Question: I’m a big fan of the Netflix series The Crown. In recent episodes, there's a Billy Graham character who visits with the queen. She is quite taken with him, but the family is not. Do you know how accurate this is? Did Billy Graham really visit with the queen of England and wield some influence over her?
Graham, the world-famous evangelist, died Feb. 21 at age 99.
My answer: In my opinion, they really could've used a Billy Graham character on the Netflix series Stranger Things to fight that monster, but I digress.
Real answer: Billy Graham + the queen appears to have a pretty firm basis in fact.
Back in the day, Graham was a globe-trotting, charismatic evangelist, and he did interact with Queen Elizabeth.
The Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association published an article in 2016 about the relationship between Graham and Queen Elizabeth, who had turned 90 that year.
The BGEA "has a long history of ministry in London, and the Grahams have visited with the royal family on more than one occasion," the association stated. The site further noted:
"No one in Britain has been more cordial toward us than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II," Billy Graham wrote in his autobiography, Just As I Am. "Almost every occasion I have been with her has been in a warm, informal setting, such as a luncheon or dinner, either alone or with a few family members or other close friends."
Graham also noted in Just As I Am that the queen's official position "has prevented her from openly endorsing our Crusade meetings."
"But by welcoming us and having me preach on several occasions to the royal family at Windsor and Sandringham, she has gone out of her way to be quietly supportive of our mission," Graham said.
Graham also said the queen is "unquestionably one of the best-informed people on world affairs" he's ever met, and he "found her highly intelligent and knowledgeable about a wide variety of issues, not just politics."
"Once, when visiting the royal family at Sandringham in 1984, Ruth and I walked past a woman wearing an old raincoat, Wellingtons, and a scarf; she was bent over fixing some food for the dogs," Graham wrote. "We thought at first she was one of the housekeepers, but when she straightened up, we saw it was the Queen!"
On another occasion, Graham said the queen was preparing her annual Christmas address and asked him for feedback, which he offered.
"I always found her very interested in the Bible and its message," Graham wrote. "After preaching at Windsor one Sunday, I was sitting next to the Queen at lunch. I told her I had been undecided until the last minute about my choice of sermon and had almost preached on the healing of the crippled man in John 5. Her eyes sparkled and she bubbled over with enthusiasm, as she could do on occasion. 'I wish you had!' she exclaimed. 'That is my favorite story.' "
I reached out to Netflix to ask about the veracity of the story line but didn't hear back.
Town and Country Magazine, though, had a good article on the whole subject in December.
The article notes that the show highlights major world events taking place in the early years of Elizabeth's reign, ranging from the Kennedys rise to power in the U.S. to Prince Philip's alleged infidelity. Author Caroline Hallemann notes that show creator Peter Morgan considers the "best bit of writing" in the current season the story line depicting the queen's relationship with Graham.
Morgan told Vanity Fair magazine the episode is about the queen wanting to deepen her Christian faith, Hallemann writes.
“She stops reflecting on forgiveness as a central tenant of Christianity at precisely the time that she’s asked whether she can or can’t forgive her uncle for (meeting with Nazis and a general inclination toward appeasement)," Morgan told Vanity Fair. "The two story themes dovetail quite nicely. It’s the best bit of writing in the season.”
Halleman notes that in the episode, "the Queen sits with her mother watching Graham on the television, enraptured by his sermon.
"She almost has a crush on him, at one point telling Prince Philip, 'I think he's rather handsome,' the rare moment she can make her husband jealous," Halleman writes. "We see Graham giving a sermon in Windsor Chapel, and later on, the pair of them discussing scripture."
The plot point, Halleman writes, "was a favorite of Robert Lacey's, the show's historical consultant."
Lacey, the author of the book, The Crown, The Official Companion, had this to say to Halleman:
"People don’t know how the queen struck up this friendship with an old-time American evangelist. People don’t know that almost certainly every night the queen kneels beside her bed and says her prayers because that is what her mother did, we know, and her grandmother before her, and that’s how she was brought up.
"And the Queen has a very solid traditional Christian faith, and so what you see in this series, you know that Billy Graham came to Britain on his 'Crusades' — not a word you could use these days — and they gave over hours of radio time. The Queen heard it and invited him to come to preach at Windsor in their own private chapel and then had him to lunch afterwards. Whenever he came to England, (the Queen) would invite him to preach, and often when she came to America — the Queen would come to America more often than people realize, on private visits to see the race horses in Kentucky — and she would often visit with Billy Graham because they had the same fundamental Christian faith."
This is the opinion of John Boyle, who writes for the Asheville Citizen Times.