She’s well known for her stoicism, her inscrutability and her hard work: but the death of her mother has introduced us to a whole new side of Princess Anne.
"What we’ve seen has been a daughter rather than a princess," says royal expert Jennie Bond. “We’ve seen her looking absolutely devastated. We’ve seen the grief etched on her face, and I think we’ve all felt a door open that’s allowed us, for once, to look inside Anne’s heart. There’s been sentimentality, there’s been compassion, there’s been humanity - and I think it’s taken many of us by surprise.”
And it’s been extremely moving, Bond agrees, to have witnessed Anne as the individual who has been by her mother’s side in life and then in death. She was with her at Balmoral when she was taken ill last week; the then Prince Charles travelled by helicopter from elsewhere in Scotland to be with her at the end - but Anne was already there at the bedside. And in the days that have followed, it’s been Anne who has been the constant by her mother’s side. First she remained at Balmoral until the coffin was ready to travel to Edinburgh; next she made the arduous six-hour journey in the car behind her mother’s hearse. When the coffin was taken by RAF jet to London on Tuesday evening, it was Anne who accompanied her on the plane. And as they landed back in the nation’s capital, The Princess Royal issued a statement saying what an honour and a privilege it had been to have remained by her mother’s side.
For many, says Bond - who was the BBC’s royal correspondent for 14 years, and who has spent more than three decades reporting on a family that combines worldwide fame with enigmatic privacy - the seminal moment came outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse when The Queen’s coffin arrived there from Balmoral. “She sank into a deep curtesy and in that moment she was saying to the world: this was my mother and this was also my Queen. I loved her, and I respected her. It spoke volumes.”
Bond says she always felt a connection with Anne as the two of them are only four days apart in age - both now 72. “Also, I lost my own mother five years ago so I know how it feels.” Over recent months and years, says Bond, she’s noticed the roles between the two changing, just as they did between her and her own mother. “There’s a switch that takes place where the daughter moves to being the protector; she became The Queen’s eyes and ears, and her guardian. The first time she was seen with a walking stick Anne was there handing it to her, looking out for hazards, making sure everything was ok.” And if The Queen’s instincts might have been not to want to accept help as she grew older, she made an exception for the assistance of her only daughter. “Sometimes when the switch happens, the mother can be a bit ungracious about it - but I never saw that between The Queen and Anne.”
The mother-daughter bond is a strong one in many families; and in a family where there is only one daughter, and where it is difficult for outsiders to understand or know what it feels like to be Royal, that link was all the stronger - and perhaps it even grew stronger, as the years passed. There was also, says Bond, Anne’s love of some of The Queen’s passions: especially horses, but also dogs, and life in the countryside. “I don’t think everyone loved wet picnics in the Scottish hillside, but The Queen did - and so did Anne,” says Bond.
The Queen’s delight in her daughter’s achievements was perhaps magnified by the fact that her area of success was in the field the two most keenly shared - equestrianism. And then along came Zara, Princess Anne’s second child after her son, Peter, who was The Queen’s first grandchild - and having followed Anne’s horse riding career, including being in the UK team for the Olympics, she was able to do the same thing again for her granddaughter. “I feel she watched both of them with immense pride,” says Bond. “Because if The Queen [hadn't been Queen], perhaps this is what she would have done with her life.”
Although Anne’s relationship with the press - including at times Bond herself - has sometimes been prickly, not even the most snubbed correspondent has ever tried to claim Anne was anything less than hugely dedicated to her work, and immensely hard working. In that sense, says Bond, it’s difficult to imagine there will be much scope for her brother King Charles III to offer her a bigger role than the one she already has. But behind closed doors, in the weeks, months and years ahead, she looks likely to be even more influential in the next reign than she was in the last. "Being Royal is such a unique experience, and there are so few people who really understand what it’s like, and in whom you can confide,” says Bond. “Trust is everything. And Anne is someone King Charles can absolutely trust. Along with Camilla, The Queen Consort, with whom she gets on extremely well, I think she will be an enormously important support in the years to come.”
When the funeral with all its ceremony is finally over, says Bond, the King will be absolutely exhausted - and Anne is one of those he’ll call on for emotional support. “The two of them grew up together; theirs is probably the strongest bond of The Queen’s four children; and now their relationship is set to strengthen even more.”
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