WHEN news broke of Marie Christine von Reibtnitz’s engagement to Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen is said to have commented: "She sounds far too grand for us."
In a New York restaurant this week, five wealthy, black diners discovered just how grand - and allegedly racist - the Czech-born daughter of a Nazi SS soldier could be.
Outraged by their self-confessed "loud carrying on", Princess Michael angrily told them to be quiet and, when they did not, she allegedly made a remark that stunned the restaurant.
Waving her fist, she is accused of telling the diners: "You need to go back to the colonies!"
The 59-year-old Royal - nicknamed "Princess Pushy" - denies making the comment, reportedly claiming, when confronted by outraged television reporter Nicole Young, that she had told them to "remember the colonies", a comment she chose not to explain in full at the time.
Her spokesman insisted she had not said anything racist, adding that the princess’s account of events was backed by the host of her dinner party.
But the owner of Da Silvano restaurant was said to have apologised to the five diners - Merv Matheson,an investment banker, Philmore Anderson, a music industry chief, the television reporter AJ Callaway, Tamera Reynolds, an entertainment lawyer, and Ms Young, who is a fashion correspondent and PR consultant.
The princess’s behaviour on Monday night at Da Silvano on New York’s Sixth Avenue left Ms Young and her friends "stupefied".
Ms Young said: "Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve never run into that kind of racism in my life. To think that this kind of thing could happen here — in 2004. We obviously have not come as far as we think we have.
"We were loud, laughing and carrying on. But it’s Da Silvano, it’s a boisterous place."
Mr Matheson told The Scotsman that he and his four friends were regulars at the restaurant.
They had been there for about an hour and a half when Princess Michael’s party came in just before 10pm and sat down at an adjacent table.
"Obviously she felt we were a little bit loud, but she didn’t ask us to quiet down. She took her fist, banged it on the table and pretty much told us to shut up," he said.
Mr Matheson said he spoke to the princess - at this point he did not know who she was; the group only discovered her identity later - and said she could have simply asked them politely or requested to be moved to another table.
"About ten or 15 minutes later she asked the waiter to move her.
"As she was leaving she said ‘You guys need to go back to the colonies’.
"We all had to think about it for a minute when we realised what she actually said.
"It was like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable’. It’s not something you say to anyone.
"Nicole went over and told her how we felt and that was it."
Ms Young explained: "I said, ‘I just came to let you know that what you said to us before was completely disgusting, despicable and out of line - go back to the colonies ...?’ She looked up at me and said, ‘I didn’t say go back to the colonies, I said, ‘remember the colonies’.
"And I’m, like, remember what about the colonies? She said ‘In the days of the colonies, there were rules that were very good’.
"And I said ‘What rules in particular are you referring to?’ She goes, ‘Just think about it’."
After that confrontation, the princess tried to summon Mr Marchetto and a waiter, saying: "You need to remove her from this table."
However, Ms Young left voluntarily and the incident ended.
The five diners’ version of events was disputed by Simon Astaire, a public relations expert hired by the Kents to help improve their image in 2002.
Mr Astaire said: "Princess Michael went with two male friends for dinner after the cinema. She sat down. The table next to her was very loud and abusive to the extent that the host complained to the manager. It continued over the evening.
"The host complained, asked them to quieten down, which they did not. Then the host suggested they move tables.
"Any suggestion she made a racist comment is simply untrue. She did not make a racist comment."
Mr Marchetto told The Scotsman that he had not actually heard what the princess had said, but believed what his regular customers - who never caused trouble at the restaurant - had told him.
"There were five people there. I believed it. It’s not something that you make up," he said.
Princess Michael was in the United States to attend the graduation of her daughter, Lady Gabriella Windsor, from Brown University.
Royals on the offensive
PRINCESS Michael of Kent ranks alongside the Duke of Edinburgh in terms of her ability to offend, insult and generally annoy sections of the population.
Some might think a Royal whose father was in the SS during the Second World War would keep her head down, but her habit of emphasising her status for personal gain has won her the nickname "Princess Pushy".
Although her marriage in 1978 to Prince Michael was resisted by Buckingham Palace, she initially found an ally in Lord Mountbatten. But after he invited the couple to dinner, Mountbatten reportedly slipped a note to his secretary saying: "If that woman doesn’t stop talking, I shall scream."
Princess Michael once let it be known that she "would go anywhere for a free meal" and there were damaging allegations that the couple were charging large fees as "Royals for hire". She also declared in a television interview that the Queen’s corgis "should be shot" and shocked meat hygiene service inspectors when she announced at an awards dinner that for health reasons she no longer ate red meat.
The chairman of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health attempted to repair the damage to the British meat industry - which was reeling from the BSE crisis - by offering to introduce the princess to the Master of the Worshipful Company of Butchers so he could "enlighten her", but she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
There were claims of plagiarism after she wrote a large coffee-table book about European princesses. And there were rumours of infidelity: she was once photographed wearing a bad wig as she left an alleged tryst.
Prince Philip’s gaffes included telling a Briton he met in Hungary in 1993: "You can’t have been here that long - you haven’t got a pot belly"; asking a Scottish driving instructor in 1995: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"; and telling British students in China in 1986: "If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed."