When Princess Anne comes to mind, the image many of us conjure is one of a Royal who epitomises no-nonsense, idiosyncratic elegance. We are most used to seeing her in the practical uniform of smart tailoring which she chooses for the hundreds of public engagements which she carries out each year or in classic, functional countrywear as she attends a horse show.
For the portraits taken to mark the Princess Royal’s 70th birthday on Saturday, there is a glimpse of this traditional view of The Queen’s only daughter, but we are also reminded of her ability to deliver the kind of regal glamour befitting of a woman who once covered Vogue and was the bright young thing of the Royal family.
In the first of three photographs taken in February by John Swannell, a British photographer with a long history of taking royal portraits (his portfolio includes shots of The Queen, Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry), the Princess poses as we now think of her at her most natural, outside at her Gatcombe Park home. Wearing khaki trousers, a checked shirt and a burgundy polo neck, this is a slightly more polished version of the look Anne might wear to walk her dog or feed her chickens.
The other two images released are more formal. In one, the Princess wears an emerald dress which she previously wore to Royal Ascot in 2017. The designer is Sue Palmer, believed to be a local dressmaker based near Anne's Gloucestershire home. She underlines her penchant for rewearing by adding her gold ribbon brooch, a piece which has been in her jewellery box since at least 1969.
In the final portrait we see Anne in rare formal mode wearing a long white gown with a bolero over the top. “She does the tiara stuff beautifully,” Richard Ralph, former governor of the Falkland Islands, once observed, ‘but she’s happiest in jeans and a Barbour.’ It’s an observation which still holds up today, and although Anne doesn’t don a tiara for these pictures, she nevertheless makes princess glamour at 70 look effortless.
Anne’s white dress is by Maureen Baker, the designer who created hundreds of outfits for Her Royal Highness when she was young, including her wedding dress for her first marriage to Captain Mark Phillips in 1973. So although the look suggests grandeur, it’s also another sign of the Princess Royal’s thriftiness. She updates the look with a bolero jacket by Sue Palmer.
These kinds of pictures are now a rare part of royal portraiture. The young royals, particularly the Cambridges, prefer to emphasise their unfussiness and love for the countryside in the imagery they release rather than reminding too often of the more glittering side of royal life.
Yet the Princess Royal, with a swish of red lipstick, brings the same ease and elegance to her most dressed-up look as to her most down-to-earth. Undeniably a style icon at 70.