Princess Anne: the softer side of the for­mi­da­ble royal

She ap­pears in public as stern, stoic and some­times a bit grumpy, but no one could ques­tion her ded­i­ca­tion to duty, and in pri­vate she is an in­volved and adored grandma. Wil­liam Lan­g­ley re­ports on the life of Princess Anne to­day – and her pas­sion­ate past.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

Around Princess Anne, the Queen’s 66-year-old daugh­ter, hangs a re­as­sur­ing air of in­de­struc­tibil­ity. While much of the mod­ern monar­chy frets about its im­age, Anne ploughs on as she al­ways has – with dili­gence, fru­gal­ity, and an un­stop­pable gleam in her eyes.

So when, in Septem­ber, Anne was rushed to hos­pi­tal with chest pains, there was as much as­ton­ish­ment as worry. Sea­soned royal hands strug­gled to re­mem­ber the last time the re­doubtable Princess Royal had can­celled an en­gage­ment. Tales are told of her limp­ing down lines of dig­ni­taries af­ter fall­ing off her horse, and – on one oc­ca­sion – wear­ing a flo­ral head­scarf with a mil­i­tary uni­form to dis­guise hav­ing set her hair on fire. Now, an­nounced Buck­ing­ham Palace, she was pulling out of an en­tire sched­uled tour of Botswana and Mozam­bique.

The prob­lem was di­ag­nosed as an in­fec­tion, and Anne was or­dered to put her feet up and rest – a con­straint that never suits her well. While the spot­light tends to dwell on the younger, more glam­orous roy­als, Anne shoul­ders a phe­nom­e­nal an­nual work­load, rack­ing up over 600 en­gage­ments and serv­ing as pa­tron of 340 or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“Princess Anne is the best thing we have,” says In­grid Se­ward, edi­tor of Majesty mag­a­zine. “She puts in more ef­fort than any­one, makes no con­ces­sions to get­ting older, and does it all with the min­i­mum of fuss.”

Af­ter a fort­night’s con­va­les­cence at Bal­moral, the Queen’s re­mote Scot­tish cas­tle, Princess Anne roared back to work with a vengeance – rack­ing up five en­gage­ments on her first day, in­clud­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tion ser­vice for the crew of a lost World War II bat­tle­ship, and a char­ity din­ner to sup­port men­tally hand­i­capped chil­dren. These are the kind of events that re­ceive very lit­tle me­dia at­ten­tion, but earn huge grat­i­tude from the peo­ple in­volved.

The Princess Royal moves fast be­tween stops – usu­ally driv­ing her­self in a su­per­charged 260kph Range Rover, writ­ing her own speeches and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with her sur­pris­ingly small but de­voted staff on the hoof. It no longer seems to bother her that she gets so lit­tle credit for her ef­forts. Anne re­mains de­fi­antly old-school and anti-glam, with her hair pulled back governess style, and many of her out­fits re­cy­cled from decades ago.

Not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ates the re­sults. On Anne’s last visit to New Zealand six years ago, top fash­ion de­signer Denise L’Es­trange-Cor­bet caused up­roar by de­scrib­ing the royal guest’s look as: “Bor­ing as bat****,” and scoffed: “You have the world’s top stylists at your beck and call, and your hair looks like a cot­tage loaf.”

Anne has heard it all be­fore. She doesn’t dress or – as she would see it – per­form to please a fickle public. For years she was known in the Bri­tish press as “Princess Sour­puss” – an ac­co­lade earned by her re­fusal to smile to or­der, cud­dle wide-eyed chil­dren, and her reg­u­lar re­sort to

off-stage pro­fan­ity. She barely at­tempted to dis­guise her dis­dain for the ex­pen­sive tastes of Diana, Princess of Wales, and is likely to feel the same away about the Duchess of Cam­bridge. Away from work, her idea of hap­pi­ness is squelch­ing on horse­back through the muddy ex­panses of Gat­combe Park, her coun­try es­tate in Glouces­ter­shire.

Be­hind Gat­combe’s old stone walls lives a dif­fer­ent and less well un­der­stood Anne. She was the first of the Queen’s chil­dren to be di­vorced. Her first hus­band, Capt Mark Phillips, was an army of­fi­cer and, like Anne, a star of the in­ter­na­tional eques­trian cir­cuit. The cou­ple were mar­ried in West­min­ster Abbey, a year af­ter

Mark won a gold medal in the 1972 Mu­nich Olympics.

It wasn’t a happy union. Nor, to be fair, did they make much pre­tence that it was. Horses couldn’t keep them to­gether. Nei­ther could the two chil­dren they had, Peter, now 38, and Zara, 35. When it fi­nally ended in 1989 there was sense of public re­lief. One royal colum­nist wrote: “Af­ter liv­ing a life that made a mock­ery of the whole idea of mar­riage, they have de­cided to tell us what we knew any­way; that there is no love be­tween them and their mar­riage has been a sham.”

What few peo­ple have un­der­stood about Anne – then or now – is that be­hind that faintly for­bid­ding façade beats a pas­sion­ate heart. As a young woman she had a num­ber of in­tense re­la­tion­ships, and fell des­per­ately in love with An­drew Parker-Bowles, a hand­some Guards of­fi­cer, who later mar­ried Camilla Shand, now the Duchess of Corn­wall – and Anne’s sis­terin-law!

An­drew, who was fresh back with his reg­i­ment, hav­ing served as aide-de-camp to the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral in New Zealand, was de­scribed by one of his many so­ci­ety con­quests at the time as “the finest lover in Lon­don”. He was also a Ro­man Catholic, which made mar­riage to the Queen’s daugh­ter im­pos­si­ble. His af­fair with Anne was largely clan­des­tine, and although it even­tu­ally pe­tered out – end­ing defini­tively when he mar­ried Camilla – many be­lieve Anne has never quite got over him. In­trigu­ingly, the two re­main close, and An­drew, now 76, is a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Gat­combe.

