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The Truth Behind The Crown: Princess Anne

Nigel Brown
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The second season of The Crown brought viewers up to 1964 in the history of the British Royal Family, meaning that Princess Anne would have been 14 years old by the end of the period covered in the Netflix drama so far. So why have we seen so little of her?

The most obvious reason is that her brother Charles – older by two years – was (and, of course, remains) the heir apparent, making him somewhat more historically significant than Anne. To dramatise Prince Charles’s childhood is to show the making of a future king; to speculate on the personality of the man who will one day be head of state.

On a much more basic level, however, Charles’s childhood was simply more tumultuous than Anne’s, his time at Gordonstoun school inherently dramatic in being a time of much hardship for the young Prince. It was in the years covered by the forthcoming third season of The Crown – from 1964 to 1977 –  that Princess Anne’s life became considerably more eventful than her brother’s…

A Royal Love Triangle?

The 1970s saw the start of Princess Anne’s romantic life – roughly at the same time that Prince Charles was beginning to enjoy his bachelordom, having been advised by his great uncle Lord Mountbatten to “sow his oats”. The siblings’ dating lives ended up connecting in ways that highlighted the insular world of the aristocracy. 

In fact, Anne and Charles ended up as the points on two overlapping love triangles, with Camilla Shand and Andrew Parker Bowles as the second and third components of each trio. 

Princess Anne was said to have fallen deeply in love with Andrew Parker-Bowles when they began courting in the early 1970s – though their relationship was stymied by Parker-Bowles’ Roman Catholicism making him an unsuitable choice for marriage in the eyes of the Royal Family. 

Royal biographer Penny Junor has previously raised the possibility that were it not for Andrew Parker Bowles’ relationship with Princess Anne, Camilla Shand might never have embarked on an affair with Prince Charles in the first place. As the theory goes, Camilla’s initial interest in Charles was sparked by the fact that Andrew was embroiled with Anne, and Camilla’s affair with the heir apparent was calculated to provoke jealousy in Andrew.

By 1973 it was all academic; Anne had split with Andrew, leaving him free to marry Camilla in Charles’s absence during his military service. While Anne’s relationship with Andrew may have come to a conclusive end, the same could not be said for that of Charles and Camilla.

A Fruitful Marriage

In 1968, Princess Anne met Mark Phillips – a lieutenant in 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards – at an equestrian-themed party for horse enthusiasts. Their romance was built on this shared passion; a passion Anne further pursued by winning the individual title at the European Eventing Championship aged 21, and winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1971.

Princess Anne married Mark Phillips on 14th November 1973 in a wedding at Westminster Abbey that was televised across the world and watched by an audience of approximately 100 million – giving modern-day wedding extravaganzas such as those of William and Kate or Megan and Harry a run for their money. 

Mark Phillips was appointed a personal aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, an honorary role given to high-ranking members of the Royal Family, but with fairly limited duties that rarely extend beyond attendance on the Queen at various Royal ceremonies. Curiously, Phillips declined the offer of an earldom – as is traditionally made to untitled men marrying into the Royal Family – meaning that Anne’s children Peter and Zara Phillips would grow up without a title.

The third season of The Crown may offer some insight into the early years of this Royal marriage, but there is one event in particular that it seems destined to cover…

A Royal Hostage

On March 20th 1974, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips were being driven back to Buckingham Palace after a night out, along with Anne’s lady-in-waiting and the assigned Royal Protection Officer, riding up front alongside the chauffeur. 

The journey took a terrifying turn when a white Ford Escort pulled in front of the Royal Rolls Royce on The Mall – forcing Anne’s vehicle to come to a halt – and a disturbed man leapt out of the Escort and began firing a Walther PPK pistol. He was called Ian Ball, and his plan was to kidnap Princess Anne and hold her to ransom for two million pounds.

By the time Ball reached the back of the Rolls where Anne was seated, he had already shot her Royal Protection Officer and her driver. He pulled open the back passenger door and told Princess Anne “I want you to come with me for a day or two, because I want two million. Will you get out of the car?” to which the Princess Royal gave the immortal response: “Not bloody likely – I haven’t got 2 million.”

It was an exchange that epitomised the Royal stiff upper lip – even in times of extreme crisis – and Anne’s ability to keep her cool when staring down the barrel of a gun was proved justified; passerby (and former boxer) Ron Russell came to her aid, leading Princess Anne to safety. He was soon joined by a police officer who gave chase to and arrested Ian Ball, who was then detained under the Mental Health Act. 

All told, it was a lapse in security that saw 11 gunshots fired in alarming proximity to the Princess Royal, and four men wounded. Thankfully, all survived and were awarded for their bravery, and shortly after the attempted kidnapping Princess Anne made the unusual move of appearing on a 1974 episode of Parkinson alongside her then-husband, to give a cool, unruffled and wryly self-deprecating account of her brush with a loaded weapon. She laughed in the face of danger – and the audience laughed with her.

The Truth Behind The Crown: Princess Anne

With the dramatic turn that Princess Anne’s life took during the 1960s and 1970s, she seems primed for a bigger role in the next series of the hugely popular Netflix drama. Yet the truth is the events of her life during this period require no sensationalism; they were undeniably sensational in reality. So for the unvarnished true story of Princess Anne, head over to True Royalty TV where you can watch Royal Inquest: A Hunted Royal.

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