Prince Harry and Princess Margaret were ‘almost strangers’

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In his memoir, Prince Harry delves into his relationships with members of the Royal Family — both past and present. Spare, which was officially published on Tuesday, was promised to be a “wholly truthful” firsthand account of the Duke of Sussex’s life both inside the Firm and outside, chronicling his teenage years, experiences as a working royal to current life in Montecito, California. While, as many were anticipating, Harry has opened up about his splintered relations with the likes of his brother and father, the Duke has also given insight into less known royal relationships.

Writing about the early Noughties, Harry recalls both Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother being unwell, noting that the Royal Family was no longer growing larger but was in fact about to get smaller.

He reveals he “didn’t know” his great-aunt saying that, while they spent the bigger holidays together, she was “almost a total stranger”.

“Like most Britons, I mainly knew of her,” the Prince writes. “I was conversant with the general contours of her sad life.”

Harry goes on to list the well-known details of the late Queen’s younger sister’s tumultuous story — her great love “thwarted by the Palace”, exuberant lifestyle splashed across the tabloids and her tempestuous marriage with Antony Armstrong-Jones, who Harry claims left “poisonous notes around the house” that often listed things he deemed wrong with the Princess.

He describes a cold relationship between him and his Aunt Margo, saying he “felt nothing for her, except a bit of pity and a lot of jumpiness”, and explaining that he kept his distance whenever she was around.

“On those rarer-than-rare occasions when our paths crossed, when she deigned to take notice of me, to speak to me, I’d wonder if she had any opinion of me,” he writes. “It seemed that she didn’t. Or else, given her tone, her coldness, the opinion wasn’t much.”

The Duke goes on to recall a traditional royal Christmas which saw the whole family gather at Queen Elizabeth II’s Norfolk estate — Sandringham. He claims the mystery of Margaret’s feelings towards him soon became clear.

In keeping with a German tradition, they opened gifts on Christmas Eve and the entire family gathered around a long table to commence the unwrapping.

Harry chose to open his smallest present first, a gift that was labelled: “From Aunt Margo”.

“I do hope you like it, Harry,” Margaret supposedly said as Harry tore off the paper, revealing that his great-aunt had gifted him a biro.

Despite his confusion, Harry thanked Margaret, before she pointed out that “it wasn’t just any biro”. Upon turning the pen around, the Prince noticed “it had a tiny rubber fish wrapped around it”.

He told himself: “That is cold-blooded.”

In spite of Margaret’s apparent disinterest in him, Harry argues the pair had a lot in common and dwells on the friendship they may have shared as “two Spares”. He goes on to compare his relationship with his older brother Prince William to that of Margaret and his grandmother, saying that while it wasn’t “an exact analogue,” it was “pretty close”.

“The simmering rivalry, the intense competition (driven largely by the older sibling), it all looked familiar,” he writes. “Aunt Margo also wasn’t that dissimilar from Mummy. Both rebels, both labelled as sirens. So my first thought when I learned in early 2002 that she’d been taken ill was to wish there’d been more time to get to know her.”

However, Harry’s claims about his great-aunt have been questioned, with some raising doubts about how the Prince describes the relationships Margaret shared with both her great-nephew and sister.

Gareth Russell, author of Do Let’s Have Another Drink : The Singular Wit and Double Measures of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, has claimed that Margaret — at least at one point in time — cared for Harry.

Speaking on Wednesday’s episode of the To Di For Daily podcast, hosted by royal commentator Kinsey Schofield, he noted Margaret’s difficult relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales, but said the older royal “particularly felt for Harry when his mother died”.

“She said: ‘It’s so awful, but particularly for poor Harry,’” the author claimed, “because his birthday was quite close.”

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He continued: “I did not get the impression that she didn’t like him; she could be fairly intimidating — I think we know that — [so] it’s very possible as a child… he might have misinterpreted it, but all I can say for certain is that when his mother died Princess Margaret, in particular, felt very, very sorry for him.”

The commentators go on to discuss Harry’s comparison between the two generations of heirs and spares. Ms Schofield argues Elizabeth and Margaret’s relationship wasn’t even “remotely comparable” to that of William and Harry, “considering how angry Prince Harry sounds”.

Mr Russell, who has interviewed several people who knew the late Princess, added: “I don’t believe that Margaret and Elizabeth had as much of a sense of competition, and the heir and the spare syndrome, as many people make out to be.”

The author references the early seasons of The Crown, which depicts a sometimes frosty relationship between the sisters, saying it has “really embedded this idea that Margaret was the sacrificial spare and I don’t think Margaret would have seen herself like that”.

“I think more of it was fairly strongly against self-pity,” he continued. “…Margaret did not feel sorry for herself. [She] did not feel hard done by or heartbroken by life.

“She felt there were difficulties in her life, as there are difficulties in everyone’s, but I don’t think I would necessarily buy into the idea that there was an antagonistic relationship between Margaret and Elizabeth. I don’t think that that is how either sister characterised it – from the records that we have.”

Margaret died in February 2002 aged 71, after suffering her fourth stroke. Her funeral was held at St George’s Chapel in Windsor; Harry attended the private service along with members of his family. In a rare showing of public emotion, the Queen openly cried at her sister’s funeral.

Buckingham Palace released a poem written by Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, to commemorate Margaret’s life. He described the Princess as having learned “that love and duty speak two languages”.

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