Among those close to the Royal Family, some have long wished that Princess Anne was the heir to the throne. Her father certainly came to hold that view.
Single-minded, sporty and brave, Princess Anne is unafraid of controversy and cares little for the opinion of others. In other words, she is very much her father’s daughter — in a way that Prince Charles can never be his father’s son.
‘[Philip] always had more fun with Anne,’ observed Eileen Parker, wife of Philip’s close friend Mike Parker. ‘Charles is more like the Queen, while Anne is very like Prince Philip.’
All of which raises some important questions. Did the Duke of Edinburgh find his first-born wanting? Did he love him and play an active role as his father? And what of the Queen — was she a good mother?
The baby Prince Charles is seen here in the arms of his mother Princess Elizabeth in 1949
As an adult, Charles has complained publicly about his parents’ lack of affection for him as a child. At times, his relationship with Philip has been so bad that they have communicated only by memo.
So let us examine what really happened — but this time from the viewpoint of a mother and father, constrained by duty and tradition, who embarked on parenthood with the best of intentions…
Princess Elizabeth was just 22 when her eldest son was born on November 14, 1948, almost exactly a year after her wedding.
To greet the arrival of the new heir to the throne, the bells at Westminster Abbey rang out and a 41-gun salute was fired by the King’s Troop Royal Artillery.
In Trafalgar Square, the fountains were floodlit blue; outside Buckingham Palace almost 4,000 gathered to watch the comings and goings of the medical team.
Such was the prudery of the time that even the princess’s friends weren’t told that the birth hadn’t been easy and she’d had to undergo a Caesarean section.
Like most husbands of his era, Philip was not at his wife’s bedside. Instead, he got so restless pacing up and down an equerry’s room waiting for news that his private secretary Mike Parker took him off for a game of squash on the Palace court.
When the King’s private secretary Tommy Lascelles brought the good news, Philip bounded upstairs into the Buhl Room, which had been converted into an operating theatre. He then held his first born, still wearing his sporting flannels and open-neck shirt.
Always matter-of-fact to the point of seeming indifference, he declared that Charles looked like a plum pudding.
As soon as his wife came round from the anaesthetic, Philip presented her with a bouquet of red roses and carnations — thoughtfully provided for the occasion by Parker.
Nanny was furious when Charles caught a cold – because Philip made him jump into a freezing Palace pool
For the first month of his life, the baby slept in a round wicker basket in the dressing-room adjoining the princess’s bedroom, and she happily breast-fed him. It was only when she contracted measles that she heeded the advice of doctors and handed him over to the nursery staff.
According to Philip’s cousin Marina, the Duchess of Kent, he was similarly entranced by the new arrival. ‘I am so happy for Philip, for he adores children and also small babies,’ she wrote in a letter to her mother. ‘He carries it [the baby] about himself quite professionally, to the nurse’s amusement.’
Nevertheless, Philip showed no inclination for being a nappy-changing, hands-on kind of father.
At the time, he not only had his career in the Navy to consider, but he was also fitting in royal duties and trying to maintain a remnant of his former bachelor lifestyle by going out regularly on the town with Parker.
Prince Charles is pushed in the pram by his nanny Helen Lightbody in St James’ Park
And not only did he have little time to devote to his son, but the demands of fatherhood made him irritable.
Not that these were exactly onerous. Two world wars might have delivered a hammer blow to the cosy, upper-class world of servants and nurseries, but the Royal Family had weathered this development largely unchanged.
Philip certainly saw nothing wrong in handing the baby over to nursery staff. In his own early years, he’d effectively been brought up by a nanny himself.
So each morning, little Charles would be taken to see his mother at 9. And, in the evenings, engagements permitting, the Queen would join him in the nursery. But that was about the extent of it. They lived largely separate lives.
‘To my knowledge, she never bathed the children,’ recalled Mrs Parker. ‘Nanny did all that.’
It was therefore to his nannies that Charles, a shy and sensitive child, turned to for affection. The most important was nanny Helen Lightbody — he called her Nana — who got him up in the morning, dressed him, slept in the same room as him and comforted him when he woke during the night.
He worshipped his Mummy — but from afar. She was, Charles admitted once, ‘a remote and glamorous figure who came to kiss you good-night, smelling of lavender and dressed for dinner.’
Aside from this nightly ritual, the Queen always found it difficult to hug or kiss her son, preferring to leave such tactile displays of emotion to the nannies. Like her husband, she is by nature physically undemonstrative.
Meanwhile, Philip was all too often away at sea: he managed to be at home for his son’s first Christmas — but that was the last one he could spend with him for a few years.
Charles wasn’t an only child for long: by the time he was 21 months old, he had a baby sister for company. On the very day Princess Anne was born — August 15, 1950 — Philip was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy and given command of his own ship, the frigate HMS Magpie.
