Charles mourns a 'darling aunt'

Jonathan Thompson
Sunday 10 February 2002 01:00 GMT

The great and the good, in the Britain and abroad, paid their tributes to Princess Margaret yesterday. Messages flooded into the Queen, who had already spoken of "great sadness" after her "beloved sister" died at dawn yesterday.

And an emotional Prince Charles paid tribute to his "darling aunt" in a moving interview that broke with the normal Royal protocol.

Rather than keep his grief private, the Prince of Wales publicly declared his sorrow at the death of Princess Margaret. "This is a terribly sad day for all my family," he said, "but particularly of course for my Mama the Queen, my grandmother the Queen Mother and also for Princess Margaret's children, David and Sarah ... who will, like all of us, miss her terribly."

He told BBC television: "My darling aunt had such a dreadful time the last few years with her awful illness. It was hard for her to deal with, particularly as she was such a wonderfully vibrant woman with such a free spirit. She lived life and loved it to the full and for that we will always remember her."

He was in sombre mood ­ he wore a black tie ­ as he faced the camera at Sandringham House, Norfolk.

He said: "She also had such incredible talents. She sang like an angel and she had this wonderful spirit. She used to win crossword puzzle competitions. One of the fondest memories I shall have of her is her sitting at the piano playing to me.

"All our hearts go out to those people who have relations who have also suffered four strokes," he said. "As dreadfully sad as death is at times like this, in a way it must have been a merciful release for somebody who was such a vital and free spirit.

"My family would like to thank all those wonderful people who have already sent in their condolences and marvellous letters of sympathy. They are greatly appreciated."

Political and religious leaders around the world echoed the sentiments.

"My wife and myself are very affected by the death of Princess Margaret," Lionel Jospin, France's Prime Minister, wrote to Tony Blair. And the French President, Jacques Chirac, wrote in a letter to the Queen: "In these circumstances, particularly painful at a time when the golden jubilee of your reign is beginning, I would like to express, in my name and in that of the French people, my sincere condolences."

Pope John Paul II sent a telegram to the Queen promising to pray for the soul of Princess Margaret, recalling the "travails" and "frailty" of her final years. Italy's head of state, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, sent his condolences, mentioning her as a "frequent and attentive visitor". She had, he wrote, "conquered the affections of Italians", who would remember "her cordial and human character".

John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister, wrote extending the condolences "on behalf of the Australian people". Meanwhile, Mr Blair, on a visit to Sierra Leone, said: "I know the whole country will be deeply saddened."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, described her as a person of faith and passion. "I found her somebody with whom I could have very direct, honest, open discussion," he said.

Sarah Ferguson, former wife of Princess Margaret's nephew the Duke of York, said: "She was a good friend to my mother and kind to me ... I shall never forget that."

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