She’s the feistiest, no-nonsense Royal offspring in The Crown yet she’s even tougher in real life – as she proved by thwarting a terrifying kidnap attempt by a gunman who shot and injured two police officers, her chauffeur and a journalist while trying to drag her from her car
Words Michelle Davies
The would-be abductor struck as Anne, then 24, was being driven along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace on March 20, 1974 with her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips, who’d she married the year previously. Suddenly a Ford Escort cut in front of them, forcing them to stop, and a man later identified as Ian Ball got out to confront the princess in the back seat. He was armed with two guns, yelling ‘open or I’ll shoot!’and was determined to capture Anne.
‘He opened the door and said I had to go with him and I said I didn’t think I wanted to go,’ Princess Anne recalled some years later, during an appearance on the TV talk show, Parkinson. ‘We had a fairly low-key discussion about the fact that I wasn’t going to go anywhere, and wouldn’t it be much better if he went away and we’d all forget about it.’ She was actually being restrained in her retelling, however, because according to witnesses at the scene, what the princess actually retorted to Ball was ‘not bloody likely’.
Ball, however, was undeterred. He’d spent two years planning the kidnap, even renting a house in Fleet, Hampshire, not far from where Anne and Mark lived at the time. On his person was a long, rambling ransom letter addressed to the Queen; he wanted the monarch to pay £3 million to the NHS to improve the care and treatment of psychiatric patients – of which he was one. He’d targeted her daughter because, at the time, Anne had celebrity status in Britain after being named the BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Year in 1971 for winning the European Eventing Championship at the age of 21. Of all the Royal children to kidnap, she was the biggest prize.
The great escape
But Ball, 26, hadn’t banked on Anne’s stubbornness. She refused to get out of the car even after those trying to protect her were shot, including her personal police officer, Inspector James Beaton. Ball then tried to yank her from her seat and in the struggle her dress was ripped down the back. ‘I lost my rag at that stage,’ she recalled. ‘He started pulling my arm and Mark was holding onto me and we maintained the status quo for quite a bit, because I wasn’t going anywhere, put it that way.’ Her husband later admitted he felt powerless having seen the others wounded. ‘I was frightened, I don’t mind admitting it,’ he said.
The tussle saw Anne and Mark thrown to the floor of the car. ‘I was basically lying flat on my back and Mark was half on top – that was how we ended up after this tug-o’-war, sort of collapsed in a heap,’ Anne said. ‘But I could reach the door handle behind my head and I opened the door and literally pulled my feet over my head and did a backward somersault into the road.’
Shortly afterwards more police arrived and Ball was arrested as he tried to flee into nearby St James’s Park. Still as forthright as ever despite her ordeal, Anne barked at them to hurry up and catch him with a cry of ‘come on, now’s your chance!’
Meghan’s hostage training
At his subsequent trial, Ball, who had previously been diagnosed as schizophrenic, pleaded guilty to two charges of attempted murder and one charge of attempted kidnap. An order was made under the Mental Health Act for him to be detained at Hampton hospital for an unspecified amount of time. Anne has never commented on Ball’s fate, but acknowledged how lucky she was to escape from him. ‘There was only one man,’ she said. ‘If there had more than one it might have been a different story.’