The party poopers have spoken. No, Princess Anne did not, as video seemed to show, decline her mother the Queen’s request to greet the Trumps at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday for NATO leaders.
She wasn’t part of the official greeting party, we are told. The Queen was simply asking who was next up in the greeting line. Anne said, “It’s only me ma’am,” when the Queen turned to her.
And then, as upper-class Brits tend to do in awkward situations, everyone started shuffling around, making strange little staccato sounds.
However, Anne was filmed laughing conspiratorially as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bitched about Trump’s unscheduled press conference. You can see the top of Anne’s head, that distinctive swoosh of hair.
Whether she is a royal anti-Trumper or not, it is long overdue that Princess Anne is having a moment of international recognition—and perfectly timed because fans of The Crown have just been getting to know her as a young woman, thanks to Erin Doherty’s performance in this third season.
Tellingly, Princess Anne has not been given an actual storyline on the show yet. She has long been a royal off to the side, not in the main picture. She can be overlooked, and one senses she doesn’t care that she is. Personally, this viewer thinks The Crown should give her the screen time she deserves, to really burrow into this royal enigma.
If Americans feel not entirely familiar with who she is, even in Britain Anne is something of a mystery. On The Crown we see her kissing and punching her brother Charles, which sums her up; a tough character, playing by the rules and yet with a slight sense of side-eyed truculent mischief. She has never been a girly princess in the slightest—yet she is 100 percent loyal to “the Firm.”
It is said she is the hardest-working royal (in terms of the number of organizations she represents and is patron of), yet the rarity of her presence in the headlines makes such occasions—as at the Trump reception—that much more notable.
Don’t mistake invisibility for a quiet life. Anne has had plenty of drama in her time. In The Crown we see her have a clearly very enjoyable bit of nookie with Andrew Parker Bowles, who went on to be Camilla’s first husband. If that is true, Anne had sex with her sister-in-law’s husband long before they were sisters-in-law.
However, The Crown missed the opportunity to show one of the most dramatic royal moments of the 1970s: Anne’s attempted kidnapping one night in 1974 on The Mall in London, near Buckingham Palace, by a man called Ian Ball.
Ball told her he intended to kidnap her and hold her for ransom. He asked her to get out of her car (having shot and wounded four men, including her personal police officer, who were trying to protect her). “Not bloody likely,” was Anne’s alleged reply.
“It was all so infuriating; I kept saying I didn’t want to get out of the car, and I was not going to get out of the car,” she later told officers. “I nearly lost my temper with him, but I knew that if I did, I should hit him and he would shoot me.”
In real life, at least until her mass heroic designation by social media today, Princess Anne has mostly flown under the British radar. She enjoyed show-jumping, competing in the 1976 Olympics (she is now an IOC member and president of the British Olympic Association).
The general consensus is she has brought her kids Peter and Zara up relatively normally. Both, as Anne and their father Captain Mark Phillips desired, were born without titles (Phillips also turned down an earldom). Peter and Zara and their families are close to William and Harry and their families, but Anne’s children have never been in the direct heat of the royal cauldron.
For a long time, Anne was most famous for telling press photographers to “naff off” in the early 1980s, even though some photographers say her actual choice of wording was the f-word.
In the early 2000s, there were two brushes with the law; she was fined for speeding in her Bentley, and she pleaded guilty under Britain’s Dangerous Dogs Act, when a bull terrier she owned bit a child.
Anne, resolutely, does everything her own way. Not for her a slavish following of fashion. She wears what she is comfortable in, and this often looks like old sensible suits from the 1970s and 80s. Old-school silk scarves are knotted at the neck. In 2014, she wore a hat she had first worn in 1969.
For many years—especially the Diana era, when that princess brought such glamor to the royal roadshow—this led to mockery. Anne was perceived as the uncool royal buzzkill.
Witness an episode in season one of the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous where Edina (Jennifer Saunders) sighs disconsolately when it is revealed that no, Princess Diana is not coming to a cool charity event—Princess Anne has confirmed though. “The only label she knows is drip-dry,” Patsy (Joanna Lumley) snarls.
And yet, here we are in 2019, with The Crown’s Doherty showing the edge behind the dutifulness that has always characterized Anne. She became known as the Princess Royal in 1987, but she has remained—in public-facing terms at least—entirely ordinary. Her divorce (from Captain Mark Phillips) and marriage to Commander Tim Laurence were done smoothly with no airing of emotional dirty linen.
Last year, Anne shaded Harry and Meghan and the new era of touchy-feely royalty, and revealed her hatred of selfies.
“The theory was that you couldn’t shake hands with everybody, so don’t start,” she told a documentary of her hands-off policy, “I kind of stick with that, but I noticed others don’t. It’s become a shaking-hands exercise rather than a walkabout.”
As for selfies: “People don’t believe they’ve experienced the event unless they’ve taken a photograph,” Anne said. “I either don’t bother or just say, ‘I suggest you put that down.’”
Doherty reveals the foundation of this brusque personality in The Crown very well. Anne doesn’t suffer fools, but she also looks like a lot of fun if caustic wit is your thing—as it seemed to have been last night as Trudeau trash-talked Trump. As a royal, Anne has endured, and done so with a doughty honor and playfulness, while her brothers have faced shaming scandals of various kinds.
Even if the Trump story was a bit of collective social media wish fulfillment, it fits that general public image of Anne as stubborn and absolutely herself. One senses this moment in the international spotlight would tickle her, at the same time as she dismissed it as utterly trivial nonsense.