Princess Anne shows younger royals how to ride out media storms: Christa Ackroyd

Forgive me if I name drop. The last time I met Princess Anne she was everything she has ever been. You are immediately aware she is not someone who suffers fools gladly. Princess Anne has always been very much her own person, and it shows.

Princess Anne, Princess Royal and Timothy Laurence (R) attend the Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Sandringham estate on December 25, 2019 in King's Lynn, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

Her Royal Highness was at York Racecourse attending a fundraising event supporting the Jessica Bethell Foundation, set up by the parents of a young woman who tragically died from meningitis. The evening was not only to raise money for research into the virus, but also to support young people who live amongst the horse racing community of Middleham. Like her mum, horsey people are her kind of people. She will quietly do anything to support them, and she was terrific.

Princess Anne is a great speaker and, like all gifted orators, she takes the time and trouble to do her research. She also seeks out the smaller charities where her presence can make a real difference. As it did that night.

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Waiting in line to be introduced to any member of the Royal family is a daunting experience. What do you say? How deep do you curtsy? But then like all Royals, Princess Anne is used to the nerves her very presence engenders and will lead the conversation, unless you dare to introduce another topic, as my friend did that night when she asked about her grandchildren. Her whole demeanour softened, her face lit up and she raised her eyes to the sky at their antics. Like all grannies, she is a woman changed by them.

Prince Harry, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, laugh before watching a fly-past over Buckingham Palace after the Trooping the Colour ceremony on June 13, 2009 in London. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

We laughed as we discussed the adorable 90th birthday photo of the Queen surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren when Princess Anne’s granddaughter, Mia, stole the show by being ‘a bit naughty’. That was until the Queen handed the two-year-old her trademark Launer handbag, resulting in the perfect family snapshot. Which is exactly what every granny does with her little ones, though I suspect her jewellery box might be slightly more exciting than my own.

Princess Anne that night was delighted to spend time talking about her grandchildren, just as she was this week on the documentary broadcast ahead of her 70th birthday later this month. She had offered to look after them as soon as lockdown eased to show them how to look at nature and press flowers like she did as a child. The invitation she said, ruefully, had not been taken up yet. You could sense her disappointment.

Princess Anne probably hasn’t mellowed much as she approaches 70. When her daughter and son were asked what the response would be if it was suggested that she slowed down, Zara said: “Good luck with that one!”

What she has done is changed her once rather prickly image by sheer hard work. She is patron of 300 charities and gives them her all. She performs more royal duties each year than any other member of her family – and some younger members of the Royal family would do well to follow her lead.

Times have changed, though, and Princess Anne was quick this week to sympathise with them, hinting that the pressure of media attention is made even worse by social media, though the thought of being on Twitter herself was answered with a snort of derision.

It is easy to forget this Royal has also faced her own crises. Naff off, was her response to photographers who got in her way and in her face while trying to snap her falling off her horse at the Burghley Horse Trials back in the early 70s. There is at least one snapper who claims the word used was possibly even stronger.

She was criticised for being disinterested on an early trip with her brother to the US when she was asked what she thought of the Lincoln Monument. “It’s big” was her response. And, of course, she was the first of the Queen’s children to get divorced, also refusing Royal titles for her children which she still thinks was probably for the best, telling them on public occasions to behave, mind their manners and to go out and earn their own money.

Her second marriage also came under the media spotlight. But she has never commented on her personal life and remains fiercely protective of her privacy. Because she believes, rightly in my view, that as long as she works hard, gives her all, what she does in her own time is her business.

This week’s documentary didn’t really tell us anything new apart from the fact she is still a tough cookie. She made it clear in no uncertain terms how ridiculous she thought the idea was of adding a tiara to a bronze bust being made of her. No, was the answer. She alluded to the fact she had chosen not to watch Netflix’s The Crown but thought the fact it had taken the actress who played her hours in make-up to recreate that famous hairdo that has hardly changed in five decades was sheer madness. I do my own in 15 minutes, was her reply.

In the same week a book about the very public fallout, which led to Harry and Meghan’s decision to bow out of the Royal family, was previewed in some of the newspapers. If it is true that inside the Palace Meghan was dismissed as Harry’s showgirl, then that is appalling, ill-mannered and the very height of snobbery. And it must have hurt. But the rest is just tittle tattle. I have always said I believe it was as much Harry’s decision as his wife’s to quit these shores, but, as often happens, it’s the woman who gets the blame.

But, as Aunty Anne has shown, keeping your own counsel is always the best way. Hard work silences even the harshest critic. So Happy 70th Birthday, Ma’am. Keep doing what you do. It’s a great example to working women everywhere.

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