March 20, 1974: Princess Anne Kidnapping Attempt


On March 20, 1974, Princess Anne and her husband, Mark Phillips, were returning home to Buckingham Palace from a charity event, when their car was forced to stop by a Ford Escort. The driver of the car, Ian Ball, jumped out and began firing his pistol.

James Beaton, Anne's personal police detail, exited the car and shielded her, while attempting to disarm Ball. Unfortunately, his weapon was jammed, and he was shot by Ball. Anne's chauffeur tried to disarm the assailant as well, but was shot. Also shot was a nearby journalist who intervened.

Ball approached the car and told her that he intended to kidnap her and hold her for ransom, for 2-3 million dollars. He intended to give that money to the National Health Service. He told her to get out of the car to which she responded, "not bloody likely!"

She exited the car, and a passing pedestrian, former boxer Ron Russell, punched Ball and lead Anne away from the scene. Police had been alerted to the situation at this point, and they chased down Ball and arrested him. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping, and as of 2019, was still detained at Broadmoor Mental Hospital.


During this time, Anne was basically a celebrity. She had met her husband, Mark Phillips, who was a commoner, through "equestrian circles" (so British!). Phillips had won a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and Anne had competed in the 1976 games, the first of the royal family to do so. Their wedding was attended by 2,000 live guests, and over 500 million virtual ones. All this to say, this man wasn't trying to kidnap some ragtag princess: He was trying to kidnap one of the most famous and beloved people in the country.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, 7 different men tried to stop the kidnapping of Princess Anne, including the journalist, the boxer, 2 chauffeurs, and 3 police officers, but the princess was the one who ultimately set herself free.

Anne and her husband, whom she had only been married to for 4 months, got into their Rolls-Royce limousine after a charity film screening. The couple and her lady-in-waiting were in the back of the car, with James Beaton, her bodyguard, in the passenger seat. They were driving down the Mall, when the car overtook them, forcing them to stop nearly 200 yards from the palace.

Out stepped a bearded man with light red hair. Ian Ball was an unemployed laborer from north London. He held 2 handguns and charged toward the rear of the limo. Beaton assumed that he was just an angry fellow driver in a fit of road rage, so he stepped out to talk to him. That's when he was shot in his shoulder.

Ball was 26 and had struggled with mental illness for much of his life. He had rented the car under a fake name, and after the ordeal, police found 2 pairs of handcuffs, tranquilizers, and a ransom letter for the queen inside. His note was a series of ramblings, criticizing the royal family and demanded £2 million in ransom. He wanted the money in £5 notes, and asked that the Queen put the money into 20 unlocked suitcases on a plane destined for Switzerland. He also demanded the Queen appear on the plane so he could secure the needed signatures. He had everything he needed, he just needed the princess. (It also seems like, even if he got her, the plan had about 47 other places it could have failed, but we will never know.)

Beaton tried to shoot Ball, but he was unable to aim appropriately given the gunshot wound to his shoulder. He only got one shot off before his gun jammed. The princess and Phillips tried to hold the door shut, while her lady-in-waiting crawled out of the other side of the car. With no gun, Beaton placed himself between the couple and the gunman, who was now shooting into the car. He was hit again, this time in his hand, and a 3rd shot knocked him to the ground.

At this point, chauffeur Alexander Callendar, stepped out in attempt to comfort the gunman, unarmed. He was quickly shot in the chest. He fell back into the car. Ball opened the door and grabbed Anne's forearm while Phillip held her by the waist to keep her in the car.

The 2 men pulled Anne to their respective sides, ripping her dress. At this point, Ball was pleading with her. He kept saying "please" and asking her to get out of the car. She kept retorting that she did not want to get out of the car, and was not going to get out of the car. She described it as a "very irritating conversation". She had the upper hand here. He couldn't shoot her, or else he would have no leverage for the ransom he wanted. He likely assumed that once he had killed those who got in the way that she would go with him, but she refused.

Police constable Michael Hills arrived on the scene, hearing signs of a struggle while working nearby. Not knowing the extent of the disagreement, he approached Ball and touched his shoulder, so Ball turned around and shot him in the stomach. He collapsed, but not before calling in back up from his station.

