Like all the best members of the Royal Family, she knows her first role is to support the Queen – not to compete with her. – Hugo Vickers
Princess Anne shares with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh a sensible approach to life – she does not care one jot what we think about her, she just gets on with the job. I suspect she has the quiet confidence, also shared by her parents, that she knows she is doing a good job – putting the maximum into life. You need to be careful if you meet her. She sometimes asks questions to which she already knows the answer.
I have a theory that life became easier for her when the Princess of Wales came on the scene in 1981, as she no longer had to fulfil the public’s expectation of fairy-tale princess, but could be what she was fundamentally – an executive princess. When she was young, the public impression was of a potentially bad-tempered girl, inclined to tell the press to “naff off” if they photographed her when she was riding, and yet she was clearly observant and taking a lot in, as was demonstrated in the recent ITV interview with her.
I had personal experience of this in 1999, when I asked to see her for 40 minutes to talk about her paternal grandmother, Princess Andrew of Greece. I didn’t get caught in a traffic jam on my way to Buckingham Palace and was 20 minutes early. A secretary came down to say that since I was there, the princess would see me early, so up I went for a conversation that extended happily for an hour and 20 minutes. I thought the best approach would be to take her through her grandmother’s life and see what she said. I did not expect to be taken on about the Franco-Prussian war, or to be given insights into how the Prince Consort redefined the work of the monarchy. She had clearly been very close to Princess Andrew and evoked very well what it was like when she was living at the palace in the last two years of her life. Princess Andrew’s old age must have been greatly brightened by Princess Anne (some of which was exploited in Netflix series The Crown with its usual exaggerations and tiresome inventions).
She has the quiet confidence, also shared by her parents, that she knows she is doing a good job. – Hugo Vickers
If you want to get an idea of the real Princess Anne, go onto Youtube and access her interview with Michael Parkinson in Australia in 1975, in which she discusses the incident when a mentally disturbed would-be kidnapper attempted to take her hostage. She was returning to Buckingham Palace on the evening of 20 March 1974, when her car was ambushed. Her detective, chauffeur and a passing policeman were shot, and at gunpoint the assailant tried to get her to get out of the car. What he had not accounted for was her cool reaction to this extremely dangerous situation. She simply told him, politely but firmly, that she had no intention whatever of getting out of the car. With deadpan humour, she related to Parkinson the terrifying events of that evening, which involved a tug of war as the man tried to pull her out, how she held on to Mark Phillips (her first husband), was at one point lying on the floor, then somersaulted out of the car, only to take refuge inside it again until eventually help came. The interview is significant, showing her complete understanding of the situation, her modest and entertaining reflections on a happening which could well have landed a lesser person in post-traumatic shock, and the subtle way in which she handled the interview. You get a fabulous impression of what you are dealing with in Princess Anne.
You need to be careful if you meet her. She sometimes asks questions to which she already knows the answer. – Hugo Vickers
I could write at length about the good work she does, with numerous charity and military connections, her particular interest in Scotland and her punishing schedule. Instead, two insights into the way she is. She tells the story that when she rode Goodwill in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, it was an occasion unique in the annals of equestrian history, when the Queen had bred not only the horse, but also the rider.
Then, soon after John Major became Prime Minister, he invited her for dinner at Number Ten. The protocol officer was new and had no idea in what order they should go in to take their places. Princess Anne overheard and immediately sorted it out. The next day the protocol officer apologised, saying: but wasn’t it lucky we had Princess Anne? Having sat next to her at dinner, John Major replied: “Yes. I wish I could have her in my cabinet.”
Hugo Vickers in a writer and broadcaster. He has written biographies of Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece, and Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough.
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