The “Hardest-Working Royal”: 5 Life Lessons From Princess Anne
Princess Anne at the 8th Canadian Hussars Exercise of the Freedom of the City of Moncton Parade, May 20, 2023. Photo: Ron Ward/The Canadian Press
Princess Anne visited Atlantic Canada over the Victoria Day weekend to inspect the 8th Canadian Hussars (also known as Princess Louise’s), to commemorate its 175th Anniversary. Anne is the colonel-in-chief of the regiment — Canada’s oldest continually serving cavalry regiment, older than the country itself — a position she has held since 1972. This trip, quiet and dignified, to emphasize service, loyalty and longevity, is emblematic of the Princess Royal herself.
Anne has been having a renaissance in the public eye since her 70th birthday, which fell during the pandemic. Now 72, she never wavered in her support for first her mother the Queen, and now her brother the King. But Anne’s low-key, get-it-done efficiency — exemplified by the more than 500 public duties she generally attends to each year, earning her the title hardest-working royal — was often overshadowed by the glamorous younger royals in the line of succession.
It was when The Crown reminded us all of Anne’s own glamorous youth in the ’60s and ’70s (as portrayed by Erin Doherty) when she was a fresh-faced beauty with sass and verve and many boyfriends, that Anne came back into focus.
Through the pandemic, with her father’s death and her mother’s illness, Anne became a steadfast pillar of the family and its image in the public eye. At both her father’s and mother’s funeral, and later her brother’s coronation, Anne broke ground as the first female royal to participate in ceremonial roles.
There are many things we can learn from Princess Anne about how to live a life of service and duty with grace and dignity.
Here is our list of the best life lessons from Anne:
Never Let Them See You Sweat
In possibly the most character-revealing moment of Anne’s life, she stood up to her wannabe kidnappers. The year was 1974 and Anne was inside a limousine marked with the royal insignia with her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips. An assailant entered the backseat and waved a gun in the princess’s face, ordering her to leave the vehicle. “Bloody likely” was her calm response.
This sangfroid echoed her mother, Queen Elizabeth’s staunch reactions to blanks fired at her from the crowd in 1981 when she was on horseback at Trooping the Colour, and her own midnight visitor in the palace, when Michael Fagan trespassed into her bedroom in 1982. Anne’s defied kidnapping also foreshadowed the stoic stance and poise with which she went on to carry out all her duties in the royal fold, from the most workaday rounds of ribbon-cutting and hospital visits to the grand moments in braided uniforms under high pressure atop a horse in parades and processions.
Get a Signature Look and Stick With It
Practical, frugal, thrifty and sustainable: Princess Anne was far ahead of her time in her habit of getting decades of reuse out of her clothes. These values have served her well. Dressing appropriately but simply has allowed Anne to get on with things and fly under the radar. She doesn’t attract or detract from her duties with her clothes. Similarly, she adopted her signature hairstyle — a volumized helmet that suits her, requires little fuss or maintenance through her long days, and allows people to recognize her instantly in a crowd at an event. She also wears a uniform in her off-duty life, either kilts and cardigans for walks in the Scottish Highlands or the grounds of her home at Gatcombe Park, or horse riding clothes (see the next lesson).
Have Passionate Hobbies
Anne found an outlet for her ambition that worked well for her particular circumstances in life. She couldn’t work, but she could compete. At the age of 11, Anne began participating in horse riding competitions, going on to win gold in jumping at the European Championships in 1971, then onto competition at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games for Team Great Britain. Some years later, she returned to the sport, this time racing horses. Her daughter Zara subsequently took up her mantle, becoming an Olympian herself. As her father, Prince Philip once said of Anne: “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.” But those years of training did evidently teach Anne the discipline that would be needed for her life’s work serving the Crown.
We saw during the coronation that service is to be the new byword of the King’s reign, and Anne fits the bill perfectly. We’ve never heard leaks about Anne throwing daggers at any of her kin, nor her staff. She seems to accept her role and to perform it to the best of her abilities. That isn’t to say she hasn’t had fun: we saw, for instance, Anne muck about in the receiving line behind former president Donald Trump, at what was likely a tense day. She was caught on camera shrugging at her mother from the end of the receiving line, which some people interpreted as her reluctance to meet with the then U.S. leader. It was later revealed the Princess Royal was gesturing it was “only her” at the end of the line waiting for her mother, and there weren’t any other leaders in line to greet the monarch.
Anne can also be outspoken, but she is always sensible in her statements. Consider this offering in a rare interview with Vanity Fair in early 2020 ahead of her landmark birthday. “Please do not reinvent that particular wheel,” she said, of younger royals making changes to how things are done. “We’ve been there, done that. Some of these things don’t work. You may need to go back to basics.”
Never Hold a Grudge
Part of staying loyal and not creating waves or scandals is an ability to not hold a grudge (publicly, at least). This was on display at Charles’ coronation when her face lit up upon seeing her nephew Harry arriving to sit just behind her.
All eyes were on how Harry was to be received by the senior members of the family, and Anne stood in for everyone else by so very publicly welcoming him to what must have been such a tricky and awkward situation. It was a graceful moment, from a graceful woman. But again, the main measure of loyalty is staying the course. Anne has been vocal about the fact she has no intention of retiring. If she has her mother and her grandmother’s longevity and stamina, she may well be loyally serving the Crown, the British public and the 8th Canadian Hussars regiment for decades to come.
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