It’s a spring evening in London, and a Rolls Royce limousine is carrying the Queen’s daughter through the city streets. Suddenly, a vehicle pulls in front of the royal party, forcing the chauffeur to an abrupt halt. The man who gets out is intent on kidnapping Princess Anne, but she’s got other ideas in mind.
Anne was born on August 15, 1950, at Clarence House, the royal residence where Princess Elizabeth was living with her husband Prince Philip. Three years later, Elizabeth became queen, and Anne found herself second in line to the British throne. Along with her older brother, Charles, she moved to Buckingham Palace, where she grew up in the nation’s spotlight.
As she grew older, Anne stepped out of her brother’s shadow and became an accomplished individual in her own right. In fact, in 1971, she was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in recognition of her impressive talents as an equestrian. And when she married fellow horseman Mark Phillips in 1973, the televised ceremony attracted the most viewers that any wedding had ever seen.
By March 20, 1974, Anne and Phillips had been married for four months, and the excitement surrounding the wedding had died down. However, something was about to happen that would propel the princess back into the headlines. That evening, the royal couple had been guests at a charity movie screening on Pall Mall, a street in central London.
After the screening, chauffeur Alexander Callender began to drive Anne and Phillips back to Buckingham Palace. Along with the royal couple, one of Anne’s ladies in waiting sat in the back of the spacious limousine. Meanwhile, up front, bodyguard Inspector James Wallace Beaton was responsible for escorting the party safely home.
Beaton was part of SO14, the branch of Scotland Yard responsible for keeping the royal family safe. However, the evening excursion was not thought to be a high risk, and one officer was considered to be ample protection. In fact, even the Queen herself often went out and about with only a single bodyguard to watch over her.
That evening, however, something unexpected happened. At around 8:00 p.m., a Ford Escort car overtook the princess’s Rolls Royce and forced Callender to come to a halt. Inside, 26-year-old Ian Ball was preparing to launch a daring plan. Grabbing two handguns, he climbed out of the vehicle and began to approach the royal party.
Initially, Beaton did not see the weapons and thought that the man was merely a frustrated driver. Hoping to de-escalate the situation, he stepped out of the vehicle. However, the graveness of their predicament soon became apparent when Ball opened fire, sending a bullet through Beaton’s shoulder from six feet away.
Unusually for a British policeman, Beaton was carrying a gun. But with his injured shoulder, he failed to take Ball down. In fact, after firing just one shot, his weapon jammed. Unimpeded, Ball closed the distance between him and the Rolls Royce and began rattling the door handle on Anne’s side.
As Anne and Phillips desperately tried to stop Ball from opening the door, the princess’s lady in waiting managed to escape. Undeterred, Beaton jumped back into the vehicle, placing himself between Anne and her would-be assailant. In the ensuing chaos, he was shot two more times, eventually ending up seriously wounded on the ground beside the car.
Fortunately, Beaton wasn’t the only man attempting to fend off Ball’s attacks. Bravely, Callender also tried to confront the armed man, earning himself a bullet to the chest for his efforts. Then, Ball succeeded in opening the vehicle’s rear door and began grabbing at the princess. But although he pleaded with her to come with him, Anne stubbornly refused.
In fact, the princess is said to have grown irritated as Phillips and Ball struggled over her, eventually ripping her dress. And her retort to an impatient Ball has gone down as one of history’s most impressive quips. Apparently, when the assailant implored Anne to leave the car, she responded with a curt, “Not bloody likely.”
As the trio continued to struggle, Police Constable Michael Hills arrived on the scene. Thinking that a disagreement over an accident had got out of hand, he approached Ball – only for the attacker to shoot him in the stomach. And even though he was able to radio for backup, it must have been a moment of terrifying uncertainty for the royal couple.
Fortunately, a man named Ronald Russell happened to be passing at just the right time. After witnessing Ball attacking a policeman, the imposing former boxer decided to get involved. Meanwhile, passing chauffeur Glenmore Martin had parked his own vehicle in front of Ball’s, preventing the assailant from escaping.
Attracted by the commotion, journalist John Brian McConnell arrived on the scene. Immediately, he recognized the Rolls Royce as belonging to the royal fleet. But although he tried to reason with Ball, the kidnapper soon turned on him as well. With this third obstacle removed, Ball returned to his struggle for the princess.
However, by this time Russell had covered the distance to Anne’s vehicle, and he delivered a swift blow to the back of Ball’s head. Seeing her chance, the princess escaped. But when Ball dodged Russell and ran towards her, she jumped quickly back into the vehicle. Confused, Ball was further debilitated by another punch from Russell. Eventually, as more police gathered round, he decided to run.
As Ball took off through a nearby park, another policeman, Peter Edmonds, gave chase. Luckily, the attacker didn’t get far, and Edmonds soon caught up with him. Finally, the ordeal was over. But even though the princess was safe, three men lay bleeding on the ground. Ball was arrested, and it wasn’t long before the terrifying truth came out.
During the investigation, police discovered a car that Ball had rented, complete with a ransom note addressed to the queen. Apparently, he had planned on demanding £2 million in cash in return for the princess’s safety. Eventually, he was found guilty of kidnapping and attempted murder and was indefinitely detained under the Mental Health Act.
Meanwhile, Beaton, Callender and Hills made full recoveries. In recognition of his bravery, Beaton received the George Cross – the highest award for courage that can be bestowed on a British civilian. Additionally, both Hills and Russell were awarded the George Medal, Britain’s second-highest honor for bravery, while Edmonds, McConnell and Callender each received the Queen’s Gallantry medal.
Ironically, Ball used police interviews after he was arrested as an opportunity to lecture the royals on their approach to security. “There is one good thing coming out of this,” he is reported to have said. “You will have to improve on her protection.” But did they heed his advice? Although details on SO14’s current activities are hard to come by, Ball’s attempt remains the closest that anyone has ever come to kidnapping a British royal.