Princess Margaret: The Scandals of the Queen's Sister
Princess Margaret. Beautiful, unconventional and rather naughty
She was the Queen's younger sister and yet I imagine that there are many younger people today who don't even know that she ever existed.
To a great extent, she has largely been forgotten. And yet during the second half of the twentieth century she had film star looks and was the most scandalous royal, putting the antics of later princesses into the shade.
Margaret was a fun-loving person. She enjoyed her status as a member of the royal family but even from an early age, she rebelled against the conventions of royal life. As an adult, she was a party girl - a hard drinking chain smoker who loved to dance and lived the jet-set life.
She was the first royal of modern times to divorce and was scandalously involved with younger men, hippies and even gangsters. But was she ever happy?
It would be such a shame if this lively woman was forgotten.
When the world was 'scandalized' by the antics of younger royal princesses and their divorces, it was Margaret who had paved the way in less tolerant times. She had to renounce her first love and many people believe that it was impossible for her to find happiness because of it.
Read on - and let me know your opinion.
The York family
Although she was born princess, Margaret Rose and her older sister Elizabeth never expected to be so prominent on the world's stage. They were the daughters of the Duke and Duchess of York.
The duke was the second son of the king and therefore, although he and his daughters were in line to the throne, the heir was the elder son, Edward.
The Yorks were a low-key family but this changed dramatically after the king died. Edward ascended to the throne but as we know, abdicated and suddenly, the Duke of York was the king. This meant that older sister Elizabeth was now heir to the throne, with Margaret Rose second in line.
The second sister
When she was born, it's said that the nation was anxious that the baby should be a boy.
Because the throne passed through the male line in those days, had the baby been a boy, he would have ultimately become king.
Although the girls were four years apart in age, they grew up to be close and remained in London, growing up, during the Second World War.
In later years, when the Queen was discussing Prince William's public night club antics, she remarked "When my sister and I were young, our friends would have parties in their homes and we had a lot of fun. We didn't go to West End night clubs".
First love - a married man
Just as Elizabeth fell in love with Philip when she was a young teenager, Margaret too had an infatuation - for a member of her father's staff, the equerry Peter Townsend.
He was an ex-RAF officer - a dashing man who had an exemplary record during the Second World War and had been decorated for bravery on several occasions.
As she grew older, it appeared that the adoration was mutual and Townsend proposed marriage.By now, he was divorced from his wife but, just as with Edward and Mrs Simpson, a divorced person wasn't seen as being a suitable partner.
She had to choose between him or her royal title. He lost.
No film about real people can be strictly accurate because none of us know what went on behind closed doors but this is an excellent re-enactment of the life of the princess - starting in the fifties and taking us through the next twenty years.
We have superb acting and if the story is speculation at times, then it's been carefully considered. Fascinating.
Although Margaret was downhearted, she continued to party and became part of a rather bohemian set.
One of the people she met was an avant garde photographer called Anthony Armstrong Jones. In those days, royalty was expected to marry into the aristocracy, if not into another royal family, but Margaret loved the bohemian, unstructured life that Anthony Armstrong Jones represented.
She mixed and mingled with artists and musicians and partied to the full. Visiting his London flat incognito, she soon embarked on an affair which eventually culminated in the first televised royal wedding.
But despite the production of two children, the marriage was not to last.
A failing marriage
With her film star looks, her position and her wealth, Margaret was more than capable of finding male companionship throughout her dying marriage.
A notorious affair was with the nephew of the prime minister, a jazz musician. The British press laid low though - in those days it was only the European press who would report such scandals. And Margaret had a bolt hole to which she could escape.
On her marriage, a wealthy landowner had given her land on his private and reporter-free Caribbean island,Mustique.
Here, she could be free with her lovers, secure in the knowledge that no photographers could access the private island.She made the most of this freedom but she was wrong about the press.
Caught by the press
By the mid seventies, with her marriage almost at its end, Margaret had escaped to the island with her newest lover - a would-be pop singer who was seventeen years younger than her.
A newspaper photographer managed to get onto the island and the resultant photographs - of the couple drinking and frolicking on the beach - were splashed all over the British newspapers.
This photograph is rather hazy but it is unmistakably Margaret and her young lover. The press portrayed her as a man-eater who preyed on younger men (far from the truth, I suspect) but the publicity meant that her long-ailing marriage was over.
This was the first royal divorce of modern times.
This shows Margaret - again on her island - in the company of gangster and film actor, John Bindon.
Despite photographic evidence (there were many more) Margaret was adamant that she had never met him, let alone partied with him. And let alone had an affair with him.
But it was, as they say, common knowledge. Bindon was an entertaining character, an actor and a fine raconteur therefore just the type of person who would be attractive and interesting to the princess.
But he had been in jail, he allegedly ran protection rackets and later in the seventies was charged with (and acquitted of) murder.
In later life
It's said that the drinking, smoking, partying (and allegedly drug taking) took its toll on the princess' health.
From the mid-eighties onwards she suffered ill health. She was seventy one when she died in 2002.
She never remarried. She had a great sense of duty and loyalty to her country and her sister, the Queen. And yet all she asked was to be allowed to enjoy herself from time to time away from the cameras.
Many have said that she could never have found true happiness after choosing to give up her first love.
I do hope that she is never forgotten and that history will look on her kindly.
This book is full of fascinating little stories that are otherwise unknown about the lives of the two sisters and the life of Princess Margaret in particular. It grabbed me from the start when it explained that even at her birth, a government official had to be in attendance. With a start in life like that, I can understand later rebellion.