Princess Mar­garet:

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - Contents -

in­side a wild royal love af­fair

They brought 1960s glam­our and sex to the royal court, but the pas­sion­ate flame be­tween Princess Mar­garet and Lord Snowdon was al­ways go­ing to burn bright, then burn out. In the wake of his death in Jan­uary, William Lan­g­ley in­ves­ti­gates their com­pli­cated ro­mance.

The 1960s had barely be­gun when Princess Mar­garet, the Queen’s younger sis­ter, and a lit­tle known so­ci­ety pho­tog­ra­pher named Antony Armstrong-Jones en­tered a mar­riage that would be­come a per­fect metaphor for the age of sex­ual revo­lu­tion.

A slight fig­ure of no great wealth or pedi­gree, Tony seemed an im­prob­a­ble re­cruit to the royal ranks. Yet, in their tem­pes­tu­ous time to­gether, he and Mar­garet changed ev­ery­thing around them, and few could deny his last­ing im­pact on the mod­ern monar­chy when, as the Earl of Snowdon, Tony died on Jan­uary 13, aged 86.

He was the first com­moner to marry a king’s daugh­ter since the Mid­dle Ages, the first se­nior royal to pur­sue a pro­fes­sional ca­reer – or “trade” as it was sniffily dis­missed at the time – and the first erring hus­band to land the royal fam­ily in the di­vorce courts.

“Tony was rock and roll, when the roy­als were still lis­ten­ing to cham­ber mu­sic,” said Princess Mar­garet’s bi­og­ra­pher, Tim Heald. “He was Carn­aby Street when they were still dress­ing from Sav­ile Row. He was dif­fer­ent, colour­ful and was al­ways go­ing to be an out­sider.”

Yet, in many ways, Tony and then 29-yearold Mar­garet were an ideal match. Both were glam­orous, en­er­getic, vain, self-in­dul­gent, over­sexed and largely obliv­i­ous to the con­se­quences of their be­hav­iour. They had each grown up with a sense of be­ing dealt bad hands in life and pos­sessed a charm that proved ir­re­sistible – es­pe­cially to each other.

Tony was born into a re­fined, wealthy fam­ily, but the money was mostly on the side of his mother, 1930s so­ci­ety beauty Anne Mes­sel, and af­ter his par­ents di­vorced, he was largely shut out of her life. When, as a teenager, Tony had to spend six months in hos­pi­tal with po­lio, she never once came to visit him. Ac­cord­ing to his most re­cent bi­og­ra­pher, Anne de Courcy, “It is pos­si­ble that his fu­ture at­ti­tude to women was sealed as he lay alone in his hos­pi­tal bed.”

Hav­ing failed to shine at school – where his de­spair­ing house­mas­ter wrote, “Tony may be good at some­thing, but it is noth­ing we teach here” – he be­gan work­ing for a Lon­don photo agency, where he was taken un­der the wing of royal por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher Ster­ling Nahum, known pro­fes­sion­ally as Baron.

It was on one of Baron’s Buck­ing­ham Palace as­sign­ments that Tony first met Mar­garet. The young Princess was in a state of emo­tional tur­moil, hav­ing been forced by the royal es­tab­lish­ment to re­nounce her dash­ing suitor, Bat­tle of Bri­tain hero Group Cap­tain Peter Townsend, on the grounds that he had been pre­vi­ously mar­ried.

It is likely that Mar­garet never quite got over Townsend, but Tony of­fered much that ap­pealed to her and the at­trac­tion be­tween them was in­stant and pow­er­ful. “They were both charis­matic, cre­ative, re­bel­lious, ma­nip­u­la­tive and self-ab­sorbed,” says a friend of Lord Snowdon’s, broad­caster Gyles Bran­dreth. “Un­for­tu­nately, it didn’t mean they were right for each other.”

They were mar­ried in West­min­ster Abbey on May 6, 1960, and for a while they looked, in­deed, like the per­fect cou­ple. Two chil­dren fol­lowed, David in 1961 and Sarah in 1964, and with their glit­ter­ing cir­cle of fash­ion­able friends, the Snow­dons gave the royal fam­ily a glam­our it had never known be­fore.

The cou­ple moved among film stars, de­sign­ers, artists, ec­centrics and rock­ers. The par­ties they at­tended were packed with the hip and beau­ti­ful, and swung to a back­beat of drugs and easy sex. In the swirl and daz­zle of the Six­ties, the dis­ap­proval of old-school courtiers only con­vinced Tony and Mar­garet that they were per­fectly in tune with the chang­ing times.

