October 26, 1987 12:00 PM

The royal Windsor who will be dropping by Nashville this week is neither Diana of the Hats nor Sarah of the Short Skirts. Rather, it is Anne, the Princess Royal, a woman of sterner stuff than her younger sisters-in-law—all corduroy and tweeds, not chiffon and silk. She doesn’t giggle in public, poke her chums in the bum with brollies or dance the night away with stylish young fops. And if a well-meaning local should present the royal visitor with a 12-foot python, better save your prayers for the snake. Anne, 37, has been working the red-carpet circuit for far too long to let anything that flies, swims or crawls shake her composure.

Americans haven’t seen the Princess on these shores since 1984, when she was just plain Princess Anne, without a Royal to her name. That honorific, traditionally bestowed on the eldest daughter of the monarch at the monarch’s discretion, was added last summer by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of Anne’s tireless work as president of the British-based Save the Children Fund. Many in England regard the new title as confirmation of Anne’s reputation as the most dutiful and serious of the younger generation of royals after Charles. Although she still is prone to flashes of temper and seems to prefer the company of horses to people, her numerous charitable appearances and no-nonsense persona have endeared her to stiff-upper-lip Britons put off by the girlishness of Fergie and Di.

It is Save the Children, as well as her passion for horses, that has prompted Anne’s three-day visit to Tennessee. A highlight of the trip will be her attendance Friday at the Royal Chase, a four-race meet at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park, with a guaranteed $25,000 of the gate going to the charity. Anne, the only member of the horse-crazy royal family to actually saddle up and race competitively in the United States, will ride that day in the British Airways Invitational, a two-mile race over a flat course. The gentry has already bought out all 50 royal boxes, at $10,000 for 10 seats each, and the 450 standard boxes, at up to $1,500 a throw, are going fast.

George Sloan, 48, member of a wealthy Nashville department-store family and a champion international horseman, helped organize the meet and was responsible for the invitation to Anne. She’s expected to stay with him and his British-born wife, Jane, at their horse farm 25 miles outside Nashville. The Sloans are among the 36 amateur riders invited to compete against the Princess in the day’s first race, and the Princess stands warned there will be no quarter given. “I suppose it would be nice if the Princess did win in Nashville, but there will be no letting her win,” says Jane.

Win, place or show, Nashville is giving Anne a real down-home upper-crust welcome. An avid Country and Western fan, Anne will be touring three recording studios as well as listening to live performances on the racetrack grounds by singers Lee Greenwood and Ray Stevens. There will also be afternoon tea under tents and a pre-race Plantation Party at Belle Meade, a local antebellum mansion where Anne will hear Ricky Skaggs sing. Tennessee’s famous walking horses will be paraded for the Princess, and its equally famous sipping whiskey will be there too, should she feel inclined to partake. There has even been loose talk of introducing the royal palate to such regional indelicacies as corn bread, grits and redeye gravy.

In all, Anne can be expected to have a fine time, despite the fact that she’ll be having it, as usual, solo. Her children, Peter, 9, and Zara, 6, are in private school in England, while her husband of nearly 14 years, Mark Phillips, will be in New Zealand. Anne and Mark, in fact, are apart—quite contentedly—far more often than they are together.

The Princess’s marriage to Phillips, 39, who is generally portrayed as an expert shot, an excellent horseman and a dim country squire, has been the subject of rumor for years. The Fleet Street tabloids have eagerly detailed Anne’s intimate dinners at her home, Gatcombe Park, in Gloucestershire, with various men other than Phillips. In an article in the Mail on Sunday last spring, Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine, described one such dinner: “…Anthony [Brideshead Revisited] Andrews sitting at the head of the table [at Gatcombe] quaffing wine while Anne sits beside him sipping her favorite, Coca-Cola.” The storm of innuendo prompted Andrews to defend the Princess’s honor publicly. “The gossip,” he complained, “is so far removed from reality as to be beyond belief.” Andrews and his wife, heiress Georgina Simpson, continue to visit Gatcombe, as does former auto-racing champion Jackie Stewart, whose name has been bruited about in the same fashion.

