Although they shared the same wealth, status and distinctive accent, Elizabeth’s younger sister by four years was always known for being ruder, brasher and, at times, more spoilt than the rest of the court. The baby of the family, and the ‘royal spare,’ Margaret was given free rein—but only enough to let her run wild, not to live the life she wanted, which reportedly included a foiled romance with Group Captain Peter Townsend.
Known for her perpetual chain-smoking, her fondness for gin and whisky, and her relatively free-wheeling social life (which eventually led to late marriage with society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones), Margaret remained a character throughout her life.
This is mirrored in the series The Crown, where Vanessa Kirby and Helena Bonham Carter portray the princess as a snobbish, if not spurned little sister, whose life with the royal family was always half-in, half-out.
But, in real life, the princess was actually more of a personality. Documented by acquaintances, former employees and the occasional leaked morning routine, these stories prove that the impish Princess Margaret was the family’s biggest royal rebel.
The Height-Exaggerating Wedding Tiara
Instead of borrowing from the royal family’s extensive collection of over 40 tiaras, Princess Margaret wanted her very own tiara for her wedding day—even if that meant going out and buying one.
In 1959, the Princess purchased the vintage Poltimore Tiara, which she wore to marry Lord Snowdon at Westminster Abbey in 1960. She later wore only the tiara in an infamous bathtub photo taken by Snowdon in 1962, which was later documented in the third season of The Crown.
In 2019, Helena Bonham Carter (who plays Margaret in The Crown’s third and fourth seasons) told Town & Country: “[Margaret] didn’t have a complex about being number two, she had a complex about being short. That’s why she wore the Poltimore Tiara, which was at least four inches tall, at her wedding.”
The Twiggy Incident
Legend has it when Princess Margaret met ’60s model Twiggy, the model greeted her with: “I’m Lesley Hornby, Ma’am, but people call me Twiggy.”
The princess replied, “How unfortunate,” and turned her back.
Her Decadent Morning Schedule
According to a biography by Craig Brown, a regular morning for Princess Margaret in her mid-twenties included breakfast in bed and chain-smoking at 9am, a vodka pick-me-up at 12:30pm and a four-course ‘informal’ lunch of silver platters at 1pm, with half a bottle of wine each.
A run-in with Grace Kelly
During a visit to America in the ’70s, Princess Margaret met with Grace Kelly, whom she reportedly told, “You don’t look like a movie star.”
Kelly, later a princess herself, is said to have replied: “Well, I wasn’t born a movie star.”
Elizabeth Taylor’s “vulgar” ring
During the same lunch, Princess Margaret commented to actress Elizabeth Taylor that her infamous 33-carat engagement ring from Richard Burton was “vulgar”… until she tried on it, that is.
Taylor allegedly said, “Ain’t it great? Not so vulgar now, is it?”
A Royal Permission
What’s in a name?
Rupert Everett recalled his 1986 run-in with the princess at the theatre. “She was like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. She had huge black hair, the Hanoverian bosom, and her breasts rattled like castanets—I don’t know what was going on. She had cigarettes about this long.”
“When we were getting in the car, she said, ‘Hey, you’ve got marvelous legs.’ And then she called me Leggy all night. ‘Leggy, do you mind if I grab you at the end of the second act?'”
According to Craig Brown’s anecdotal biography, Ma’am Darling, Princess Margaret was so fond of smoking and drinking at the same time that she “tried to combine the smoking and drinking by gluing matchboxes onto tumblers, so she could strike matches while drinking.”
In a moment that was either intended to be a diss to her sister or merely a downplay, Princess Margaret once famously said: “My children are not royal; they just happen to have the Queen for their aunt.”