What Really Happened During Princess Anne's Attempted Kidnapping?

Who says a princess can't help rescue herself? At around 8 p.m. on March 20, 1974, a man named Ian Ball attempted to kidnap Princess Anne, according to SCMP. The attempt came just four months after Queen Elizabeth II's only daughter married Captain Mark Phillips, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The two were the celebrity couple of the British royal family at the time. Phillips was a commoner, and the pair were separately famous for their prowess as equestrians, which is how they met. Their wedding attracted a record TV audience of 500 million viewers. 

As the newlyweds were driving back to Buckingham Palace from a charity film screening, Ball cut them off in a white Ford Escort about 200 yards from their destination. Ball later said that he had contemplated a royal kidnapping for years, according to SCMP.  "She [Anne] would have been the easiest," he told police. "I had seen her riding with her husband." But it turned out that Ball didn't chose his target as well as he thought. He was in for a surprise. 

Shots fired

When Ian Ball attempted to kidnap Princess Anne, she was riding in a Rolls-Royce limousine with four other people, according to Smithsonian Magazine. In addition to her husband, she was travelling with her lady-in-waiting Rowena Jane Brassey, royal chauffeur Alex Callender, and Metropolitan Police inspector James Beaton, according to SCMP. Beaton was a member of SO14, which was Scotland Yard's royal protection division, according to Smithsonian Magazine. After Ball cut off the royal vehicle, the red-haired, bearded man got out of his car. 

Beaton thought that Ball was simply an angry driver, so he got out of the car to confront him. However, Ball was holding two hand guns. He fired one and shot Beaton in the right shoulder.  Beaton attempted to fire back, but the injury threw off his aim, and his weapon jammed after the first shot. The shots also shattered the back window of the royal vehicle, covering Anne in glass, according to the Evening Standard. Beaton was now injured and alone in his efforts to protect the princess. 

At the time, no one thought anyone would attack the royal family, according to SCMP. Even Queen Elizabeth II only traveled with one armed protector, and there was no special training offered to officers like Beaton. 

The struggle intensifies

After Inspector James Beaton and Ian Ball exchanged shots, Ball approached the car, according to Smithsonian Magazine. He began to shake the back door on the driver's side, opposite to where Princess Anne was sitting. "Open, or I'll shoot!" Ball threatened. At that point, lady-in-waiting Rowena Jane Brassey managed to exit the door on the passenger side, and Beaton got back in the car. He placed himself between the royals and the gunman, deflecting a shot with his hand.  "I stuck up my right hand in front of [the gun] and [the bullet] went through the window and into my hand," Beaton recalled, according to the Evening Standard. Ball then shot Beaton once more in the chest, according to SCMP. The driver, Alex Callender, then exited the car only for Ball to shoot him as well, causing him to collapse back in his seat. 

After shooting Beaton and Callender, Ball managed to open the car door and grab Princess Anne's forearm, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Her husband, Captain Mark Phillips, grabbed onto her waist and the two engaged in a tug-of-war over the princess. "Please, come out," Ball said. "You've got to come." At one point in the skuffle, Anne's dress ripped. "I was frightened, I won't mind admitting it," Captain Phillips recalled after the incident.

'Bloody Likely'

As Ian Ball continued to try and force Princess Anne from the vehicle, he would come to realize his target was not as easy as he had expected. Anne resolutely refused to comply, according to the Evening Standard. "We had a discussion about where — or where not — we were going to go," Anne later recalled in a 1980s interview with Michael Parkinson. "I said I didn't think I wanted to go. I was scrupulously polite because I thought it would be silly to be too rude at that stage." However, according to reports Anne did not remain polite the entire time. At one point when Ball insisted she leave with him, she allegedly said it was "not bloody likely."

At this point, Police Constable Michael Hills approached, according to Smithsonian Magazine. He had heard a struggle and come to investigate. He touched Ball on the shoulder, and Ball shot him in the stomach for his troubles, but he was able to radio for backup before he collapsed. Three other bystanders stepped up to help: cleaning company executive and former boxer Ronald Russell, chauffeur Glenmore Martin, and Daily Mail journalist John Brian McConnell. Martin first tried to distract Ball and then turned to help Hills after Ball aimed the gun at him. McConnell, meanwhile, tried to talk Ball down. "Don't be silly, old boy," he said, "Put the gun down." But Ball just shot him as well. 

Anne's escape

Most of Princess Anne's would-be rescuers had been incapacitated. However, Ronald Russell managed to sneak up on Ian Ball and punch him in the back of the head, according to Smithsonian Magazine This was the opening Anne needed. "I could reach the door handle from behind my head and I opened the door and literally pulled my feet over my head and did a sort of backward somersault onto the road," she told Michael Parkinson in an interview (via People). When Ball saw Anne leave the vehicle, he ran around the car towards her, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Anne then leapt back into the vehicle and closed the door, and Russell managed to punch Ball again, in the face this time. 

Princess Anne noticed that more police had arrived and that Ball was getting visibly worried. She called to the police, saying,  "Go on, now's your chance." Ball fled the scene, only to be tackled and arrested by temporary detective Peter Edmonds. The ordeal was over. 

Anne later recalled that she had been able to keep her cool during the kidnapping attack because of her experience with horseback riding.  "One thing about horses and sport is you have to prepare for the unexpected," she recalled, according to the Evening Standard.

Rewards and punishments

Once Ian Ball was safely in custody, police learned more about his plot and his motive. They discovered handcuffs, tranquilizers, and a ransom note demanding £2 million when they searched his car, according to SCMP. The note instructed the money to be placed in 20 suitcases in £5 notes and mandated that he be sent to Switzerland

Ball was an unemployed laborer at the time of the kidnapping and had suffered poor mental health, according to the Evening Standard. Improving mental healthcare was apparently part of what motivated his actions.  "I would like to say that I did it because I wished to draw attention to the lack of facilities for treating mental illness under the National Health Service," he said at his trial (via Smithsonian Magazine). He pled guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping, and was sentenced to spend his life in a mental health treatment facility. 

Meanwhile, all of the men who had come to Princess Anne's aid were honored by Queen Elizabeth II. Inspector James Beaton received the George Cross; Police Constable Michael Hills and Ronald Russell received the George Medal; Police Constable Peter Edmonds, John Brian McConnell, and Alexander Callender received the Queen's Gallantry medals; and Glenmore Martin received the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct. When the Queen presented the George Medal to Russell, she said, "The medal is from the Queen, but I want to thank you as Anne's mother" (via People).