Just eight months af­ter her di­vorce from Mark, Anne qui­etly mar­ried royal equerry Tim Lau­rence, a Royal Navy lieu­tenant from a mod­est back­ground, who almost no one be­yond court cir­cles had ever heard of. “Who is he?” peo­ple asked, and to some ex­tent the ques­tion has never been an­swered.

Tim, now a 61-year-old vice ad­mi­ral, who has re­tired from the Navy, has per­haps the low­est public pro­file of any­one in the se­nior royal or­der. He is rarely pho­tographed, never gives in­ter­views, per­forms no of­fi­cial du­ties and ap­pears to spend a lot of time away from his wife. Royal

In­trigu­ingly, An­drew is a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Gat­combe.”

bi­og­ra­pher Brian Hoey claims that the pair have grown weary of each other, and be­lieves there are ten­sions be­tween the ad­mi­ral and his stepchil­dren (he and Anne have no chil­dren of their own), but the pair seem out­wardly re­laxed in each other’s com­pany, and share reg­u­lar hol­i­days on board their 44-foot sail­ing boat, Bal­lochbuie.

Anne never speaks of such mat­ters: “The at­ti­tude to peo­ple’s (pri­vate) lives is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary,” she said in a TV in­ter­view, dur­ing which she made plain her mis­giv­ings about the royal fam­ily’s new ten­dency to make it­self more ac­ces­si­ble. “I don’t think that’s a good way to go,” she huffed, “and it can cause quite a lot of prob­lems along the line.”

“As she has grown older,” says

Hoey, “she has be­come a lit­tle eas­ier to talk to, but she can still be very prickly. The cur­tain will de­scend with chill­ing fi­nal­ity. You don’t get close to her. There are very few peo­ple she trusts. Af­ter two mar­riages and one di­vorce, and hav­ing seen the mar­riages of two sib­lings break up in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion, she pulls the cloak of roy­alty more tightly around her.”

Fel­low royal bi­og­ra­pher Penny Junor, who was at board­ing school with Anne, calls her “the rud­est woman I’ve ever met”. Yet even these crit­ics ac­knowl­edge her stamina and ded­i­ca­tion to the cause, and salute her re­fusal to play the royal game by other peo­ple’s rules.

There is fur­ther re­demp­tion for Anne in the ob­vi­ous rel­ish with which she has em­braced the role of grand­mother. Peter and his Cana­dian wife, Au­tumn, have two daugh­ters, Sa­van­nah, five, and Isla, four, while Zara, mar­ried to for­mer Eng­land rugby cap­tain, Mike Tin­dall, has two-year-old Mia and re­cently an­nounced her sec­ond preg­nancy. Apart from Anne her­self, who be­came Princess Royal in 1987, none of the “Gat­combe Gang” has a ti­tle.

Anne’s re­la­tion­ship with Zara was strained for sev­eral years – when the head­strong blonde went through a re­bel­lious phase – and it was widely ru­moured that she dis­ap­proved of Tin­dall, a hulk­ing York­shire­man who was dropped from the Eng­land team and fined a record $50,000 for drunken mis­be­haviour dur­ing the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Now all ap­pears to be sweet­ness and light, with the Tin­dalls in­stalled in a seven-bed­roomed farm­house on the Gat­combe es­tate, and Peter and Au­tumn hav­ing their own week­end cot­tage nearby. By all ac­counts, Anne is a wildly hands-on grand­mother, who en­cour­ages the chil­dren to “get muddy”, in the words of one aide, and cooks for both fam­i­lies. “Gat­combe,” says one reg­u­lar vis­i­tor, “is like a strange, posh com­mune, with horses a part of the fam­ily.”

In a TV doc­u­men­tary to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday ear­lier this year, Anne spoke with un­usual poignancy about how the changes in her once-strained re­la­tion­ship with the monarch echoed those she had ex­pe­ri­enced af­ter Zara be­came a mother. “You can be­come much closer,” she said, “as for the first time you re­alise what other moth­ers have been do­ing.”

There is no doubt that Anne and the Queen are now ex­cep­tion­ally close, with both women per­haps re­al­is­ing the things that once kept them apart – in­de­pen­dence, strong mind­ed­ness, a re­luc­tance to com­pro­mise – are also what they have in com­mon. The Queen, who was aghast at Anne’s re­fusal to let her chil­dren have royal ti­tles, now un­der­stands that her daugh­ter’s stand was a land­mark in the evo­lu­tion of the monar­chy, and ad­mires her all the more for it.

The ad­mi­ra­tion is spread­ing. Anne will never be ev­ery­one’s favourite royal aun­tie, never be the one who draws the big crowds or graces the gos­sip col­umns, but in the ma­ture stage of her royal ca­reer, there is a recog­ni­tion – in­side and out­side court – that the monar­chy would have been far worse off with­out her.

She is eas­ier to talk to but can still be very prickly.

FAR LEFT: Princess Anne and her first hus­band Mark Phillips share a laugh (and match­ing jack­ets) in hap­pier times. TOP: The Princess Royal and sec­ond hus­band Tim Lau­rence in naval uni­form at a 2005 com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vice to mark the 200th an­niver­sary of The Bat­tle Of Trafal­gar. LEFT: For­mer love An­drew Parker Bowles with Anne and Tim Lau­rence at the races in March 2016.

Anne de­fi­antly es­chews the glam­our look in her pri­vate life.

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