Ma'am darling: the princess driven by loyalty and duty

IN THE NEWS; PRINCESS MARGARET

ONE OF the Queen's greatest fears, according to her friends, is that the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret will die one soon after the other, leaving her alone. The three Windsor women are very close, and it has not been a good year for them.

Princess Margaret was once the Queen's greatest worry. Now she is one of her greatest supporters, among the last of a dwindling band of people who have been close to the Queen since before she ascended the throne.

The Princess's friends say her qualities are great, but, as even they - or most of them - will admit, so too are her defects. There is little in between. She either hates things or loves them. Everything is theatrical, with that little touch of vulgar taste she shares with the other women in her family; her thank you letters, so purple they could be from Liberace; her Sevres blue drawing room at 1A Clock Court, her apartment at Kensington Palace; the pair of gilded blackamoors either side of its main doors.

To her friends she is a real friend. "She is probably the loyalest friend you could have, once she's decided she likes you," says Lady Elizabeth Cavendish. Her little band of pals constantly cossets her, arranging her travels, paying for her social life - she doesn't carry a cheque book and doesn't have a credit card - and organising entertainments to keep her happy.

She likes to go and stay with them for the weekend. Her lady-in-waiting, Annabel Whitehead, rings up ahead of time to arrange an invitation. Invariably this gets her hosts flustered. One had her bedroom rewired so the Princess could use her Carmen rollers. But the Princess doesn't seem to notice. What she enjoys most, they all confirm, is lighting fires and dead-heading the roses with shiny secateurs.

She takes against people and cannot be budged once her mind is made up. She never received the Duchess of Windsor, although her mother eventually did, on the occasion of the Duke's funeral in 1972. She refuses to go and stay with Jocelyn Stevens because his ex-wife, Janie, is one of her oldest friends and was given Princess Margaret's children's nursery at Kensington Palace to use as her own flat.

Sharp-witted rather than deeply intelligent, the Princess can also be sharp tongued. She demands obeisance. Everyone calls her Ma'am, and even her closest friends still call her "Ma'am darling". She has a nose for anyone trying to be over-familiar, turning her head away as if she had encountered a dog mess. As one of her occasional dates says: "She can be unbelievably rude. Quite takes your breath away." She still does more royal engagements than most people might imagine. These are B list jobs, perhaps, but someone has to do them.

Indeed, her loyalty to her sovereign is, even to her enemies, her single greatest virtue. Recently, turning down a journalist's request for an interview, she passed on a message through her friend, Lady Penn. "Tell her," she said, "that everything I do is to support the Queen and to help her."

They speak on the telephone every day and take note of each other's small wishes. Princess Margaret recently gave her elder sister five powder puffs for Christmas. It's not the sort of thing she would get from anyone else.

Dangers of flight home

Princess Margaret's flight back to Britain will carry risks, an expert in aviation medicine said last night. The cabin pressure, normally set at the equivalent of a height of around 7,000ft, will mean thinner air and less oxygen.

Dr Ian Perry said it was essential that her condition was stable and getting better rather than worse and that the cause was understood before the flight was attempted. "It might be better to fly a top-rate neurologist out to her," he said. Normally, with standard treatment, she should be safe to travel in a few days, especially if the stroke was mild.

The health warnings

Princess Margaret's first big health scare came in January 1985 when she was admitted to hospital for an operation to have part of her lung removed. Although she gave up her 60-a-day smoking habit immediately following the operation, within a few months she was back to a packet and a half a day. In more recent years, she has been continually dogged by ill-health. In May 1992 she was forced to cancel several days of engagements as a result of a "feverish cold" and again in November of that year she was struck down by a "feverish infection". In January 1993, she was admitted to the King Edward VII Hospital in London suffering from pneumonia. Her last public appearance was earlier this month when she visited the Queen Mother after her hip replacement operation.

Mustique's mystique

The island of Mustique in the Caribbean was bought by Colin Tennant in 1959. Ten years later, he created the Mustique Company, which owns the island and rents out its luxury villas. The company has 50 shareholders and in recent times they have been concerned that the demands and tastes of wealthy Americans could irrevocably change Mustique's image. "There is something very special and `English' about Mustique which we want to retain," the island's manager, Brian Alexander, told the Times last May. "The Americans expect to find the same things they would in Florida resorts. We don't want a golf course, but we do want to keep the cricket pitch, for example." The company was spending more than pounds 250,000 on a marketing drive to attract more holidaymakers from the UK and had even set up a satellite station to receive BBC and Sky television programmes. A villa sleeping two people costs from just under pounds 2,000 a week to rent. A larger villa, such as the one owned by Patrick Lichfield, costs around pounds 12,000 a week.

Whatever happened to Roddy?

The man made famous by being Princess Margaret's escort celebrated his 50th birthday last year. Married with three children, he lives in a 14th- century former pub in Oxfordshire. He has a full-time landscape design business and lectures, writes and makes television series about garden design. He has never spoken publicly about his relationship with Princess Margaret despite lucrative offers from newspapers and publishers. Journalists are warned in advance of meeting him that the subject is off limits.

Some fascinating Facts

She was born in Glamis Castle, making her the first royal child to be born in Scotland for more than 300 years. The registration of her birth was delayed for several days in order to avoid her being numbered 13 in the parish register.

In 1954, she directed a West End play called The Frog. It sank without trace.

In 1978 she became the first royal to divorce since Henry VIII.

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