“Mummy, Mummy, I can spell princess…what did the little girl on the Wirral bus think she could do with such a skill? Her mother who liked the Duke of Edinburgh because he was Greek, couldn’t think either. Nevertheless she took her to see Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress when it went on tour round the UK.
Should girls be told about princesses? Disney couldn’t make much money without royal romance being set up in fairytales!
Hollywood creates myths yet it sometimes dispels them. In 1953 Audrey Hepburn’s role in Roman Holiday began modernising royalty and the aristocracy. As the hookey-playing European princess, Hepburn’s character, took control of her own image, showing how clothes give clues to status; encouraging women to use home dressmaking in the class struggle.
The movie deals with notions of celebrity and public image. Through the eyes of the young Princess Ann (Hepburn), we see the difficulties and restrictions of being head of state, always in the public eye.
Queen Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret understood this only too well. Her private life was controlled, like her sister’s and her brother-in-law’s and by breaking out, rather, she probably led a more exciting, but briefer, life than either of them.
As a journalist I first met HRH Margaret, attending a Haberdashers’ Aske’s School’s celebration in Cheshire. I witnessed two extraordinary actions. A nervous teacher in the line-up decided to speak out about some unfairnesses she felt she was being dealt. I thought there was going to be the most dreadful embarrassment. I hadn’t banked on the diplomacy of royalty. Without catching breath the princess said, “Have you spoken to anyone about it?” Later watching a science lesson on static electricity, HRH turned to me, saying, “Ah Yes, sometimes my children run up and down on the carpet, then give me quite electrifying kisses!” As a motorbike pillion passenger, marrying a photographer kind of princess, this everyday life was obviously treasured by her.
Next time we crossed paths it was at a Northern Ballet Theatre lunch in Spring Hall, Halifax. I wasn’t surprised as I watched her smoking and chatting, relaxed, while everyone else didn’t dare look at anyone else in case they caught the wrong eye!
Prince Phillip’s death will be even sadder for the Queen than many of us can imagine. It will bring back the sadness she feels about Margaret, her baby sister. The Princess and the Duke were both a bit alike, whimsical, rebellious; modernising forces, just when needed.