For people of notoriety, the possibility of a kidnap attempt exists. That possibility became very real to Great Britain’s Princess Anne and her husband, Captain Mark Phillips on March 20, 1974, as they were returning to Buckingham Palace. It was the closest that anyone has come to abducting a member of the British Royal family in modern times.
Princess Anne was just 23 years old at the time. She was a fun-loving royal celebrity of the day. She was a skilled equestrian, who had been named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1971, but it was her marriage to a commoner, Captain Mark Phillips that caused a sensation. It is estimated that 500 million watched the ceremony on television. It was a bit unusual for royalty to marry commoners, but as we know, it does happen.
Princess Anne has long been one of the hardest working royals, and still is to this day. On the night of the attempted kidnapping, the couple were returning to Buckingham Palace after a charity film screening. At about 8pm, their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce was making its way along the Mall when a white Ford Escort suddenly pulled in front and blocked the road. The driver, who was later identified as 26 year old Ian Ball, who was an unemployed laborer suffering from mental illness, jumped out, waving two handguns.
Thankfully, Anne’s bodyguard, Inspector James Beaton, and chauffeur Alex Callendar went to disarm him. Both were shot, but miraculously not fatally. A passing tabloid journalist was also shot. Beaton, who got back to his feet and was shot three times during the attack, was later awarded the George Cross. Ball got into the limo and demanded Anne get out, to which she retorted, “Not bloody likely!” Those were bold words for a young woman facing a would be captor. Obviously, Princess Anne was no ordinary young woman.
Into the chaotic scene ran former boxer Ron Russell, who punched Ball in the head and led the Princess to safety as police arrived. Police officer Michael Hills was also shot before Ball was finally tackled to the ground. The assailant was sentenced to life imprisonment and placed in a psychiatric hospital. In Ball’s car, police found handcuffs, tranquillizers and a ransom note addressed to the Queen. In the letter, he demanded that £2 million be paid to the National Health Service. After Anne’s miraculous escape, the royal family’s security was increased to ensure something like that could never happen again.