Royal Rewind – kidnap attempt on Princess Anne

OTD in 1974, there was a kidnap attempt on Princess Anne. While she remained unharmed, and the would-be kidnapper detained, her driver and bodyguard were injured leading to sensational storylines. You can view Princess Anne speaking about this event in the video at the end of the article.

Princess Anne in 1974 (Tyne and Wear Museums)


Princess Anne was the victim of a kidnap attempt in 1974. (NHC UHI)

On 20 March 1974, The Princess Royal, 23, and her then-husband Captain Mark Phillips, were en route to Buckingham Palace after an event in the city. Almost back at the Palace, the car was stopped by another driver who swerved in front of them on the Mall.

Jim Beaton, her bodyguard got out of the car to see what all the fuss was about.

“I thought he was an irate motorist,” Jim told the BBC. “I got out of the front of the car and he shot at me. I had no time to think on anything really which was just as well because thinking isn’t one of my specialities.”

As he realised the situation was dangerous, he attempted to fire his gun, but it jammed and he was shot three times by the man.

The man – later discovered to be Ian Bell – then walked around to the side of the car where Princess Anne was sitting; he wanted to kidnap her.

“I got level with the door and Ian Ball was speaking to Princess Anne, all I remember her saying is ‘why do you want me?'”

The assailant told Princess Anne to get out.

The bodyguard described Anne as “cool, calm and collected” – which is not surprising to anyone who knows anything about the Princess. In documents released in 2004, the Princess stated that her response to this request was: “Not bloody likely!”

Embed from Getty Images

Under the threat of a gun, she did eventually leave the car; a passer-by and former boxer Ron Russell, however, struck Ball to disorient him.

Anne went to visit her bodyguard in hospital: “When Princess Anne came to visit me in hospital we chatted away for a while,” said Jim. “And she said thank you very much.”

The Queen and Prince Philip were away on a tour of Indonesia when the attack happened. A few months later, he was awarded the George Cross for his bravery, a personal gift from Her Majesty.

“He had two guns, one in each hand,” added Jim. “He shot me again in the abdomen and I remember I had a new suit on and I didn’t want to fall down and damage it.”

UPDATE: in February 2020, boxer Ron Russell revealed that The Queen paid his mortgage as a thank you for saving her daughter from harm.

Luckily, being located so close to royal residences, police arrived within minutes. They detained Mr Ball, and those injured, including Beaton, the driver and Anne’s Lady in Waiting, were taken to hospital.

Following his arrest, police discovered a letter written addressed to The Queen, demanding £3 million for her daughter’s release.

Ian Ball, then 26, was prosecuted for the attempted murder of Jim Beaton, as well as various other offences. This attempt to abduct Princess Anne remains the closest anyone has come to kidnapping a member of the Royal Family.

Ball was sentenced to life imprisonment and placed in a mental hospital.

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