At this point, Ball was pleading with Anne to get out of the car while her husband held her inside. Her lady-in-waiting had snuck out of the car and was nowhere near. A police officer, chauffeur, and bodyguard were all strewn about on the ground with gunshot wounds. But all former boxer Ronald Russell could see was that a police officer was down, and he wanted to go punish the shooter for doing so.

At the same time, another chauffeur named Glenmore Martin, parked his car in front of the Ford so Ball could not escape if he tried. He also tried to distract Ball, but he aimed his gun at him so he stopped. Daily Mail journalist John Brian McConnell also saw the commotion and saw the royal insignia on the limo, and he realized a member of the royal family must be in danger.

Allegedly, he said, "don't be silly, old boy. Put the gun down." Which earned him a gunshot. He collapsed. (I don't think it is good to shoot people, but referring to someone on a shooting rampage as 'silly' seems like a surefire way to get shot.)

After McConnell collapsed, Ball turned back to Anne, still wrestling to get her out of the car. Russell approached from behind and punched him in the back of the head, distracting him enough that she could reach for the opposite door handle and get out of the car. But Ball ran toward her, and so she and Phillips jumped back into the car, while Russell continued to punch Ball in the face.

When the princess was able to see that police were closing in on the scene, she told a nervous Ball, "Now's your chance." He immediately took off running.

Temporary detective constable Peter Edmonds had heard Hill's call for help during the attack, so when he arrived on the scene and saw a man with a gun running, he took off after him. He threw his coat over Ball's head and tackled him, arresting him in the park.


Headlines around the world covered the event the next day, with stories from witnesses and about the Queen's reaction to the ordeal.

Journalists wanted to know one thing: How did a mentally ill, unemployed man masterminded and funded a could-have-been successful kidnapping attempt on his own? Though the Marxist-Leninist Activist Revolutionary Movement sent a letter claiming involvement, this was dismissed quickly. It appeared to be an isolated act committed by just one man, Ian Ball.

Though increased protection was called for for the royal family, they responded that they had no interest in living in fear. Even Princess Anne, who had the hands of a mentally ill kidnapper on her arm, yanking her out of the safety of her car, did not want further security detail, and valued her independence and privacy.

Later, she said: "There was only one man. If there had been more than one it might have been a different story." She said that the greatest danger was the "lone nutcases" who were just barely able to pull a crime off, and if someone really wanted to wipe her out, it wouldn't be that difficult to do.

Ian Ball's lawyer spoke to his mental illnesses, and Ball provided a statement in court as well, saying that he did what he did to draw attention to the lack of facilities for treating mental illness. (Perhaps a protest next time, Ian.)

He pleaded guilty to attempted murder (all of the men he shot survived) and kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in a mental health facility. He wrote a letter to Parliament in 1983, stating the kidnapping was a hoax and he was framed. However, he shot various people who saw him close up, it would have been extremely difficult to frame that.

The protection of the royal family was scrutinized not even 10 years later when a man scaled the palace and snuck into the Queen's room, speaking with her for over 10 minutes before help arrived. The Royalty Protection Branch was reorganized the following year, with none other than James Beaton as the superintendent.

A few months later, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian award for courage, to Beaton (bodyguard). She awarded the George Medal, the second-highest award, to Police Constable Hills (first officer on the scene) and Ronald Russell (boxer), and Queen's Gallantry medals, the third-highest award, to Police Constable Edmonds (chaser/arrester), John Brian McConnell(journalist) and Alexander Callender (chauffeur). Glenmore Martin, the other chauffeur, received the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct. (I guess blocking cars with your cars doesn't go for too much.)

All of those men were extremely brave and put their lives on the line to protect someone else. Some did not even know it was the princess when they went to investigate. They stood up to him, were shot by him, and tried to distract him from taking Anne. But even with all of that intervention, what really stopped Anne from getting into Ball's car was her outright refusal. Civilians were coming to help, bodyguards and cops were bloody on the ground, and he asked her to get in the car, and she said no. Those men helped to save her life, but she certainly put the cherry on top. And that's pretty badass.




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