A Look Back at Princess Annes Dramatic Attempted Kidnapping

Princess Anne
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Princess Anne is widely known as the hardest-working royal, but she also proved she has nerves of steel during a kidnapping attempt.

On the evening of March 20, 1974, Anne and her then-husband, Mark Phillips, were heading back to Buckingham Palace after a charity event when a Ford Escort overtook their car and forced them to a stop.

The driver of the Escort, Ian Ball, jumped out of the vehicle and began firing shots from a pistol. James Beaton, who was Anne’s personal police officer at the time, was shot three times during the altercation.

“He went bang bang, and he shot me in the chest,” Beaton recalled in a March 2024 statement to the BBC. “I tried to fire back at him with my gun. I missed the first shot and then the gun jammed.”

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Beaton was also shot in the hand and the abdomen while trying to protect the princess.

A Look Back at Princess Annes Dramatic Attempted Kidnapping

Princess Anne
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

“I’ve still got a bit of bullet lodged in the hand,” the now-retired inspector told the BBC.

When Ball, who also shot Anne’s chauffeur, Alex Callender, and Brian McConnell, a nearby Daily Mail journalist who tried to intervene, ordered the princess to exit the vehicle, Anne famously replied, “[Not] bloody likely.”

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Anne later told police that she had “a very irritating conversation” with her attempted kidnapper.

“I kept saying I didn’t want to get out of the car, and I was not going to get out of the car,” she reportedly explained to law enforcement.

Police Constable Michael Hills, who was patrolling nearby at the time of the attack, was the first to arrive on the scene. Ball shot him in the stomach, but Hills still managed to call for backup before he collapsed.

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Former boxer Ron Russell also happened to be in the area at the time and witnessed Hill getting shot.

“I pulled over and heard a lot of banging and smashing, which I thought was the general rumpus. But then Ball shot a policeman, and I thought, ‘That’s a liberty, he needs sorting,’” Russell told the Eastern Daily Press in 2006.

Russell said he then hit Ball once in the back of the head and once “fair and square” on the chin.

“He went down and police were everywhere,” he recalled.

Ball was subsequently arrested. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping charges and was sentenced to life in a mental health facility. He is currently detained at Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security psychiatric hospital.

After the attempted kidnapping, police found two pairs of handcuffs and a ransom letter addressed to Queen Elizabeth II in Ball’s rented car. According to The Guardian, Ball’s plan was to hold Anne ransom for £3 million and give the money to the National Health Service for the treatment of psychiatric patients.

During a 1980 appearance on the British talk show Parkinson, Anne recalled being “scrupulously polite” to Ball until he ripped her dress.

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“I thought it was silly to be too rude at that stage,” she explained. “The back of my dress split and that was his most dangerous moment. I lost my rag at that stage.”

Beaton, Hills, Callendar and McConnell were all hospitalized after the ordeal, and all recovered from their wounds. For Beaton’s defense of Anne, the queen awarded him the George Cross, which recognizes acts of extreme bravery carried out by civilians and military personnel when not in the presence of an enemy.

Hills and Russell were awarded the George Medal, while Callender and McConnell were awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.

Anne went to visit Beaton in the hospital shortly after the attack.

“When Princess Anne came to see me in hospital, it was quite funny because the staff said, ‘Come on, you must put something on. Cover up your chest and all the wounds and things,’” Beaton told the BBC in March 2024. “I said, ‘Oh, stop it.’ We just said, you know, ‘[We’re] pleased that we are all sort of still alive and kicking, so to speak.’”