December 2, 2020

The True Story of Princess Anne & Andrew Parker Bowles’ Relationship

6 min read

The Crown‘s fourth season, on Netflix today, explores the ill-fated love triangle between Princess Diana (Emma Corrin), Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), and Camilla Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell). But prior to that trio’s romantic scandal, season 3 depicted the compelling tryst between Charles’s sistr, Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), and Camilla’s husband, Andrew Parker Bowles (Andrew Buchan). In episode 9, “Imbroglio,” Anne endures questioning from her family about the love quadrangle involving herself, Andrew, Camilla, and Charles. She and Andrew were just in it for “a bit of fun” she tells her stunned parents (“sorry, Mummy, it was” she adds). The way The Crown tells it, Andrew and Anne started things at the same time Camilla and Charles first got together in the early 1970s.

But that’s not how it really happened. The Crown‘s creator, Peter Morgan, has been known to stretch the truth to milk some drama out of the royal family’s lives. In other words, he’s got all the basic facts there (usually), but when needed, he livens them up a bit. This, of course, calls for a separation between royal facts and fiction. Sally Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, spoke with ELLE.com about what really happened between the Anne and Andrew nearly five decades ago.

When did Andrew and Anne actually meet?

Smith says the pair had a very royal first date at the Royal Ascot at Windsor Castle in June of 1970, just before Anne’s 20th birthday that August. Andrew came from a racing family; his father Derek was an enthusiast, much like most of the royal family. Derek was also a good friend of the Queen Mother, so the families did know each other prior to Anne and Andrew’s romance.

Anne And Parker-bowles Kissing

Princess Anne and Andrew Parker Bowles at Royal Ascot in 1988, nearly 20 years after they first met.

Tim GrahamGetty Images

Was this a casual fling, like The Crown portrays, or was it something more serious?

Smith says that The Crown was actually pretty accurate with this one. Things couldn’t have been very serious between Anne and Andrew because Andrew was Catholic. At the time, a royal marrying a Catholic was still very much out of the question; even Meghan Markle, who had a Catholic education, had to be baptised into the Church of England before marrying Prince Harry. When Anne and Andrew got together, there would have been a bigger conversation about Andrew’s faith if things had gone past a fling. Smith says Andrew and Anne shared a love of horses and riding, but talk of marriage or a long-term commitment was never in question.

When did things officially end between Anne and Andrew?

The timeline is a bit fuzzy on this one. Smith says things likely just fizzled out with Andrew, though he remains in Anne’s life to this day.

“It’s unclear when their romance wound down, but Anne had no shortage of young men interested in her, among them Mark Phillips, whom she first met in 1968,” Smith said. “They announced their engagement early in 1973 and were married later that year. Anne and Andrew have remained friends to this day, and he is a godfather of Anne and Mark’s daughter Zara, born in 1981.” Charles is also godfather to Tom, Camilla and Andrew’s son. Camilla and Andrew married in 1973 and finalized their divorce in 1995. The following year, Andrew wed Rosemary Parker Bowles. They were married until 2010, when Rosemary passed away from cancer at age 69.

Anne Andrew Parker-bowles And Tim Laurence

Princess Anne with second husband Timothy Laurence (left) and Parker Bowles at Cheltenham Races in 1993.

Tim GrahamGetty Images

As of 2020, Anne and Andrew remain close. Some even speculated that Andrew and Anne were both exposed to COVID-19 at the same event earlier this year, per Vanity Fair. In early April, shortly after Prince Charles’ coronavirus diagnosis, the Telegraph reported that Andrew had gotten the virus after attending the Cheltenham Festival alongside Anne and others. The outlet noted that Andrew had been photographed hugging Anne’s daughter Zara. Prince William also reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 in April, although the news wasn’t public until early November.

the cheltenham festival 2020   day one

Andrew and Anne at the Cheltenham Festival on March 10, 2020.

Max Mumby/IndigoGetty Images

Did Anne and Andrew’s fling overlap with Charles and Camilla’s initial romance, like The Crown portrays?

The conflicting timelines were likely inserted into the plot of the show for a little more drama (and to move things faster along). As far as Smith knows, there is no evidence that Anne and Andrew were dating in the same year as Charles and Camilla. Anne and Andrew got together in 1970, but Charles and Camilla didn’t meet until the early summer of 1972. Their mutual friend, Lucia St. Cruz, introduced the two. At the time, Charles was 23 and Camilla was 25. There’s no way they could’ve met earlier, according to Smith; Charles had been away for nearly all of 1971, except for a family trip in Scotland and a trip to Paris in early October, when he visited his great-uncle the Duke of Windsor.

“Charles and Camilla’s first meeting was over drinks at Lucia Santa Cruz’s flat in London, where she and Camilla were neighbors,” Smith says. “Charles fell instantly in love, and Camilla, who had been dating Andrew Parker Bowles on and off for six years, was ready for some fun with the Prince of Wales. He was 23, and she was 25. Conveniently, Andrew left in July for a six-month deployment in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. As Camilla and Andrew’s lifelong friend, Lord Patrick Beresford, told me, Charles ‘sort of parachuted in the middle’ of Camilla’s relationship with Andrew. ‘She was absolutely potty’ about Andrew, Patrick told me.”

Smith added that it’s pretty easy to follow the early timeline of Charles and Camilla, because Charles and Lord Mountbatten, also known as “Uncle Dickie” by the family, took Camilla on a tour of Charles’s boat, the HMS Minerva. They spent the weekend after that at Broadlands, Mountbatten’s country estate in Hampshire. At the time, Charles wrote to Mountbatten that it was “the last time I shall see her for eight months.” Andrew was away in the army during 1972—the whole of the Charles and Camilla affair—so there was no way his romance with Anne could have crossed wires.

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Erin Doherty as Princess Anne in The Crown season 3.

Des Willie / Netflix

Would Anne have talked to the queen or any member of the royal family about her affair with Andrew, the way she did in the show?

However fun it is to imagine that Princess Anne alluded to her sex life with her mother and grandmother, this likely did not happen. In this case, think of the royal family as any respectable midwestern clan: sex and who’s having it is not a pleasant topic for tea or supper.

queen and princess anne

Queen Elizabeth and Princess Anne in 1983.

Tim GrahamGetty Images

“It is highly unlikely that Anne would have shared with her mother that she had a fling with Andrew Parker Bowles,” Smith says. “If anything, the royal family in those days avoided talking about personal matters like that. There was even a term for it: ‘ostriching.’ If Anne had been desperate to marry Andrew, she would have been compelled to raise her intentions with her parents because Andrew was Catholic. But the romance never got that far.”

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