Dazzling in full finery, 1973
Fearless, funny and so hard-working – we salute you PRINCESS ANNE! As she celebrates her 70th birthday, Hannah Betts discovers why our most unassuming royal is also the most fascinating
Here’s an amusing game to play with friends under the age of 40. Name a royal who is clever, funny, on the ball, sweary and hardworking. The royal in question has bravely batted off a kidnap attempt, represented their country in the Olympics, been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to famine relief, is qualified to drive a heavy-goods vehicle, and is the only royal with a criminal record (for being in charge of an out-of-control dog). Our heroine is said to have enjoyed romances with international heartthrobs (actor Anthony Andrews) and the man famous for being ‘the best lover in London’ (Andrew Parker Bowles), while boasting no little degree of sex appeal herself. Think: a size-ten style icon who designed her own wedding dress, and is currently the inspiration behind international catwalks; a flawless-skinned beauty who cares not a jot about her looks.
Step forward Princess Anne, the Queen’s second child and only daughter, who turns 70 next month. Anne was made Princess Royal in 1987, her mother keen to emphasise the two decades of sterling work she had devoted to royal duty. Where first Diana, Princess of Wales, and now Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, claimed to be modernisers, here is a woman who was trailblazing in a way they could only dream of. Not only is she the first female Knight of the Garter, she was the first princess to attend school outside the palace, and the first of the Queen’s offspring to marry and have children with a non-royal, divorce and then remarry.
‘Feminist’ may not be a word she would use to describe herself; however, a feminist is what Anne has been in practice; a working woman from the age of 18. The April issue of Vanity Fair magazine featured an interview in which she declared that, had she not been born royal, she would have been an engineer. Instead, she has been a champion of other women’s ambitions as patron of Women into Science and Engineering. The magazine’s cover featured a stunning Lord Snowdon portrait of the Princess aged 19, accompanied by the headline ‘Royal Rebel’. A few months ago, said rebel was trending on Twitter for apparently spurning President Trump, and as everybody’s favourite stroppy teenager in The Crown; a feat that saw her declared the ‘acceptable face of the monarchy’ in a left-wing newspaper. Others go further, and lament that she’s the greatest queen Britain never had. Ironic, then, that she should find herself 14th in the line of succession, appearing not only after her brothers, but their children and grandchildren, be it baby Archie or Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
For Anne’s birthday on 15 August, the Queen is expected to throw a party in her daughter’s honour. The Princess remains close to both her parents. Biographer and Vanity Fair royal editor Katie Nicholl, who conducted its recent interview, tells me: ‘She often spends time at Windsor and Sandringham and they speak regularly. There is a great bond between Anne and her father and, when the Duke has been unwell, 우리카지노계열 Anne often drops everything to be by his side. She’s close to her mother and they share a deep love of horses, dogs and the countryside. I was struck by how she lit up when she talked about her family.’
Observers often note that she is the perfect combination of both parents. Despite being neither heir nor spare – by merit of being a woman – she was determined never to act like a spare part, nor resent her status. She eschewed any hint of Princess Margaret’s drunken frustrations, as she did the sensitivities of her angst-ridden elder brother. Neither did she succumb to the haughtiness of Prince Andrew nor the amiable anonymity of Prince Edward. Anne has said of herself: ‘I never was and never will be a fairytale princess.’
However, she certainly looked the part when she was born in August 1950 at Clarence House, sprouting a halo of white-blonde curls. At 18 months, her life changed for ever when her grandfather George VI died suddenly, and – aged just 25 – her mother became Elizabeth II, the 42nd sovereign since William the Conqueror, and only our sixth queen (I exclude the uncrowned Matilda and ‘Nine Days’ Queen’ Lady Jane Grey). Her family moved across the road to Buckingham Palace, with Anne second in the line of succession for eight years, until giving way to her brother Andrew.
Strong, athletic, a tow-haired tomboy, Anne was nothing if not a character, more relaxed than her elder brother about her parents’ disappearances for weeks, sometimes months, on end for royal tours. Initially educated in the Buckingham Palace schoolroom, she was sent to Benenden boarding school in Kent at the age of 13. Staff and pupils lined up to greet her arrival, having to wait half an hour after she was sick in the car. However, she remained courageously calm, all smiles for the cameras.
The Queen and Prince Philip with Prince Charles and Princess Anne in 1951; a National Savings stamp, issued in 1960, featuring the Princess, and Anne and Charles with the Queen Mother, 1954
Anne enjoyed school, not least the sporting activities – a teacher noting that, in the classroom, ‘economy of effort was her style’. She left Benenden with six O-levels and three A-levels in history, English and politics and proceeded straight into the family firm. With the Queen and Prince Philip so often busy, Prince Charles aloof and reserved, the Princess became second choice to the Queen in the matter of royal duties.
Initially, she was criticised for a certain sulkiness in public. However, at 20 she became president of Save the Children, a role she has held for 50 years. Long before Prince Harry ‘discovered’ Africa, she set off to Kenya with the BBC’s Blue Peter, where she distinguished herself as a compassionate young action heroine. Her look has barely changed since this period: sunglasses resting on her bouffant, briskly chic, no matter the circumstances.
Katie Nicholl says: ‘She was a beautiful young woman, very charismatic, driven and determined. She’s never cared what she looks like or what people think of her, which can make her appear standoffish. But those who know her well say she is great company and has a wonderful sense of humour – dry, like her father. She’s been known to joke about racy subjects at formal dinners, which surprises her guests and is a real ice-breaker.’
The press was fascinated by her romantic adventures, and naturally this curiosity appalled her. Her name was linked with every princeling and grandee of marriageable age. Those keen on the idea of thwarted passion claim that Andrew Parker Bowles (later Camilla’s husband) was the love of her life. Certainly, this rakish young cavalry officer was a frequent escort – and more, if the pair’s antics in The Crown are to be believed. However, his Roman Catholicism prevented him from being a serious marital contender, even had Anne wanted this.
Instead, her attentions settled on Captain Mark Phillips, a world-class horseman, despite being the son of a middle-class sausage-maker, as the snobs dismissed him. Quiet and malleable next to his formidable girlfriend, Prince Charles is said to have nicknamed him ‘Fog’, on account of being thick and wet. Anne smuggled him about in a horsebox while they were courting, their antics fictionalised in the Private Eye column (then book) Love in the Saddle, all thrilling rides and thrusting mounts. Five hundred million people worldwide watched their 1973 Westminster Abbey wedding, in which the Princess wore an unfussy high-necked Tudor-style gown she’d designed herself.
Princess Anne on her wedding day in 1973 with husband Mark Phillips, brother Prince Edward and cousin Lady Sarah Armstrong- Jones