It was a good omen. Brimming with excitement, he told everyone who’d listen about the baby: ‘It’s the sweetest girl.’
Prince Charles with his mother Princess Elizabeth in December 1949
‘…with quite a definite nose for one so young,’ added photographer Cecil Beaton dryly.
But even a new baby had to take second place to Philip’s naval commitments and his joint royal duties with his wife. So when they toured Canada in 1951, both children remained at home.
After King George VI died in 1952, their mother became even more distant when she assumed the role of monarch.
Godfrey Talbot, the BBC’s court correspondent at the time, recalled: ‘She had been trained since the cradle by her father that duty came before everything, including her family.
‘She reluctantly had to abandon her family and they virtually didn’t see their parents for months on end. It was very upsetting and bewildering for [them].’
In 1953, the new Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh left on a long-delayed tour of the Commonwealth, knowing they wouldn’t see their children for six long months. Elizabeth cried as she said goodbye to them.
Her long absence exacted its inevitable toll. When they were at last reunited, the Queen recalled later, the children ‘were terribly polite. I don’t think they really knew who we were.’
It was a heart-breaking admission. Most of her 1950s female contemporaries were stay-at-home mums — admittedly with nannies — but the Queen had just inherited the ultimate juggling act.
As time went by, it became evident that Charles shared few traits with his father.
He was neither aggressive nor good at sport or mechanically minded. Plus, he had knock knees, flat feet — for which he had to wear a special pair of orthopaedic shoes — and suffered from a succession of coughs and throat ailments.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of this overly impressed the Duke of Edinburgh, who decided to help make him more resilient for his own good.
Philip’s cousin, Countess Mount-batten, witnessed the ensuing clash of personalities.
‘A resilient character such as Philip, toughened by the slings and arrows of life, who sees being tough as a necessity for survival, wants to toughen up his son,’ she said. ‘And his son is very sensitive. It hasn’t been easy for either of them.’
Philip’s typically brusque way of expressing himself could be very wounding. According to Mrs Parker, he could be ‘incredibly cutting’ to his children.
Nanny Lightbody, she said, also had her reservations: ‘She never said she didn’t like him, but I don’t think she saw eye to eye with him one bit.’
Prince Charles as boy being driven with his younger sister Princess Anne to Sandringham from Buckingham Palace
Lady Kennard, a childhood friend of both Elizabeth and Philip, also heard some of his choicer phrases. ‘He just can’t resist coming out with these personal remarks,’ she said. ‘He’s at his worst with Charles, but he could be quite sarcastic with Anne, too.’
Philip had little understanding of his son’s fears and inhibitions and was inclined to laugh at them. Of course, he made fun of Anne, too. But she could deal with that, cheerfully braving his ridicule, saying anything she wanted and even laughing with him. This contrast was reflected in the children’s relationships with their parents. Charles, who sometimes gave the impression of being terrified of his father, gravitated to his mother, who provided him with a sympathetic ear. Anne was close to Philip.
Whether the Queen ever made much effort to temper her husband’s behaviour with Charles is doubtful: she is a woman who believes firmly in letting a man be head of the family.
Still, she did manage to persuade Philip to allow Charles to be educated initially at the Palace. She knew that her timid and delicate son was unlikely to enjoy studying with other boys, and arranged for him to have lessons alone.
This was only ever a temporary measure. The Queen also agreed with her husband that it was important to break from royal tradition and eventually send Charles on to school.
Both of them were determined that he should have as normal a childhood as possible and, in the words of Philip, ‘learn to live with other children’.
So, at eight, Charles was sent to Cheam prep school in Surrey, then on to Gordonstoun boarding school in Scotland — both of which his father had attended as a boy. But Charles was so miserable initially that he wrote to his governess every day and cried into his letters.
And at Gordonstoun, where Philip had once thrived, Charles was bullied, only passed his maths O-level at the third attempt, and had a generally unhappy time. But it never seemed to dawn on either of his parents that he might be better off elsewhere.
The education of Princess Anne was not as constitutionally important, and neither the Queen nor Philip took much interest in her academic progress. Like Charles, Anne had lessons with a governess at the Palace, but she doesn’t recall her mother paying even one visit to the classroom to see how she was progressing.
It was left to Princess Margaret to monitor her niece’s work, and she did so with enthusiasm, going into the schoolroom to speak with the governess and even conducting oral examinations.
This was the start of a relationship between aunt and niece that matured into an adult friendship few outside the family circle ever knew about.
Philip, however, was keen for Anne also to experience life on the other side of the Palace walls. So at 13, she was sent to Benenden school in Kent, which she still remembers fondly.
