Who Is Sydney Johnson and Why Didn’t We Get to Know Him Sooner?

Sydney Johnson, the longtime valet to the Duke of Windsor, gets some deserved highlight in The Crown’s fifth season after making his (silent) first appearance in season 3. Played by Joshua Kekana in his youth and Jude Akuwudike as an older man, Johnson is featured in season 5, episode 3 as he’s hired by the previous King Edward VIII his wife Wallis Simpson, and later trains billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed in royal ways of life.

Born within the Bahamas, Johnson is one in every of the one Black characters in The Crown—granted, the royal family may be very white—and his presence felt sorely needed. When the episode concludes together with his death, I used to be left wanting to see more of him, or wishing he was incorporated within the series earlier so viewers could connect with him more deeply. There is definitely lots to cover within the a long time’ long history of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, but episodes like “Mou Mou” show us that The Crown continues to be compelling even when it doesn’t give attention to the royals directly. In any case, the monarchy doesn’t just consist of a bloodline; a diligent staff, the federal government, and constituents from all around the globe help keep the “system” alive.

Not much is thought about Johnson outside of his work with the royals and Al-Fayed, but he sure gave the impression of an interesting man. Listed below are some key things to know.

He served the Duke of Windsor for 30 years.

Johnson began working for the Duke in 1940 when he was 16 years old, when the Duke served as governor of the Bahamas, in keeping with The Latest York Times. He held the post for 3 a long time.

His work took him from the Caribbean to the royal couple’s country home Le Bois, in Bois de Boulogne, France. While giving a tour of Le Bois, which its future tenant, Mohamed Al-Fayed would later call Villa Windsor, Johnson shared details of what life at home with the Windsors was like.

“On Christmas Day they’d all the time be alone, just with us, the staff and our families. The dogs can be running around getting presents, too,” he told the Times. And upon encountering a footman’s livery jacket adorned with a gold braid, he said, “I all the time used to wear one in every of these once I served at one in every of our big dinners.”

It seems not only the Windsors were keen on Johnson. Hugo Vickers, royal biographer and creator of The Crown Dissected, told Time: “I met him on the Windsors’ house in Paris in 1989. He was a pleasant man, with a beautiful smile, and great human sympathy. He was clearly very keen on the Duke and Duchess and spoke of them with understanding.”

The Duke of Windsor died in 1972, but Johnson continued to work on the Windsor household. Johnson’s wife died the next yr, and to make matters worse, the Duchess of Windsor would not allow him to depart work early to look after his kids. “I actually have 4 children,” Johnson told her, People reported in 1990. “Let me care for my 4 children. And also you care for your 4 dogs.” Johnson resigned from his post, though Vicker told Time that the duchess fired him.

Jude Akuwudike and Salim Daw as Sydney Johnson and Mohamed Al-Fayed in The Crown.

Ana Blumenkron//Netflix

He worked for Mohamed Al-Fayed.

In The Crown, Johnson encounters Al-Fayed when he’s serving at a celebration on the Ritz. Daw’s Al-Fayed first discriminates against Johnson, sending him out of the party because the only Black person there, but then hires him after learning he used to work for royalty. From there, Johnson became valet to Al-Fayed, training him in royal etiquette and assisting within the renovation of “Villa Windsor,” the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s French home, which Al-Fayed rented after their deaths.

While details of their initial meeting are unclear, it’s true that the true Johnson worked as a waiter on the Ritz. (People reports the tycoon hired him in 1977.) Johnson was then assigned to Villa Windsor as Al-Fayed’s valet, to handle renovations and act as a curator given his history working on the estate.

“Sidney [sic] is a dictionary,” Al-Fayed told The Latest York Times in 1986. By then Johnson was 63 years old. “He’s a really cultured man. He got all these items out of boxes and safes and storage rooms, and he knows their history.”

the crown season 5

Mohamed al-Fayed and Sydney Johnson take center stage in The Crown season 5, episode 3.


He died in 1990.

Johnson died on Jan. 17, 1990 in Paris on the age of 69. In line with the Associated Press, his last public appearance was only a month prior, on Dec. 10, at a celebration marking Al-Fayed ‘s re-opening of Villa Windsor.

“I feel on top of the world,” Johnson said on the time. “The restoration is so authentic I expect to see the duchess stepping down the staircase asking, ‘How do I look?’”

Responding to the news, Al-Fayed said Johnson “was truly a gentlemen’s gentleman. We will miss him very much.”

Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There’s a 75 percent probability she’s listening to Lorde immediately. 

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