It’s been 50 years since the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne

And so, here’s the article The Weekly originally published about the incident in 1974.

50 years ago, on the evening of March 20, 1974, Princess Anne, along with her then-husband Captain Mark Phillips, bodyguard James Beaton, and lady-in-waiting Rowena Jane Brassey were travelling back to Buckingham Palace in a limousine, driven by royal chauffeur Alexander Callender.

However, when the vehicle approached The Mall, Ian Ball attempted to kidnap Anne. During the attempt, he shot three men – James, Alexander and Brian McConnell (a bystander who tried to help).

But ultimately, Ian failed – namely because of two reasons.

The first is that when he asked Anne to get out of the limo, she calmly replied, “Not bloody likely!”

And the second is that another bystander and former boxer, Ronnie Russell, got involved and managed to punch Ian twice in the head.

On April 3, 1974, The Weekly printed the following article about the incident, written by royal reporter Anne Matheson. Enjoy!

After the shooting in The Mall, can royal walkabouts ever be resumed?

Until that night of March 20, when the whole world was shocked at the attack on Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips as they drove at peak traffic time through London’s most stately thoroughfare, the British public still believed that what did happen could never happen here.

princess anne
Princess Anne, circa 1974.

The murderous attempt to kidnap the Princess was something quite foreign to their thinking.

Other countries knew such violence, and heads of state were assassinated, in spite of bullet-proof cars, armed guards with machine-guns at the ready, and the cordons surrounding them.

But the British royal family were different.

It was alien to their way of life to move with such a demonstration of force. They liked to be part of the scene, as they had always been.

As they moved closer and even more close to the people, they went walkabout at home and abroad with what looked like the very minimum of security, and nothing happened to them. It seemed as though nothing could happen.

Then came the night of the shoot-up, and the wounding of the chauffeur, the bodyguard, and the nearby policeman and passer-by.

It is typical of Princess Anne that when she had recovered from the shock and was safely at Buckingham Palace, she should pick up the phone and on a long-distance call to her parents in Indonesia assure them that she was “thankful to be in one piece.”

The very words with which she dismissed her own fright, followed by her concern for those wounded by the assassin’s bullets, give some indication that she was not only giving reassurance and condolence but dismissing the whole incident as lightly as she could.

princess anne kidnapping
The aftermath of Ian Ball’s attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne; Ian’s white Ford Escort is parked, blocking the path of the Princess’s Princess IV limousine.

It is unlikely that at that moment Princess Anne realised that her whole life, as she had known it from childhood, would never again be as carefree.

Some shots from a criminal’s gun ended the confidence Anne and Mark felt in being able to lead normal private lives.

But Princess Anne’s personality, unflappable in times of stress, fearless and forthright at all times, is unlikely to change.

She and Mark would like to move without the tight security that now enmeshes them. They have the courage to do so; but this cannot be.

Anne has stated over and over again that her job is being a Princess; she was born to it, so she will not buck against restrictions. Yet already she and Mark are finding it difficult.

Their life now is being ruled by the strictest security ever imposed on a member of the royal family. And this is especially hard because, among royalty, the Princess’s life so far had most nearly approximated that of an ordinary girl.

She was brought up very much like any girl in her class, and given the freedom to choose her own way of life.

princess anne kidnapping
Princess Anne visiting her bodyguard James Beaton as he recovered from the gunshot wounds he sustained during the kidnapping attempt.

“She made a good choice in Mark,” said one of her admirers, “and in spite of being a bit strong-headed about some things, she was settling down very nicely.

“Now it’s unlikely that the Princess will ever be able to ride out alone for those early morning training sessions. She would be a sitting target for an assassin’s bullets.”

Another close observer said, “If a photographer can snipe at Anne with a telephoto lens and get a good shot, how easy for a sniper to do the same thing, and hit the target!”

A member of a motoring organisation that criticised Princess Anne’s speeding offences said: “The poor Princess! She will never again be able to drive herself in that sports car along the motorways as she used to, afraid of nothing more than the speed cops.”

Some Londoners recalled how they had watched the royal family with apprehension when walkabouts during the big royal tour in Australia were televised.

They shook their heads at this free-and-easy style and said it could never happen in England.

“We were not thinking then that it would be a physical danger,” said a resident. “Nobody had violence and hideous militancy in mind.

“But some people thought the Queen was being too familiar.”

princess anne kidnapping
Police searching The Mall for bullets after the Princess Anne kidnapping attempt.

But times were changing fast, and soon the friendliness of the Australian walkabout became infectious: it spread right across the world and into the heart of London. People here loved it.

Through all the dreadful troubles the world has seen in this century, British royalty has walked unscathed.

Indeed, they continued making visits abroad in the face of every kind of threat.

“They have had.” as one paper in France commented, “the kind of courage that must be God-given.”

How will Princess Anne now lead her life?

The home she and Mark have just furnished at Sandhurst has already a massive guard; there are troop patrols on the alert, police dog handlers moving with their guard dogs, and a double dose of guards at every entrance.

Their home, Oak Grove House, is floodlit.

Princess Anne and her lady-in-waiting Miss Rowena Brassey circa 1974.

There the Princess and Mark are living “happily if dangerously,” in the words of one of their friends, who had an entry pass in her handbag.

“There’s still plenty of laughter.” she added. “I think they both feel life must go on and it’s bad for morale to be affected personally by the threats of extremists.”

Massive movements of troops and security are not alone the answer to the problem, as people all over the world realise when recalling that President John Kennedy and later his brother Robert were assassinated.

Anne and Mark, I think, have the answer. They are continuing their engagements as much as possible in the way they had planned.

Princess Anne’s diary had the note “Benenden” on it as she leaned on the desk to telephone her parents with her account of the attempted kidnapping.

She and Mark were going to Benenden’s old girls’ dance – an occasion which should be a happy one, as every young married girl knows when she shows her husband off to her old school friends and their husbands and sweethearts.

Neither Anne nor Mark will allow their vulnerable position to cloud their life together.

But they must curtail some of the activities that put them at risk.

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