Did she keep a secret code for her first lover’s tryst?
THOSE who think of Princess Margaret’s life as a tragedy see Group Captain Peter Townsend as its unfortunate hero. The dashing air ace and the fairytale Princess torn apart by the cold-hearted Establishment. For these people, their broken romance was the source of all her later discontent. But how true is the myth?
Peter Townsend entered the scene in February 1944, when he was appointed the King’s Extra Equerry. At this time he was 29, with a wife and a small son. Margaret was 13, and a keen Girl Guide. When, precisely, did Townsend start taking a shine to the young Princess? It is a question rarely asked. According to him, romance blossomed shortly after his divorce in December 1952. Margaret told friends she fell for him on a tour of South Africa in 1947, when she was just 17. But had this impetuous young woman managed to hide her feelings for a full five years? And had the Group Captain somehow exercised similar restraint?
Possibly not. Margaret’s chauffeur, John Larkin asked if she wanted to transfer her old numberplate – PM 6450 – to her new Rolls-Royce. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘It refers to an incident in my past best forgotten. I want something that doesn’t mean anything.’
Larkin worked out that ‘PM’ stood for Princess Margaret, and ‘6450’ stood for 6 April, 1950. What had happened on that day? Was it, as some have calculated, the day on which the 19-year-old lost her virginity to the Group Captain?
TOGETHER: Margaret, then 17, and Townsend in 1947