Why Princess Margaret was known as the world’s most difficult guest
A typical night out for Princess Margaret meant turning up to a dinner party, at least two hours late.
The other guests had strict instructions that they weren’t to start eating until the guest of honour had arrived. That in itself created all kinds of angst.
According to Craig Brown, author of Ma’am Darling: 99 glimpses of Princess Margaret, when the Princess finally arrive, the other guests were all starving and couldn’t wait to tuck into their meal.
But the Princess was not known to eat large quantities. She barely nibbled at her food before stopping, meaning that the other diners had to put down their cutlery too.
“And if she didn’t want any pudding, then nobody else would have it! Suddenly people who’d been really hungry for two hours would be forced to stop eating,” Brown told the ABC.
But guests could forget about ducking out of the party early and grabbing a feed on the way home; nobody was allowed to leave before the princess.
“A lot of these people had jobs to go to the next day and the Princess also loved staying up late, because she would always get up at 11am,” Brown said.
Brown’s award-winning book is incredibly entertaining; filled with hilarious anecdotes about the Princess who, in later years, complained about the way the media represented her.
Did the press really treat her so harshly, though? Brown doesn’t believe Princess Margaret had any more “misrepresentations” than anyone else who lived their lives in the public eye.
However, during his research for the book, Brown realised that many rumours that had circulated in the 1960s, (including whispers that she’d had multiple affairs with stars like Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger) simply didn’t hold up.
“But I think most of the headline stories were true and the media would have printed far more stories at the time, if they’d been less deferential,” Brown says.
“Margaret liked to socialise with pop and film stars and she loved the high life of the 60s but…. she didn’t really like mixing with the public and she could be incredibly rude.”
It wasn’t only dinner parties where the Princess managed to cause trouble.
One story in Ma’am Darling tells of Margaret being taken around a retirement village in the Midlands of England, where a group of senior ladies had prepared a chicken dish.
Margaret famously took one look at the food (after having a few drinks at 10.30am) and said; “That looks like sick!”
The women were understandably mortified. But, Brown points out, they shouldn’t have been too upset: Margaret could be equally as rude to prominent film directors as she was to members of the public.
Another story recounted in Ma’am Darling occurred in the mid-1960s when the Princess was visiting Rome. A British diplomat was tasked with the role of hosting a special lunch for the royal “It Girl.”
According to Brown:
“The diplomat trained his daughter to say grace for Princess Margaret, who was one of the most glamorous women at the time. But, when she came into the room, the little girl was completely tongue-tied,” Brown says.
“Her mother said ‘Come on, just say what daddy said this morning,’ and the girl said ‘Oh yes. Why do we have to have that dreadful woman for lunch?’
“So, it shows the princess already had a reputation for being difficult.”
As part of Brown’s research, he managed to get hold of the memoirs of Princess Margaret’s former footman, whose book had been banned in the UK but available in the US.
The book, by David John Payne, My life with Princess Margaret, describes his time working for the princess between 1957–60.
Payne says a typical day for Margaret involved waking up anywhere between 11 am and midday when she’d order the newspapers to be brought to her bedroom. She’d then have a bath drawn for her, smoke a cigarette while she read the papers, before finally going downstairs for her first drink of the day.
Brown told the ABC that he believes boredom was the biggest trouble of Margaret’s life, especially in the aftermath of her marriage breakdown.
“If you think of the sad life, all that potential thrown away, I think boredom set in, especially when her children had grown up and her marriage was over. She was very, very prone to boredom,” Brown says.
“Sometimes she’d start polishing her collection of seashells and you’d think that was almost a definition of frustration. On her daily routine sometimes shed have her hair done twice in one day and that’s surely a sign of boredom.”
Brown writes: “In middle age, hurt by life, Margaret retreated into camp, becoming a nightclub burlesque of her sister. She was of royalty, yet divorced from it; royalty set at an oblique angle, royalty through a looking glass, royalty as pastiche.”
But was Margaret really that difficult?
Brown points out that, as the original “It Girl” of the British royal family, she went very far in efforts to modernise the establishment. She tried to bridge the widening gap between the royals and the public by appearing in public places other royals were reluctant to go.
“Towards the end of her life, she did many of the things that Princess Diana was famous for, for example, hugging AIDS patients when there was a lot of fear about AIDS — but she didn’t make it public.”
“If you compare her to the generation before, Margaret’s public image wasn’t stuffy. She was very glamorous and fun. She really was a party girl.”