Royal Mess: Ridiculous Soap Opera Makes Our Day


We admit to loving ridiculous pieces like this Vanity Fair profile,”The Princess and the Photographer,” about Princess Margaret‘s marriage to a rakish snapper and why “happily ever after was never in the cards.”

Britain thrilled to the 1960 wedding of Queen Elizabeth’s glamorous younger sister, Princess Margaret, and debonair photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (soon to become Earl of Snowdon), the first commoner in four centuries to marry a king’s daughter. But while it seemed the 29-year-old Margaret had finally recovered from her heartbreak over Captain Peter Townsend, many close to the newlyweds saw trouble ahead.

Princess Margaret was always a royal firebrand. After an unhappy romance with married courtier Townsend – “But when, at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, on June 2, 1953, the Princess lovingly picked a piece of fluff from the lapel of her lover’s tunic in plain view of all the television cameras in Westminster Abbey, their secret was out” – Princess Margaret became known for bitchiness with staff, brattiness with the Queen Mum and a wild (read: promiscuous) streak.

At 28 she was at the height of her beauty and charisma, poised, stylish, and groomed to perfection. In one of the elegant evening dresses that made the most of her petite figure, swathed in furs and glittering with diamonds, she was an icon of glamour. She was imperious, and if she was bored, she showed it—at one small supper dance given in her honor, when her host asked her, “Ma’am, will you start the dancing?” she replied, “Yes—but not with you.”

“Tony” Armstrong-Jones was an insolent hipster from an aristocratic background with a string of women, who wouldn’t put up with airs and graces. She was a challenge like no other—even to take the Queen’s sister on the back of a motorbike was something almost unbelievable, and the thought of a relationship overwhelming. Tremendously impressed by the Princess and all her qualities, Tony was also enormously proud of himself for becoming her lover. Each was a person of extraordinary sexual magnetism, with a libido to match. When they entered each other’s force field of attraction, their mutual gravitational pull was irresistible, and soon they were sexually besotted. That their passionate love affair was completely secret added to its intensity.

When the pair got engaged, everyone flipped out, although the public ate up the romantic match.

Margaret made an exquisite bride. Her dress, designed largely by Tony and his friend Carl Toms, though ostensibly by Norman Hartnell, had three layers of organza over tulle. With it she wore her magnificent Poltimore tiara (known to her intimates as “me second-best tarara”), high and regal-looking with its stylized diamond leaves and flowers scintillating against her dark hair. Her wedding ring was of Welsh gold—some of the gold from which the Queen’s wedding ring was made had been set aside for Margaret—her high-heeled shoes were white, and she carried a bouquet of white orchids.

Weirdly, they danced to music from Oklahoma! making the whole thing a precursor to Minnelli-Gest.

Marriage meant Tony needed a makeover, an end to his career, and an allowance. They had a lavish social life (involving Dudley Moore) but, obviously, they grew to hate and resent each other. “The Princess was royal, but Tony was magnetic, and wittier.” The “wit” manifested itself in telling her to wear ballgowns to jeans and tee shirt affairs. The next fourteen years of their marriage were predictably miserable. And hence the recipe is complete: a dash of parties, a few outfits, plenty of money, a dash of “I don’t know why I’m still reading this” and a little ennui and unhappiness, and you’ve got your Vanity Fair sepia piece, one of life’s most reassuring pleasures.

The Princess And The Photographer [Vanity Fair]

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