Hejdå to Sweden's Welsh-born Princess Lilian, who has died aged 97

Sweden’s Princess Lilian captured the heart of a prince – and then an entire nation

Her life was a rags-to-riches love story befitting of a Hollywood movie, which started in South Wales in 1915 and ended yesterday, 97 years later, in Stockholm’s Royal residence.

Born Lillian May Davies in Swansea on 30 August 1915, she dropped one of the ‘l’s in her name during her career as a fashion model. The daughter of William Davies and Gladys Mary Curran spent the last three decades of her life as the much-loved Princess Lilian of Sweden.

Her marriage to Prince Bertil was the final turn in a colourful life that included two marriages, and respective careers as a ballerina, a factory worker and a singer. Her ascension to Swedish royalty was made all the more unlikely given her status as a divorced commoner and her husband-to-be’s duties to the throne.

But in a stranger-than-fiction case of love conquering all, the former factory-worker married Prince Bertil of Sweden in 1976 – some 30 years after they first met – before winning the heart of his nation.

Aged 16, Lillian Davies moved to the bright lights of London to pursue a career in modelling. She made quite a name for herself and featured in magazines including Vogue.

In the throes of war in September 1940, 25-year-old Davies married a Scottish bit-part actor by the name of Ivan Craig, three years her senior, in Horsham, West Sussex. Nine years later, he was deployed to Africa and after a period of separation, the pair divorced in 1945.

Unusually for the time, her own parents had also separated in the 1920s and finally divorced a year before her marriage to Craig, in 1939.

During the war, Ms Davies worked in a factory making wirelesses for the Royal Navy and in a hospital for wounded soldiers, where she became known for her wicked sense of humour and caring nature.

It was a striking combination of heart and grace that would eventually win her the affections of both the Royal family and the Swedish people, despite an initial reluctance to accept the divorced foreigner.

The circumstances leading to Ms Davies meeting Prince Bertil of Sweden in 1943, who was stationed as naval attaché at the embassy in London at the time, are not exactly clear. The story varies from her having met the blue-eyed Duke of Halland at a cocktail party to mark her 28th birthday, to meeting at a nightclub or even on the London Underground.  

What is clear is that the Scandinavian playboy and the not-yet-divorced Welsh beauty fell in love. Though it would be a long time before the couple would win the approval of his family.

After the death of the family’s eldest brother in a plane crash in 1947, Prince Bertil of Sweden, the third son of then Crown Prince Gustaf VI Adolph – and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria through his late mother, Princess Margaret of Connaught – was second in line to the throne, until Carl Gustaf, the son of his eldest brother Crown Prince Gustaf Adolph came of age.

Already there was a strong precedent to suggest that their marriage would come at the highest cost. One of Prince Bertil’s brothers had married a commoner and as a consequence had been forced to renounce his right to the throne.

In 1950, Gustaf VI Adolph succeeded his father King Gustaf V. King Gustaf VI Adolph lived until 1973, refusing to give his consent to the relationship between the two divorcees who had a mutual base in Sainte-Maxime in the South of France.

Following his death, the new King Carl XVI Gustaf approved the marriage of his uncle to the Welsh woman, who had already been privately accepted by the Royal family. Ms Davies appeared at court, but not at public engagements. The wedding took place in Drottningholm, the private residence of the Swedish royal family, on 7 December 1976, in the presence of the King and Queen.

The pair – by then both in their sixties – honeymooned in turn in Kenya and at their French villa on the northern shore of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez.In the following three decades, Princess Lilian became a popular public figure, as notorious for her love of jewels and glitzy heels as she was celebrated for her caring nature. She received The Seraphim Medal, which is presented in Sweden as acknowledgement of “outstanding services of a humanitarian or nature or of general benefit to society”.

Prince Bertil, who was well-loved among his people and had a lifelong passion for cars, tennis and boules, died on 5 January 1997, aged 84, at the couple’s residence Villa Solbacken in Stockholm. Three years later, his wife published her memoirs My Life With Prince Bertil.

Having attended the Nobel award ceremony and banquet from 1976, she stopped in 2005. In 2010, the palace announced that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Until her death at Villa Solbacken on Sunday, the couple’s 1930s home north of Djurgårdsbrunnskanalen, Stockholm, the Princess was cared for by nurses.

With no children of her own, she died the oldest member of the Swedish Royal family. Princess Lilian of Sweden once reflected: “If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about my love”.

Made in Wales, married abroad

Stephen Kinnock

The British executive and son of former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock is married to the Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who he met College of Europe in Belgium.

Catherine Zeta-Jones

The Welsh Darling Buds of May star moved Stateside to be with her actor husband Michael Douglas in 1999. The pair remain Hollywood royalty with Zeta-Jones winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2003 for her role in the musical Chicago.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?