In fact, Anne has no complaints about the way she and her brother were treated as children, though she admits that their parents were not around as much as they would have liked.
‘They were supportive and never really quibbled about what you wanted to do,’ she said. ‘There were occasional comments like — ‘was that really a good idea?’… I don’t think that any of us for a second thought that she [the Queen] didn’t care for us in the same way as any other mother did.’
Interestingly, given the Queen’s consuming passion for all things equestrian, it was Philip who encouraged Princess Anne’s interest in riding.
Charles was still at the end of a leading rein when Anne was already jumping. She was also galloping before she’d properly learned how to trot. When her father saw just how good she was — and how much better than her brother — he contacted Lt Col Sir John Miller, then head of the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace and told him to ‘get on with it’.
Grandma wore a nun’s habit and chain-smoked Greek cigarettes
As a boy, Prince Charles adored the Queen Mother — but he found his paternal grandmother, Princess Alice, altogether alarming.
By the time he knew her, she’d founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns and wore a nun’s habit. Stone-deaf, she spoke English with a thick guttural accent and chain-smoked untipped Greek cigarettes.
‘She was very severe,’ recalled Eileen Parker, the wife of Philip’s private secretary. ‘She always sat bolt upright and had an almost over-powering personality. The room filled with smoke when she was around.’
Philip had no reservations about letting his daughter expose herself to the dangers inherent in equestrian sport. ‘It was almost as if he treated her as a son,’ one observer recalled.
He also found time to introduce Anne to sailing on the waters of Loch Muick near Balmoral, with considerably more success than he’d had with Charles — who was seasick and didn’t respond well either to the hearty disciplines of life on board or being shouted at by his father.
To his credit, Philip did go to great lengths to introduce both children to the physical activities he loved so much. Sometimes, he’d take them camping on the windblown Highland hills, where they’d cook over an open fire and spend the night in sleeping bags in a bothy.
Again, it was Anne rather than her brother who derived the greater pleasure from these Spartan escapades.
Given their physical differences, this was inevitable. Charles was a poor athlete; Anne became a first-class tennis and lacrosse player and, most notably, an Olympic three-day event rider.
Philip, never the most patient of men, took a swash-buckling approach to toughening up his son. His way of teaching Charles to swim was to jump into the Buckingham Palace pool and loudly order the often-petrified boy to do likewise.
One Saturday morning, Charles was ‘slightly chesty’, so Nanny Lightbody didn’t want to let him go into the water, but Philip insisted. Still a naval officer at heart, he didn’t tolerate his decisions being questioned.
The little boy ended up with a bad cold, and Nanny was furious. ‘I was very cross with his father,’ she said later, ‘but the trouble is I can only say so much.’
She certainly couldn’t have squealed to the Queen, who may well have remained ignorant of the entire episode.
The difference in Charles and Philip’s personalities began to open a gulf between them. ‘I didn’t listen to advice from my father until I was in my late teens,’ Charles has said.
With a nanny who felt she couldn’t defy his father, and a mother who just let Philip get on with things, he turned to the Queen Mother for comfort. She was warm and welcoming, later describing the young Charles as ‘a very gentle boy with a very kind heart, which I think is the essence of everything’.
In 1994, Charles revealed to his official biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, that he felt ’emotionally estranged’ from his parents and all his life had yearned for a different kind of affection that they’d been ‘unable or unwilling to offer’.
They were hurt by these very public revelations, but all that Philip would say on the record was that they did their best. And according to Lady Kennard, their best wasn’t so bad. Philip, she insisted, was a ‘wonderful parent. He played with his children, he read them stories, he took them fishing, he was very involved.’
During holidays — Christmas and the New Year at Sandringham, Easter at Windsor and most of the summer holidays at Balmoral — the whole family would play football, with the diminutive Queen acting as goalkeeper.
There would also be endless picnics. ‘We grew up singing on the way to and from barbecues,’ recalled Anne. ‘Mostly First World War songs — we have quite a repertoire of those.
‘The Queen is a very competent singer. I think we were very lucky as a family to be able to do so much together. We all appreciated that time.’
Charles clearly had a different perception, allowing the negative to outweigh the positive.
For all his faults, the Duke of Edinburgh would later put a great deal of effort into trying to help mend his eldest son’s disastrous marriage. He would also help to provide much-needed stability for his traumatised grandsons after the death of their mother.
Yet, even now, the distance between Philip and Charles remains quite extraordinary.
- Adapted from My Husband and I: The Inside Story Of 70 Years Of Royal Marriage, by Ingrid Seward, published by Simon & Schuster at £20 © Ingrid Seward 2017. To order a copy for £16 (offer valid to November 25, 2017, P&P free), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.
