The Ultimate National Treasure?

Universally lauded British notables tend to be either entertainers or athletes. But arguably the country’s most deserving cultural asset — Princess Anne — has been both. And there are bonus points for being royalty.
The Ultimate National Treasure?

To call woman the weaker sex,” Mahatma Gandhi once said, “is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman.” Indeed, the phrase was a vapid platitude the moment it was coined. Exhibit A: the voids between the genders in terms of pain threshold and life expectancy — case closed. There are plenty more exhibits up the prosecution lawyer’s sleeve, too. (S)he might turn to the history books and cite the fearless exploits of Zenobia, Cleopatra, Lakshmibai, Theodora, Joan of Arc or Empress Dowager Cixi. (S)he might delve into the annals of popular music and point out how different its narrative would be without the exploits of Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde. Marilyn Monroe’s irresistible turn in Some Like It Hot, in which she produced one of the defining performances of Hollywood comedy history while she managed her extreme bipolar disorder, could also be in the mix. Another worthy addition to the case file, meanwhile, would be a foiled abduction attempt that happened in 1974 on The Mall in London, and the incredible reaction of its intended victim: Anne, Princess Royal, the second child (and only daughter) of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

Anne was travelling home in a Rolls-Royce from a charity film screening with her then-husband, Captain Mark Phillips, when a gunman by the name of Ian Ball blockaded her vehicle, stepped out of his own, and opened fire. A shoot-out between Ball and James Beaton, the police officer accompanying the princess, ensued, causing a shattered back window to shower her in glass. The drama had only just begun, though. Her chauffeur (along with Beaton, whose gun had jammed, and an intervening tabloid journalist) was shot during the exchange, and Ball was able to get to Princess Anne. Inside the vehicle, he told her of his plan to hold her ransom for a sum of £2m or £3m. The princess’s response? “Not bloody likely!” Happily, those on the receiving end of gun shots (which also included a passer-by, a former boxer by the name of Ron Russell), recuperated from their injuries. As such, there was a healthy level of flippancy in the conversation when, a few years later, the princess, with Phillips at her side, recounted the incident in an interview with Michael Parkinson. In fact, her wit, her insouciant stoicism — the fabled ‘stiff upper lip’ — went into overdrive.

Anne’s life story is a contradiction of both protocol taskmaster and occasional rule breaker. As one insider who knows the princess well put it, ‘She can turn from laughing and joking one minute to being an absolute stickler for the rules the next’.” Perhaps the overarching theme of her character, though, is the weirdly wonderful interplay between gentility of manner and ferocity of spirit that Anne possesses. To continue Gandhi’s take on the subject of perceived weakness in those without a Y chromosome: “If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater courage?”


Explore the full story on Princess Anne in Issue 86, available to purchase on and on newsstands worldwide now.


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