Impossibly glamorous, yet supposedly selfish, rude and manipulative – the reputation of Princess Margaret has taken a beating in the past few months.
Television blockbuster The Crown and a waspish bestseller from Mail on Sunday columnist Craig Brown have portrayed the Queen’s late sister as an insatiable party-goer and chain-smoking diva.
So it is little wonder, perhaps, that Princess Margaret’s son, the 2nd Earl of Snowdon, has decided to write his own biography to rescue his mother’s tarnished image.
Party Princess; The Crown’s portrayal of Princess Margaret, by actress Vanessa Kirby, is one which her son Lord Snowdon is determined to change
David Armstrong-Jones, 57, has been consulting with historians with a view to producing a more rounded picture of the Princess and his father, the late society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.
‘My mother is often portrayed, whether it’s in ‘authoritative’ books, or TV dramas, as being a socialite who was only interested in parties,’ he has told friends.
‘She was so much more than that, and devoted a huge amount of her time to the arts, as well as all her official duties on behalf of the Queen. The series and the book depict fiction as fact,’ he said, ‘and the worry is that future generations will believe that my mother really behaved this way, word for word, scene by scene. It’s time to correct this damaging image.’
Happy families: Princess Margaret, her husband Lord Snowdon and their two children pictured playing happily in Kensington Palace
The party’s over: The new Lord Snowdon is looking to give a new insight into Princess Margaret in his own biography away from the popular programme
Margaret in her heyday: The princess, pictured on her 21st birthday, ‘devoted a huge amount of her time to the arts, as well as all her official duties on behalf of the Queen,’ according to her son
Brought to book: The new Lord Snowdon has revealed to friends his plans to write a biography and he is working with historians on the book
Cheap portrayal: Princess Margaret’s son is unhappy with the way she comes across in the hit series The Crown
Lord Snowdon has confirmed to friends that the early stages of research are under way.
He already owns his mother’s correspondence and, as the project progresses, the Queen’s nephew will have unfettered access to the vast Royal archives at Windsor Castle.
Lord Snowdon has told friends he is dismayed about The Crown, lamenting the ‘cheap’ portrayal of his mother as ‘some sort of carousing floozie’. The most recent series included her doomed romance with divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend.
The next instalment, due out in the coming months, will feature the angry breakdown of her marriage to Armstrong-Jones, the 1st Earl Snowdon, which disintegrated amid petty jealousies and rival love affairs. And it will cover Margaret’s relationship with gardener Roddy Llewellyn, which began while she was still married. The Princess died following a stroke, aged 71, in 2002.
As a young woman, Margaret had been one of the most photographed and talked-about figures in post-war Britain, the first celebrity Royal. She was a noted supporter of the arts, was president of the Royal Ballet and surrounded herself with the leading artists of the day.
In the frame: Princess Margaret was one of the most celebrated of the Royal Family and always the most talked of
Sparking controversy: Princess Margaret was refused permission to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend as he was divorced
Royal scandal: The princess’s marriage ended after her affair with toyboy Roddy Llewellyn went public
Domestic goddess: Princess Margaret would teach her son how to make salmon mousse and would even wash her own chandeliers
Yet Margaret also attracted notoriety – not least when pictures were published of the 45-year-old Princess and her 28-year-old lover, Llewellyn, on holiday on the Caribbean island of Mustique in 1976.
Lord Snowdon has spoken about his mother’s more domestic qualities, saying that, while she liked to associate with stars such as Mick Jagger, she also taught him how to make salmon mousse and washed her own chandeliers. Happy to break with convention, Margaret took her children to factories, to the ballet, the theatre and galleries, things not expected of Royal children at that time.
‘She had all these amazing sides to her,’ Lord Snowdon has said.
‘She never pressured us to do things, she was always enthusiastic and made everyone feel included. She said, ‘Just do the best you can.’ There was a very loving side as well.’
Royal biographer Hugo Vickers said a book redressing the balance is overdue. ‘Her friends have been rather depressed by the way she has been portrayed,’ he said. ‘Every now and again we see fresh quotes or letters suggesting she was much more thoughtful and intelligent than we have been led to believe.’