Most of the rumors about Mark have the common theme of unknown blondes in distant places, while the most persistent about Anne have involved Peter Cross, her former bodyguard. There have even been hints in the tabloids that Cross is Zara Phillips’ father. No one on Fleet Street has ever summoned up the courage to put the question to Anne, since far less heinous journalistic invasions have prompted her to reply bluntly, “Naff off!”—a popular Britishism synonymous with a similar phrase of proletarian pedigree. Cross, however, has confided indiscreetly that he and Anne were once “extremely close friends.” He said they became friendly because Anne was so frequently off on her own. “Often we would sit up late into the night—just the two of us, drinking coffee,” he said. After Cross was reassigned from bodyguard duty—because his superiors at Scotland Yard thought he had become “too familiar” with the Princess—the relationship purportedly continued. Cross’s ex-wife and a woman he lived with later said he received almost daily calls from Anne, including one on the day Zara was born. Cross, a former officer but apparently no gentleman, wanted to blab to the press for nearly $1 million in 1985. He settled for a lesser amount from the News of the World, but then said only that Anne and he had been “close friends.” Whatever the truth is, it seems clear that Anne and Mark have been going their separate ways for years. “They do have an arrangement,” says a friend, “but it is one that works, not upsetting the rest of the royal family, their friends and, most important, their children. He is just not interested in any of her royal duties, so she just carries on on her own.”

And carry on she does. Last year Anne made 401 official appearances, second only to Queen Elizabeth’s 430 and well ahead of Di’s 176. Her schedule this year is even more crowded, which is why few in Britain begrudge the Princess her annual civil list allowance of $215,160. Her crammed schedule takes her away from home for weeks at a time, so that keeping in touch with her children has become a priority. “She asks to make phone calls to her children at regular intervals,” says an aide who travels with her. “She feels that it is essential to keep contact.” She also arranges her duties so that she is with the children during all school vacations. “Anne treats them more as friends than as her children, and there is more laughter in her household than in any other royal house,” says a frequent visitor.

When she is at Gatcombe, Anne spends most of her time in blue jeans—as does her help, except when the Queen comes calling—tending to the farm and the horses. She has frequent small dinner parties, mostly for the moneyed horsey set with whom she and Mark tend to canter when they’re at home together (though Anne is happy to entertain alone as well). “The talk around the mahogany dinner table can be fresh and salty,” says Seward. But even then, there are lines that must not be crossed. “They always call her Ma’am, and she calls them by their Christian names,” Seward adds.

Anne’s closest relationship is with her parents, though they visit Gatcombe infrequently. A visitor to Buckingham Palace a few years ago noted that the only family photograph on Prince Philip’s desk was that of Anne, who is also considered the closest confidante and friend of her mother. After an intruder got into the Queen’s bedroom in 1982, Anne’s relationship with her mother became even closer. Says a friend: “Anne was the great comforter. I understand the Queen has told Anne more about what exactly happened in that bedroom than she has discussed with anyone else.”

Anne’s bond with Prince Charles, her older brother by two years, is less strong. Although brother and sister have country homes only five miles apart, they rarely socialize. It was Charles who, years ago, reportedly summed up the family’s opinion of Phillips, dubbing him “Fog—wet and thick.” For her part, Anne supposedly has referred to Diana as the Dope, and there is no love lost between the royal sisters-in-law. “Anne really can’t be bothered with Diana,” says a friend. “The amount of attention Diana got after she married Charles used to irritate her. She thought it was such a fuss about nothing.” Under orders from the-Queen, Anne and Di have gone to pains recently to appear together in public, but the appeal was to duty and not to affection. Anne and Fergie, on the other hand, get on much better—possibly because Fergie is nearly as fond of horses as Anne is. Fergie has praised Anne for her work with Save the Children and another charity, Riding for the Disabled.

Anne’s devotion to good works has propelled her upward in the popularity polls despite a hard-to-live-down reputation for snappishness. Her activities for Save the Children have taken her around the world and into some of its most miserable corners, including Lebanon, in 1982, and Sudan, in 1985. Her detractors point out that Anne doesn’t suffer on these trips, being treated royally wherever she goes, and that she doesn’t actually like children, her own excepted. There are, after all, no pictures of Anne actually holding a sick child. It is a point the Princess might not dispute. “You don’t have to be crazy about children to want to help give them a better start in life than they might have if you didn’t help,” she told the Observer in 1980.

With the same ambivalence perhaps, Britons have grudgingly come to the view that while Anne may be no fairy-tale princess, no diaphanous creature of fantasy, she is good-value workaday royalty—a ribbon cutter, as it were, for all seasons.

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