The Queen was a strict granny who’d shake naughty Zara
Significantly, only Princess Anne has managed to break free from the royal conventions to bring up her children in a relaxed and truly normal way.
She was the first of the royal children to marry. In keeping with tradition, the Queen offered her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, an earldom on their wedding day, but he declined, thus denying his future children a title.
Anne had said that she’d prefer a quiet wedding, but in deference to her mother she eventually agreed to Westminster Abbey, the traditional venue for royal weddings.
The Queen and Philip had high hopes for the marriage. When their first grandchild, Peter, was born on November 15, 1977, Elizabeth was about to conduct an investiture in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace. But she was so overjoyed that she delayed the ceremony to call Philip, who was in Germany at the time.
Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and her grandchildren on board the Royal Yacht
He was equally delighted. He admired his forthright daughter and was convinced motherhood would soften her edges and give another dimension to her life.
Four years later, Anne gave birth to Zara; and as the children grew up, they often went to stay with the Queen — along with their nanny. But for all that Elizabeth was a doting granny, she was a strict one, too.
‘She was always chastising them,’ a rating on board the Royal Yacht Britannia recalled. ‘I’ve seen her shake Zara as she was so naughty, running up and down the main stairs on board the yacht and refusing to stop even when the Queen told her to do so.’
From the start, Anne refused to be influenced by her parents on how her children should be brought up.
Thus the Queen and Prince Philip’s first grandchild began his education, not with a governess but in a local nursery school in Minchinhampton in the Cotswolds.
‘I think the Queen found it all rather alarming,’ said a former footman. ‘But Anne wanted to do things her way and deal with the children herself.’
Her father understood. ‘It’s only too easy to think of education as a process of teaching young people about conventional academic subjects in schools,’ he said.
‘That is a very important aspect, but to give education this exclusive quality is to imply that young people need no other instruction or experience to prepare them for adult life.’
proud of his no-nonsense daughter, he was happy for her to get on with motherhood and to run her working life in whatever way she wished.
He took a similarly relaxed attitude when a cache of Anne’s love letters to Timothy Laurence, the Queen’s former equerry — was offered for sale to one of the Murdoch newspapers.
With a shrug, Philip just said: ‘Let them get on with it.’ He knew that Anne had a similar personality to his and would cope.
In the end, the letters weren’t published, and Anne went on to marry Laurence.
Philip was hopeful that she would find happiness with her second husband — but to this day, he continues to worry about her.
Charles loved his blue pedal car but Anne would grab it off him
When Anne and Charles were children, they’d sometimes be taken to visit their father’s friend and private secretary, Mike Parker.
Far from being on their best behaviour at his home in Kensington, West London, the prince and his younger sister would inevitably start squabbling. ‘There were terrible scenes,’ recalled Parker’s wife Eileen.
Despite being nearly two years younger than her brother, the princess was always the aggressor.
‘Anne would boss Charles; she would take command of things,’ said Mrs Parker. ‘If she saw a toy she wanted, she would grab it… Everything he had, she wanted….
In the driving seat — but not for long: Princess Anne (right) would boss her big brother around and commandeer his toys
‘When [Anne] got really worked up, she would start throwing things at him. She was very strong-willed, a real menace…’
Charles had been given a blue pedal car that he was particularly fond of, but he’d often be unceremoniously bundled out of it by his determined sister.
It was the same with the tricycle they shared: if her brother was on it, Anne was sure to take it away from him.
She was also forever ignoring her nanny’s instructions not to take too many toys out of the toy cupboard — instead emptying its entire contents on to the floor.
If Anne didn’t get her way, ‘she had the most frightful fit of temper, lying on the floor and kicking’, according to Mrs Parker.
For his part, Charles was surprisingly nice to his little sister (‘perhaps too nice,’ Mrs Parker observed), always inviting her to join in his games, and usually taking a conciliatory attitude towards her excesses.
But not always. One day, Prince Philip presented each of them with a pair of boxing gloves and tried to instruct them in the art of self-defence. Anne and Charles soon set about each other with such fury that he had to take the gloves away.
The Queen, for her part, found her children’s behaviour exasperating.
Once, when the children were staying at Balmoral, Lady Adeane, the wife of the Queen’s private secretary, gave them a paper bag full of mushrooms she’d just picked. A row quickly ensued over who was going to present them to their mother.
They started tugging at the bag, which burst open, spilling its contents over the gravel drive – at which point Anne, who’d just returned from a riding lesson, set about her brother with her riding crop.
Charles burst into tears just as the Queen opened the door. In exasperation, she shouted: ‘Why can’t you behave yourselves!’ and boxed them both around the ears.
Philip also believed in corporal punishment. So Charles was summarily spanked if he was rude or obstreperous — usually by the nannies.