Princess Anne thwarted a horrifying kidnap attempt by a gunman outside Buckingham Palace in 1974

By Phil Boucher
February 06, 2020 04:35 PM
Princess Anne
Graham Bezant/Toronto Star via Getty

An amateur boxer who helped save Princess Anne from an armed kidnapper is auctioning his medal for bravery.

Ronnie Russell, 72, was awarded the George Medal — Britain’s highest civilian award for gallantry — for the role he played in saving the princess’ life outside the gates of Buckingham Palace on March 20, 1974.

“I’ve been very, very unwell, it’s rough,” Russell told The Mirror about his decision to sell the medal almost 46 years after the dramatic events. “I have to make provision for a funeral at some stage. I want to know that’s all done for and not leave that burden to someone else.”

He added: “I just hope whoever buys it will invite me to lunch or something, where I could tell the story properly.”

Should someone take Russell up on his offer, then they will hear quite a tale.

The dad of three was driving to work in central London when his life dramatically changed forever. After deciding to take a short cut through The Mall, Russell suddenly noticed a white Ford Escort driving erratically towards Buckingham Palace and immediately sensed that something was wrong.

Ronnie Russell
Mayfair Auctioneers

Turning his car around, he drove towards the palace and discovered a scene of chaos outside its famous gates, with four men lying wounded from gunshots and unemployed laborer Ian Ball attempting to wrestle Princess Anne out of her limousine at gunpoint.

Ball had used his white Escort — the car seen by Russell — to block in the royal’s limousine and by that stage had fired several shots through the rear window of Anne’s car. At one stage he also climbed into the front seat and ordered her to get out, to which she reportedly replied, “Not bloody likely.”

Despite the clear danger, Russell — then 28 years old and a boxer — ran towards the hold-up and punched Ball in the back of the head.

The would-be kidnapper then fired a revolver at Russell, but fortunately, the shot missed. In response, the amateur heavyweight reached for a nightstick belonging to a nearby policeman who had been shot in the stomach.

Looking up he saw Ball continuing to grapple with the then 23-year-old princess, while her husband of four months, Captain Mark Phillips — dad to Zara Tindall and Peter Philips — desperately held onto her waist from inside the car.

Without a moment’s thought for his own safety, Russell ran to the other side of the car and, as Ball approached him from behind, turned around and punched the would-be-kidnapper square in the jaw.

“I thought it was now or never. I hit Ball very hard,” Russell tells The Mirror.

“He was flat on the floor face down. I jumped on his back for good measure. I could have died, yeah, but I knew what I was doing. The only person I did not want to get shot was Princess Anne.”

With Ball lying prone on the floor, Russell helped Princess Anne to safety. The gunman then fled, only to be arrested by a small army of Metropolitan police officers. The crazed gunman — who planned to demand a around $4 million ransom for Anne (around $16 million in today’s money) — later pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping and has since been detained in Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital.

A grateful Queen Elizabeth awarded Russell his George Medal on November 26, 1974, telling him, “The medal is from the Queen, but I want to thank you as Anne’s mother.”

Ronnie Russell with Queen Elizabeth and Princess Anne
Mayfair Auctioneers
Ronnie Russell's medals
Mayfair Auctioneers

She also had another surprise — secret — gift too: Russell revealed for the first time Thursday that a couple of days before the medal ceremony he was visited by some policemen at his home in Strood, Kent, who asked if he had a mortgage.

“I said ‘yes, yes, why?'” Russell tells The Mirror.

“They said, ‘Well we are really telling you this a bit early, but the Queen is going to pay off your mortgage as a gift for what you have done.’

“I thought that was wonderful,” he adds. “I was actually close to repossession at the time. They were going to repossess my home. So, I dug myself out of that one.”

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Princess Anne leaving St George's Hospital London, after visiting journalist Brian McConnell and police officer Michael Hills, 25th March 1974. Both men are recovering from gunshot wounds sustained when they tried to intervene in an attempt to kidnap the princess.
Frank Barrett/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

With ill health recently having taken its toll on his ability to work, however, Russell now finds himself in an equally difficult financial position. Auctioning his most prized possession is literally the last resort to pay off his mounting debts — and something he swore he “would never, ever do,” he tells The Mirror.

Russell’s George Medal will be sold by Mayfair auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb on March 4 and March 5, alongside a letter from 10 Downing Street, a telegram from Princess Anne and a letter of thanks from Sir Robert Mark, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. It is expected to fetch between $20,000—$25,000.

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