It’s the 50th anniversary of Princess Anne’s attempted kidnapping

It’s the 50th anniversary of Princess Anne’s attempted kidnapping
Princess Anne
Image: APA/AFP/Andy Buchanan

A luxurious Aston Martin with a royal emblem on the roof rolls along the Mall in London towards Buckingham Palace on the evening of March 20, 1974. Sitting in the back seat are the Queen’s 23-year-old daughter Princess Anne and her then-husband, 25-year-old officer Mark Phillips. Just the year before, the couple had married with great pomp.

Shortly before they reach their destination, a white Ford Escort appears, overtaking the royal limousine and forcing it to stop. An armed man gets out. He’s after Princess Anne. He wants to kidnap her in order to extort several million in ransom. And he means it. He shoots four men who stand in his way: the bodyguard, the chauffeur, a police officer who rushed to the scene and a journalist who happened to drive by in a taxi and decided to intervene.

“Go away, you silly man”

Princess Anne is reportedly surprisingly calm about the whole incident. According to an eyewitness, she tells the kidnapper who tries to drag her out of the vehicle: “Go away, you silly man.” She has retained the image of the no-nonsense princess to this day. The now 73-year-old sister of King Charles III. (75) is considered extremely dutiful and perhaps more importantly: free from scandals.

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The stoic princess and her husband engage in a kind of tug-of-war with the armed man – the kidnapper pulls on her arm, her husband resists. At the same time, the couple tries to talk the kidnapper out of his plan. It’s not successful, but at least it gains time.

Former boxer stops kidnapper

Only a former boxer can stop the kidnapper. Ronnie Russel, a working-class man who had been training at a boxing club in east London, passes the scene on his way home from work that evening. The then 28-year-old managed to get close to the armed man and gave him two punches, knocking him down. At this point, more police officers arrived and overpowered and arrested the perpetrator.

The incident shook the royal family awake. It becomes clear: the danger of an attack on the royals was significantly underestimated. Especially at a time when a bloody civil war is raging in Northern Ireland between royalists and supporters of the part of the country’s separation from the United Kingdom. “Royal security was a pretty amateur affair when I was at Buckingham Palace,” says Dick Ellis, who used to be a security guard for the royal family, in a documentary on the British TV station Channel 4 on the 50th anniversary of the kidnapping attempt. According to the broadcaster, the costs for the security of the royals are now estimated at around 100 million pounds per year (the equivalent of around 117 million euros).

Everyone who was shot survived

Prince Harry (39), who has left the inner circle of the royal family, is currently engaged in a legal dispute with the British Home Office because he should no longer be granted the same police protection as other royals when visiting home. Harry, who lives with his wife Duchess Meghan (42) and their two children Archie (4) and Lilibet (2) in the US state of California, recently suffered defeat in the proceedings, but wants to appeal.

Miraculously, everyone who was shot survives. Weeks later they are awarded orders and medals at a ceremony in the palace.

“The medal is the thanks of the Queen of England, I would like to thank you as Anne’s mother,” ex-boxer Russel remembers the Queen’s words when she pinned him with the George Medal. He has since parted with the memento. In 2020 he auctioned the medal along with a letter from the government headquarters at 10 Downing Street announcing the honor, a telegram from Princess Anne and a letter from the head of Scotland Yard. With the 50,000 pounds he raised, he wanted, among other things, to leave money for his funeral.

The kidnapper who was prevented was committed to a closed psychiatric hospital for an indefinite period of time. His motive was never entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem to have been money: the mentally ill man wanted to give the ransom of three million British pounds to the NHS for better equipment in psychiatric hospitals.

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