‘One of the most memorable nights of my life’: The true story behind Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret’s escape from the palace

Yes, the sisters really did sneak out to join the celebrations of VE Day in 1945... but what actually happened?

Finn Cliff Hodges
Thursday 14 December 2023 16:12 GMT
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After watching series six, episode eight of The Crown, fans have been left wondering about the truth behind a scene showing the young Queen Elizabeth (Viola Prettejohn) and Princess Margaret’s (Beau Gadsdon) VE day escapades, which involved sneaking out of Buckingham Palace and dancing at the Ritz.

Was this storyline in the episode fiction, or did the siblings actually manage to shed the rigidity of royal life for one special evening?

In 1985, in a special interview with Godfrey Talbot, the Queen revealed that she and around 16 other members of the royal entourage wanted to join the festivities on VE day in 1945.

The night was recalled fondly by the Queen as “one of the most memorable nights of my life”. Her father George even wrote about the moment in his diary, calling his daughters his “poor darlings” and adding: “They have never had any fun yet.”

In the interview, it was clear that the Queen remembered the day, even 40 years on, in such detail, as she recalled “lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief”.

The Queen’s cousin, Margaret Rhodes, said in an interview with Channel 4 that “it was like a wonderful escape for the girls. I don’t think they’d ever been out among millions of people. It was just freedom – to be an ordinary person.”

Lady Trumpington, also in an interview with Channel 4, recalled that she “had a friend who was a bodyguard of the Queen, so I noticed her and Princess Margaret as they walked the streets of London. But they were people like anyone else – we didn’t take any notice of them.”

The royal siblings in 1948
The royal siblings in 1948 (Getty)

This assimilation of the sisters into the celebrations allowed them to challenge any public perceptions that they were snooty. According to Rhodes, the royal party “decided to go in the front door of the Ritz and do the conga. The Ritz has always been so stuffy and formal – we rather electrified the stuffy individuals inside.

“I don’t think people realised who was among the party – I think they thought it was just a group of drunk young people. I remember old ladies looking faintly shocked. As one congaed through, eyebrows were raised.”

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After the bleakness of the long war, and the blackouts London faced, rumours spreading of Elizabeth and Margaret among the celebrations would have no doubt have brought a welcome sense of national pride. “It had been very dim during the blackout – with only searchlights in the sky and very tiny traffic lights – and suddenly there was this sudden blaze of light,” said Trumpington. “It was so exciting!”

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