The penultimate episode of The Crown season 4 is one of the season’s most dramatic, detailing an accident that took place during a royal skiing trip in 1988. Major Hugh Lindsay, a former equerry to the queen and friend of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, was killed in an avalanche on a slope in the Swiss Alps. His widow, Sarah Lindsay, was seven months pregnant at the time of the tragedy. Here’s a guide to who Major Hugh Lindsay was, and how he knew the royal family.
Major Hugh Lindsay had longstanding ties to the royal family.
Lindsay was a career soldier who trained at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst and served for many years in the British Army. In 1983, he was appointed as equerry (aka a senior aide) to Queen Elizabeth, per the AP.
Two years into his royal duties, Lindsay met Sarah Brennan, who worked in the Buckingham Palace press office. The two married in July of 1987, shortly after Lindsay returned to full-time army duties.
Lindsay was just 34 years old when he died in 1988. “He was enormous fun—one of those people who brightened a room,” Sarah recalled of her late husband in a 2008 interview with the Telegraph. “He was very kind—he would speak to the old and the young alike—and hugely enthusiastic about life. He loved sport and music and was in a [pop] band. He loved his job and had enormous respect for the royal family.”
Lindsay died in a tragic accident during a skiing holiday with Prince Charles.
In March of 1988, Lindsay was part of a group of friends who accompanied Prince Charles and Princess Diana on a skiing trip–something they did at least once a year. The group stayed in the Swiss Alps at the renowned and exclusive Klosters resort.
On March 10, Charles, Lindsay and Patti Palmer-Tomkinson set out for the slopes, accompanied by a mountain guide, Bruno Sprecher, and a Swiss police officer. That day, they were tackling a notoriously challenging part of Gotschnagrat Mountain, whose slopes are among the most steep in Switzerland. According to The Guardian, these slopes “are rarely open to the general public…they are regarded as suitable only for experienced skiers like Prince Charles.” While the group was “off-piste”—i.e., away from the ski runs—an avalanche started.
Per The Guardian, most of the group was able to take cover before the avalanche hit, but Lindsay and Palmer-Tomkinson were caught in a snow slide and buried. Lindsay was also thrown some 400 meters down the mountainside by the force of the slide.
According to the BBC, Charles and the others ran over to their friends “as soon as the danger had passed” and dug them out with their bare hands. Sprecher gave mouth-to-mouth CPR to Palmer-Tomkinson while they waited for paramedics to arrive, and the two victims were soon helicoptered to a hospital in Davos, the nearest town. Palmer-Tomkinson survived, although she had severe leg injuries, but Lindsay was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
Princess Diana, who stayed behind at the chalet that day rather than skiing, recalled the incident in detail to Andrew Morton for his 1992 biography Diana: Her True Story—In Her Own Words. “What a nice person he was,” she told Morton. “Out of all the people who went, it should never have been him.”
Princess Diana consoled Lindsay’s widow Sarah after his death.
During the same interview with Morton, Diana revealed that she took charge in the wake of the accident, because Charles was in shock and “was not immediately convinced that [the group] should abandon their holiday.” Diana knew that Charles “could not, at that awful time, comprehend the enormity of the tragedy” and so gently but firmly told him that it was their responsibility to bring Lindsay’s body back to the U.K. as soon as possible. “Diana prevailed,” per Morton, and on March 12, the group flew back to a Royal Air Force base in London with Lindsay’s body. Per The Telegraph, a guard of honor from Major Lindsay’s regiment, the 9th/12th Lancers, met his coffin there.
Diana’s immediate concern was for Sarah, who was six months pregnant with Hugh’s baby at the time. “Sarah came to stay with me at Highgrove when I was on my own, and she cried from dawn to dusk,” Diana recalled to Morton. “Every time we mentioned the name of Hugh, there were tears, tears, but I thought it was good to mention his name because she had to cleanse herself of it.”
Major Lindsay’s funeral took place on March 17, 1988, at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst where he trained. The queen, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York all attended.
Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Alice Rose Lyttelton Lindsay, on May 14, 1988. Prince Charles is her godfather, and in that 2008 Telegraph interview, Sarah—who remarried in 1996—recalled Diana’s support in the months and years following Lindsay’s death: “The Princess was fantastic. She used to ring me every Sunday evening. She was a dear friend—someone I could ring at midnight and say: ‘Life is pretty grim.’ The Princess of Wales instinctively knew when I might be feeling down—the school holidays and so on. She always had nice ideas about how to cheer me up.”
For Alice’s first birthday, Diana, five-year-old Prince William, and three-year-old Prince Harry surprised Sarah and the baby with a cake at Kensington Palace.
According to The Telegraph, Prince Charles wrote after the accident, “I still find it hard to understand why I survived and he didn’t.”
Sarah asked The Crown not to dramatize her late husband’s death.
Sarah told The Telegraph on Sunday, November 22 that she was “horrified” when she learned Lindsay’s death would be depicted in the series.
“I’m very upset by it and I’m dreading people seeing it,” she said. “I wrote to them asking them not to do it, not to use the accident. I suppose members of the royal family have to grin and bear it, but for me it’s a very private tragedy.”
Sarah said the producers responded with a letter stating, “that they understood my concerns, but they hope I will feel that they deal with difficult subject matters with integrity and great sensitivity.”
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