The target – the Queen’s only daughter.
Aged 23, the fun-loving Princess Anne was the royal celebrity of the day. Not only had the keen horse rider been named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1971, but her marriage to ‘commoner’ Captain Mark Phillips had caused a sensation, with some 500 million watching the ceremony on television.
On the night of the attempted kidnapping, the couple were returning to Buckingham Palace after a charity film screening. At about 8pm, their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce was making its way along the Mall when a white Ford Escort suddenly pulled in front and blocked the road. Its driver – later identified as 26-year-old Ian Ball, an unemployed labourer suffering from mental illness – jumped out, brandishing two handguns.
Anne’s bodyguard, Inspector James Beaton, and chauffeur Alex Callendar went to disarm him, but were shot (luckily, not fatally), as was a passing tabloid journalist. Beaton, who got back to his feet and was shot three times during the attack, was later awarded the George Cross. Ball got into the limo and demanded Anne get out, to which she retorted, “Not bloody likely!”
Into the chaotic scene ran former boxer Ron Russell, who punched Ball in the head and led the Princess to safety as police arrived. Officer Michael Hills was shot before Ball was finally tackled to the ground.
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The assailant was sentenced to life imprisonment and placed in a psychiatric hospital. In Ball’s car, police found handcuffs, tranquillisers and a ransom note addressed to the Queen. In it, he demanded that £2 million should be paid to the National Health Service.
After Anne’s lucky escape, the royal family’s security was, understandably, raised to ensure such a risk could never occur again.