royals and Al-Fayeds

Yes, he was just as nice in real life as we see him in The Crown

The story of The Crown season five moves through much more recent times, and from episode three explores more into the story of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed, and his son Emad “Dodi” Mohamed. Throughout this story being told, we are also introduced to Sydney Johnson, a valet who was the footman to Edward VIII.

Johnson is portrayed by actor Jude Akuwudike in The Crown season five, and a lot of what we see of his character appears to have been true to real life. Here is everything we know about the real life Sydney Johnson.

Sydney Johnson in The Crown season five

via Netflix

Sydney Johnson worked for Edward VIII until his death

Sydney Johnson was a valet, who was the footman to Edward VIII until Edward’s death in 1972. In the show, we see Sydney as a young Bahamian man working for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor while they are in the Bahamas. The couple grow to like Sydney and the way he works for them, and decide to offer him his job permanently with them in Paris.

In real life, Sydney Johnson was born on Andros, the largest of the Bahamian islands, in 1921. He lived there until he was 16, when he moved to Paris and began working for the abdicated King and former Duke of Windsor, Edward VIII. He worked up into his role of footman, which he started in 1960, and worked for the royal couple for over 30 years.

Hugo Vickers, royal biographer and author of The Crown Dissected, said: “I met him [Sydney] at the Windsors’ house in Paris in 1989. He was a delightful man, with a lovely smile, and great human sympathy. He was clearly very fond of the Duke and Duchess and spoke of them with understanding.”

In 1960, Sydney Johnson married. Sydney Johnson worked with the Duke and Duchess until 1972, following the Duke’s death. At around this same time, Johnson’s wife died, and he had requested more time off to look after his four children. Johnson requested he could leave work at 4pm every day, which the Duchess refused, so he resigned.

Sydney later met the Al-Fayed family, and began working for them

Mohamed Al-Fayed with Sydney Johnson in The Crown season five

via Netflix

The exact date Sydney Johnson started working for the Al-Fayed family is not known, but it is believed to have been around the mid-1980s. In The Crown, we see that Al-Fayed has an interest in the royal family, and Sydney teaches him a lot about their culture and way of life.

In real life, it looks as though Al-Fayed and Johnson had a strong friendship as well as a working relationship. Johnson was a curator of the collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsors’ belongings in their former Paris villa, which Al-Fayed purchased. Al-Fayed restored the villa, and Sydney’s last public appearance before his death was at its grand reopening.

Speaking to The New York Times, Mohamed Al-Fayed said Sydney “is a dictionary”. He added: “He’s a very cultured man. He got all these things out of boxes and safes and storage rooms, and he knows their history.”

The real life Mohamed Al-Fayed with Sydney Johnson

The real life Mohamed Al-Fayed with Sydney Johnson in 1989, via Alan Davidson/Shutterstock

Sydney Johnson died in 1990, aged 69

In 1990, it was reported by The Associated Press that Sydney Johnson had passed away in Paris, aged 69. His cause of death is not publicly known, but is said to have been “quite sudden”, and has been reported by some outlets as being of natural causes. Paying tribute, Al-Fayed said Sydney Johnson “was truly a gentlemen’s gentleman. We shall miss him very much.”

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

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The Crown: Who is Penny Knatchbull? The woman who had a close friendship with Prince Philip

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• Who is James Colthurst? Inside his life and relationship with Princess Diana

Featured image via Alan Davidson/Shutterstock and Netflix.