On This Day in Royal History: Princess Anne Survived a Kidnapping Attempt — with the Best One-Liner!
Forty-six years ago today, the royal family survived a near tragedy when a crazed gunman attempted to kidnap Princess Anne — luckily, she lived to tell the tale.
On March 20, 1974, Anne was returning to Buckingham Palace by car after attending an evening charity event with her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, when their chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce was forced to stop by another car that had blocked their route.
When the driver, unemployed laborer Ian Ball, started firing shots that injured both her chauffeur Alex Callender and her private detective James Beaton, he climbed into the front seat and ordered the 23-year-old royal to get out, to which she reportedly replied, “Not bloody likely.”
In a 1980 interview with British talk show host Michael Parkinson, Princess Anne spoke about how she refused to budge, even as Ball grabbed her arm and tackled her to the floor of the car. “We had a sort of discussion about where or where not we were going to go,” she revealed in a deadpan voice.
While Phillips tried to cling on to his wife and Ball grappled with Anne, it fell to passerby Ronnie Russell, now 72, to defend the royal, punching him in the head several times and eventually tackling him to the ground. The gunman fled the scene, only to be arrested by a nearby police officer shortly afterwards.
Anne said she saw no point in being rude to her assailant during the attack, which she thinks lasted at least 10 minutes.
“I was scrupulously polite because I thought it was silly to be too rude at that stage,” she said, adding that it was the moment when Ball ripped her dress that her attitude changed for the worse. “The back of my dress split and that was his most dangerous moment,” she quipped. “I lost my rag at that stage.”
Russell, an amateur boxer, was awarded the George Medal – Britain’s highest civilian award for gallantry by the Queen herself in November 1974 for his act of bravery. At the ceremony, also attended by Anne, the reigning monarch said to Russell: “The medal is from the Queen, but I want to thank you as Anne’s mother.”
Selling the medal for $59,270 at an auction in London earlier this month, Russell also revealed that the Queen paid off his mortgage as a gesture of gratitude after the traumatic incident, which left four people in total injured. “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.”
It was revealed during the trial that Ball had intended to kidnap Anne in order to hold her ransom for almost $4 million, after a letter he had written to the Queen was found in his possession. Ball, then 26, was prosecuted for the attempted murder of Beaton and sentenced to life imprisonment in a psychiatric hospital.