Princess Anne should be an honorary Yorkshirewoman - Sarah Todd

RATHER than lavish celebrations, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal will be spending her 70th birthday today sailing around the west coast of Scotland.

The Princess Royal celebrates her 70th birthday today. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

RATHER than lavish celebrations, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal will be spending her 70th birthday today sailing around the west coast of Scotland.

The coronavirus pandemic has put paid to a formal dinner at Windsor Castle and one can’t help but imagine that this particular birthday girl is pleased it will be the wind in her hair rather than a tiara.

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This correspondent has always admired Anne and really enjoyed the recent documentary to mark her three score years and ten.

This archive photo shows the Princess Royal and the Prince of Wales arriving at London Liverpool Street to take the train to Sandringham. Photo: PA/PA Wire

In ITV documentary Anne at 70 she came across as very similar to hundreds of hard-working farming and horsey grandmothers the length and breadth of the country; not suffering fools gladly but (when push comes to shove) having hearts in the right place.

Apart from the insights into her home life – such as coming home late from formal dinners and going straight out into the dark still wearing a ball gown to lock up her hens – one of the joys was hearing her comment about online technology, saying: “Being in touch is one thing but it’s not quite the same. The ability to meet people, that’s what makes the difference. I mean, I know what Twitter is but I wouldn’t go anywhere near it if you paid me.”

What a wonderful woman Princess Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, the only daughter of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, is.

It’s well documented she’s the hardest-working Royal but did you know that the only place her good works are officially shared is on the Queen’s social-media platforms?

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Unlike pretty much everybody else – think the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s unseemly clamber to register websites etc – she doesn’t have her own media machine promoting her good works.

Anybody interested in what she’s up to can read about it via the Queen’s official channels. There is something so very symbolic about the way she sees herself as part of the team, a cog in the wheel of the Royal Family, rather than as a figurehead in her own right.

Very much like her brother Prince Charles – who just this week made a significant private donation to a new farming charity to help with fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic – Anne sees herself as a farmer.

She runs her Gatcombe Park estate in Gloucestershire as very much a working farm. Her efforts to promote White Park cattle have been credited with the fact the breed is no longer on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s endangered list.

She is patron of around 50 countryside organisations and not afraid of speaking out about controversial subjects such as badger culling to prevent TB in cattle and genetically modified crops.

A little pearl of information that never fails to raise a fond smile is that the back of her Range Rover is full of the odds and sods all farmers carry “just in case”. If she sees a gap in the fence she’ll jump out with a hammer and nails to repair it.

Here in our county she is always greeted like an old farming friend when she visits the Great Yorkshire Show. Also of particular note is the keen interest she has taken in Jack Berry House, the rehabilitation centre built in Malton by the Injured Jockeys Fund, of which she is patron.

She’s also turned up, in a very low-key way with no bowing and scraping, to support the town’s Racing Welfare, which looks after stable staff. Their needs on the bottom rung of the mega-bucks ladder can so often be forgotten.

With similar lack of fanfare, the former Olympic equestrian has recently held online meetings with members of Riding for the Disabled, trying to learn as much as she can about how the organisation is managing. She’s been patron since 1971, taking over the reins as president in 1985.

The charity helps around 28,000 children and adults with disabilities ever year. It’s such a cruel blow that the pandemic closed every single centre and some are now battling for survival, a big financial and social-distancing cloud over when they will open again.

Reflecting on the sad situation, the Princess Royal is determined to make the wider public understand that the sessions on horseback are so much more than a fun optional extra. “It really means something to their ability to live their lives,” which is a short but incredibly poignant sentiment from somebody so given to understatement.

It was understated not to accept courtesy titles for her children. Moreover it was genius.

Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall are still solidly royal in their support of their grandmother and the wider family but they came across in the documentary as refreshingly normal. There have been no apron strings to hang on to; their mother has been too busy. They have ploughed their own furrows.

Princess Anne is a marvellous model of the old county saying “Hear all, see all and say nowt”.

For her birthday today, let’s think of her as an honorary Yorkshirewoman. Just think what a wonderful Duchess of York she’d have made...

The Riding for the Disabled Association has set up a Resilience Fund to help fund practical solutions for groups to rebuild and recover following the coronavirus closures. Visit www.rda.org.uk or call 01926 492915.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine and a farmer’s daughter.

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