A Good TV Binge Watch
If you are like me, you have probably been doing a lot of binge-watching.
My addiction has been The Crown. I started viewing long after it was initially released, but recently plowed right through, including season four.
For those who have not indulged, the series is focused on Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and her Windsor brood. It paints a picture of a family hemmed in by tradition, constrained by courtiers, and hounded by media (when they are not using the press to burnish their image or advance an agenda).
While much of the series centers on the Queen, it was Princess Anne that caught my attention. And not for the first time.
Back in 1975, I was assigned to cover Princess Anne and other international equestrians as they gathered in Hamilton for the Ledyard Farms Horse Trials.
I was writing for the Ipswich Chronicle. My colleague, Selma Williams, editor of the Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle, was doing the heavy journalistic lifting. I was left free to “soak up the atmosphere,” as someone said of my role.
A Disaster Of A Press Conference
I quickly found the atmosphere to be pretty toxic. There was a press conference featuring Princess Anne and her husband, Mark Phillips, at the Hamilton Community Center that made the Suez Crisis look like a British PR coup.
Some bright light asked Princess Anne if an “accident of birth” made her feel any different from her British teammates. Another — who had, to my ear, a pronounced New York accent and an even more profound lack of understanding of how a parliamentary system works — asked if she believed that the pound sterling was overvalued.
The princess was not amused. The press availability ended up a shambles.
Things didn’t get any better after that. Despite being told to keep at least 15 feet away, photographers, in particular, seemed ever-present and ready to pounce.
Fortunately, there was the competition itself. The Ledyard Horse Trials had first been established by Neil and Helen Ayer in 1973. By 1975, in its second incarnation, it was attracting the best riders in the world, including Olympic and European champions like Mark Phillips and Princess Anne. More than 50,000 people attended.
While stadium or “show” jumping was the biggest draw, I chose to cover the cross-country event, which took in gently rolling terrain in Hamilton and looped through Ipswich’s Appleton Farms.
Seeing Princess Anne’s Equestrian Jump
Cross-country features several obstacles that horses must jump in a course that covers several miles; it has more to do with speed and endurance than show jumping, where the emphasis is on precision.
I should say at this juncture that my previous equestrian experience had been limited to riding slow-moving horses named “King” and “Paint” at Roger Sturges’ stables off Lakeman’s Lane. Thankfully, jumping was not in their repertoire.
The organizers (mistakenly believing I was a reporter for The Chronicle of the Horse, not the Ipswich Chronicle), allowed me out onto the course, camera and notepad in hand. That’s when I saw the jumps. They looked terrifying. One was called “the Coffin.” Need I say more?
I found a vantage point near an equally daunting jump, this one including water as a hazard. I settled in and waited for horses and riders to make their way towards me, one by one, over the 15 mile-long, 45-jump course. Which they did.
The Princess And The “Whee!”
Eventually, I saw Princess Anne’s mount, Arthur of Troy, gallop into view. I was the only person at this particular jump — it did not offer a great photo opportunity — and I was very close, so close I could hear both horse and rider breathing. Suddenly, they were right next to me, in the air, and safely over. Just as she cleared, Princess Anne let out a very audible “Whee!”
I realized that she was not only expressing joy but experiencing a rare moment of unencumbered freedom. And while not a huge fan of monarchy — I was still in my Trotsky phase — I realized even princesses deserve a little space to just be themselves.