Watch just one season of Netflix’s The Crown and, fictionalized or not, it’s clear: Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, was a complex woman. In a brand-new book, Elizabeth & Margaret: The Intimate World of the Windsor Sisters, journalist and royal biographer Andrew Morton (who also happens to be the writer behind Diana: Her True Story) reveals that one of the more complicated relationships in Margaret’s life wasn’t the one with her big sister, the queen. It was with the woman on the arm of her nephew, Prince Charles—Princess Diana.
Princess Margaret Was Princess Diana’s #1 Supporter...Until She Wasn’t, According to Royal Biographer
On a recent episode of the Royally Obsessed podcast, my co-host Roberta Fiorito and I pressed Morton on the matter. Did Margaret view Diana favorably? What was their relationship like?
Morton explains: “Initially, Princess Margaret embraced Diana into the family. She organized all the staff at Kensington Palace to wave Diana into her apartment with Prince Charles after she gave birth to William. She took her to the opera. She took her to the ballet, which she knew Diana loved. She tried to show her the ropes...As Diana said to me, I adore Margo. I love her to bits. Even after the separation, Margaret wrote to Prince Charles and said, ‘Look, I’m still going to see your estranged wife. Hope you don’t mind, but that’s what I’m doing,’ so they maintained that friendship.”
But things changed dramatically for Margaret and Diana after Diana’s now-infamous interview with the BBC’s Panorama.
“That Panorama interview...had the same cataclysmic effect as the Meghan and Harry interview has done. It rocked the whole of the monarchy back on its heels because here was Diana saying that her husband Prince Charles was not fit to be king and talking about the fact that she wanted to be the queen of people’s hearts. To Margaret, that was a betrayal not just of [Diana’s] estranged husband, but of the monarchy and especially the queen. That was it. The shutters went down. The gates were closed. [Margaret] was furious.”
From that point on and up through Diana’s death, Margaret refused to speak to Diana, according to Morton. That distance continued even at Diana’s funeral in 1997.
“I remember I was commentating on the funeral for ABC and I sat next to Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters was at the end of our little gantry,” Morton recalls. “I said to Peter Jennings, ‘Watch Princess Margaret’ as the funeral [procession] went by Buckingham Palace. Sure enough, the queen bowed her head, the rest of the royal family bowed their heads, but the one person who remained ram-rod straight and barely acknowledged the passing of Diana’s coffin was Princess Margaret, so even in death she would not forgive her.”
Morton explains that, as the years went on—and in the latter part of Margaret’s life—she dedicated her life to the queen and to the monarchy.
Like we said, it’s complicated. It’s also another fascinating example of the perils of mixing family dynamics with duty.
Listen to the full podcast below.