Queen Elizabeth II death: Princess Anne in a powerful balance of grief, duty and daughterhood
In a week of deep family grief, public mourning and heavy ceremony, Princess Anne played the steadiest and strongest of hands.
She led from the front, the male-heavy lines of monarchy and pageantry parted by the Queen’s only daughter, who paid tribute to her mother and Queen in unprecedented style that balanced both personal tenderness and professional endurance.
After accompanying her mother on the complex and emotional journey from Balmoral to Buckingham Palace and spending two days in London, the Princess Royal was back in Scotland by helicopter on Thursday morning to undertake royal work, attending a meeting with charity heads and gathered public at Glasgow City Chambers before a trip to a care home in Galashiels.
If grief was in the Princesses’ bones, it did not show up in her demeanour.
Diane Millar, senior support worker at Waverley Care Home, said: “The princess seemed really calm, she was so nice – she probably made us feel calm. She took time to speak to everyone. Those who were able stood up and curtsied to her. It was a lovely visit.”
The Princess Royal was with her mother, with whom she had a close bond, in the final 24 hours of the monarch’s life. The Queen had chosen her daughter to accompany the funeral cortege on an unprecedented six-hour funeral procession to Edinburgh on Sunday, where Anne received her mother’s coffin at the Palace of Holyroodhouse with a curtsy.
The Princess continued her journey behind her mother’s coffin on foot along the Royal Mile on Monday before becoming the first woman to take part in the Vigil of the Princes, held at St Giles' Cathedral, that night. She then returned by air to England with Elizabeth II the following day.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Princess Royal said: “It has been an honour and a privilege to accompany her on her final journeys. Witnessing the love and respect shown by so many on these journeys has been both humbling and uplifting.”
Anne’s ties to Scotland are long and true, and have helped shape both her personal character and public manner.
Described as a woman of great humour, stoicism, adventurous heart and dancing moves, she is said to have taken much of her mannerisms and predilections from her father Prince Philip.
From a young age, Anne was sailing around the west coast of Scotland with her father and brothers on the ocean going yawl, Bloodhound, exploring waters around Arran in the south to Lewis in the north.
It was on such journeys that her love of lighthouses was formed, with the Princess still enjoying annual inspection visits with the Northern Lighthouse Board on their ship NLV PHAROS. She has been the organisation's patron for 30 years.
"Princess Anne said dreamily that she would love to sleep aboard a ship for the rest of her life,” according to biographer Helen Cathcart.
As a girl, the Princess herself described the “blissful” sound of silence when the engine was turned off.
She wrote: “The only sound is the rush of water, relaxing and hypnotic. You have this utterly detached sensation that I have only otherwise experienced on a galloping horse – a feeling of contentment, of being in the hands of the fates of the elements.
“If it is blowing, then sailing becomes a fight, a battle against all that the wind and waves can throw of you.
"You become part of your ship, testing your skills not against anyone else, but against nature and the person you would like to be.”
Life at sea has, apparently, prepared the Princess for life on dry land.
Mike Bullock, chief executive of the Northern Lighthouse Board, said it was a “huge honour” to have such “an experienced yachtswoman and a great supporter of the UK maritime sector” as its patron.
Mr Bullock said Princess Anne joined inspections most years.
He said: “This involves landing by boat or helicopter, sometimes involving a scramble across rocks or a long hike to get to a lighthouse and invariably requires full waterproofs, pungent midge repellent and a packed lunch.
"But Her Royal Highness’s interest in our work extends far beyond visiting lighthouses. She is always keen to meet and chat with the technicians, engineers and ship’s crew, who work tirelessly on the frontline to get the job done and keep open the waterways on which we depend. Our staff really appreciate having the support of a patron who truly understands the importance and necessity of what they do."
Princess Anne managed press and public attention from a early age and launched herself into royal duty, driving a double decker bus around a training school in Essex on her first solo engagement, aged 18. Soon after, she was on a helicopter to visit a North Sea drilling rig, dressed in a red trouser suit.
Her public profile soared when in 1974, aged 23, she was targeted in a £2 million kidnap plot when Ian Ball, armed with a handgun, tried to get Anne out of her car. “Not bloody likely,” was the typically calm and assured response.
In 1977, the princess came third “out of nowhere” in a Gallup poll on the World’s Most Admired Women, which coincided with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Her mother was ranked first and Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, came second.
Where the press attention was less easy for the Princess to endure was at horse trials, the competitions that led to her compete in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games on her mother’s horse, Goodwill, after taking team and individual gold at the Three-Day European championships in 1971 and silver in 1975.
In event programmes, she appeared simply under the name Ms J Smith to deter photographers.
As patron of Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), a role she has held since 1986 while a passionate fan of the national team, her understanding of elite sport is appreciated by both Scotland players and management.
A statement from SRU said: “Throughout the ensuing 36 years, she has been steadfast and unwavering in her support and we are always delighted to welcome her and her family to international or club matches.”
Steadfast and unwavering. Two words taken to the heights of their definition by the Princess Royal this week.
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