The first ru­mours that all was not well be­gan with small items in the Lon­don gos­sip col­umns,>>

not­ing that the pair ap­peared to be spend­ing less time to­gether. Tony’s busy work sched­ule – he was by now one of the world’s most soughtafter pho­tog­ra­phers – was of­fered as an ex­pla­na­tion, but be­hind the scenes things were al­ready go­ing badly.

Tony com­plained to his friends that his wife was in­se­cure, needy and pos­ses­sive, and that his royal sta­tus was a bur­den. Yet he liked the way it opened doors for him – es­pe­cially bed­room doors. As he later con­fessed to his bi­og­ra­pher Anne de Courcy, he had been prodi­giously un­faith­ful al­most from the start. Lonely and some­what lost in her hus­band’s bo­hemian world, Mar­garet also sought lovers, in­dulging in flings with wine merchant Anthony Barton, one of Tony’s clos­est friends, and so­ci­ety pi­anist Robin Dou­glas-Home, who later com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Tony pre­tended to be un­both­ered, coolly writ­ing to her, “If things are not go­ing very well at the mo­ment, then please, dar­ling, do dis­cuss things with me and I’m sure we can straighten it out. I was rather shocked that you took such pride in telling me that you had only three half-hearted af­fairs [dur­ing my lat­est ab­sence] and that it was much bet­ter when I was in In­dia. All I ask is not to make it too ob­vi­ous.”

They strug­gled on, liv­ing in­creas­ingly sep­a­rate lives, but painfully aware of the dam­age a di­vorce would do to the im­age of the royal fam­ily.

In 1973, Mar­garet, then 43, launched into a very pub­lic af­fair with Welsh baronet’s son Roddy Llewellyn, a gar­dener 17 years younger than her­self. Glee­fully por­trayed in the pop­u­lar press as a real-life ver­sion of the novel Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover, the li­ai­son saw Roddy and the Princess smooching in night­clubs and hol­i­day­ing to­gether on the ex­clu­sive Caribbean is­land of Mus­tique with Mick Jag­ger and David Bowie.

When Tony told Buck­ing­ham Palace he had had enough, there were few ar­gu­ments and on March 19, 1976, the pair of­fi­cially sep­a­rated. Not be­fore the Princess’ team strate­gi­cally pointed out that Tony had been hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship for four years with film­maker Lucy Lind­say-Hogg.

The mar­riage was fi­nally dis­solved in the Lon­don High Court in 1978, end­ing a taboo against royal di­vorces which had lasted since the reign of Henry VIII. Tony went on to marry Lucy, who di­vorced him in 2000 af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that for al­most all of their 22-year mar­riage he had been main­tain­ing a mis­tress, jour­nal­ist Ann Hills.

It also emerged that just months be­fore his mar­riage to Mar­garet, Tony had fa­thered an il­le­git­i­mate daugh­ter by the wife of a Bri­tish choco­late heir, and later, in sim­i­larly se­cret cir­cum­stances, had a son by mag­a­zine writer Me­lanie Ca­ble-Alexan­der.

Princess Mar­garet died in 2002, her health ru­ined by gin, cig­a­rettes and, so her friends would say, the dis­ap­point­ments of a life that never re­ally worked out for her. Yet she and Lord Snowdon had grown closer to­wards the end and in the more open royal cli­mate they had helped cre­ate, were able to for­give each other.

For all his tal­ents and later good work as a cam­paigner for the dis­abled, the royal es­tab­lish­ment pre­ferred to keep Tony at arm’s length and he was point­edly not in­vited to the 2011 wed­ding of Prince William and Cather­ine Mid­dle­ton or the Queen’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee in 2012. He claimed not to mind and pre­ferred to be what he was at the be­gin­ning, an out­sider.

They knew di­vorce would dam­age the im­age of the royal fam­ily.

ABOVE: Antony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Mar­garet were mar­ried at West­min­ster Abbey on May 6, 1960. BE­LOW: Lord Snowdon looks on as his wife takes a photo.

ABOVE LEFT: The fam­ily on their way to church at Bad­minton, Glouces­ter­shire. ABOVE RIGHT: Tony and Mar­garet’s mar­riage lasted 16 tem­pes­tu­ous years be­fore the cou­ple of­fi­cially sep­a­rated in 1976. BE­LOW: Tony was kept at arm’s length by the royal fam­ily af­ter his di­vorce.

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