Princess Anne remembers her happy times at Benenden School near Cranbrook
- Credit: Archant
The Princess Royal, who celebrates her 70th birthday this month, reflects on her happy time at Benenden School near Cranbrook | Words: Bernard Bale
Her Majesty Princess Anne, The Princess Royal reaches a personal landmark on 15 August when she will celebrate her 70th birthday.
As the nation applauds her non-stop working for others, the princess reflects on one of the happiest times of her life; going to school in Kent.
“I didn’t ask to be born a princess!” she once replied to an interviewer’s leading questions. It was partly a rebuke but it was also a telling statement.
Even though she did not ask to be born a princess nobody could ever accuse Anne of shirking her responsibilities. She has been tagged ‘the working princess’ and even anti-royalists have to admit that Anne lives up to that label.
She has proved herself time and again to be capable of bringing a ray of sunshine to many of the world’s less fortunate people, yet on the day she was born – 15 August 1950 – it was a rainy morning in London.
Almost prophetically, the skies cleared and the sun appeared just as Big Ben struck noon. Only 10 minutes before, Anne had been born. The birth was announced in a Court Circular issued immediately afterwards.
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It stated: “At 11.50 o’clock this morning, Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth of Edinburgh, was safely delivered of a Princess at Clarence House.”
City workers rushed to see the notice of the birth when it was posted outside Mansion House, while at the Oval cricket ground shortly before the luncheon interval between England and the West Indies, loud speakers announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new baby princess.”
The news was greeted by loud applause from the loyal crowd.
Here we are 70 years later and Anne has proved to be a true princess in every sense. When she was old enough she was sent to Benenden School – the well-known Kent boarding establishment for girls – and she enjoyed every minute of it.
Set in picturesque countryside between Cranbrook and Tenterden, Anne arrived there in the autumn of 1963 when she had just become a teenager.
There were those who felt sorry for the princess but she was actually looking forward to the challenge and the new adventure of a different educational lifestyle.
“I had no problem with going to Benenden,” she says. “I was looking forward to sharing with other girls. One of the drawbacks of home education is that you are the whole class. Having 30 girls around you means that you don’t have to answer everything yourself and that took off a lot of pressure.”
Miss Elizabeth Clarke was her new headmistress and she recalls: “I was given to understand by the Queen that she wishes her daughter to be treated as a normal pupil here. She will be addressed by the staff as Princess Anne but among the other pupils she will simply be known as Anne.”
Simplicity was the order of the day. Anne wore a blue uniform and was put in Guilford House, one of the six school houses. Her house colours were orange for her hat band, the hood lining of her rain cloak and her tie.
The grounds of Benenden were extensive, with 16 tennis courts, four of them grass, a swimming pool and a lake upon which girls were known to skate during the worst of the winter.
All the girls were expected to make their own beds, wait on tables and take part in the washing up at weekends.
Princess Anne’s subjects were English, history, geography, French, Latin, maths, biology, physics, domestic science and dancing so she would have little time on her hands to miss Buckingham Palace.
Anne was not the only princess at the school that term either. Princess Basma, daughter of King Hussein and two other girls, daughters of the Crown Prince of Ethiopia, were also to begin at Benenden at the same time as Anne.
For the next five years Benenden was going to be as much home to her as Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Balmoral or Sandringham although there was a stark contrast in living style.
The girls soon made her feel at home and seemed to easily forget that she was the daughter of the Queen, even though there were security men on hand whenever she went to a local shop or out on a horse, which was part of life at Benenden.
“I enjoyed the informality of it all,” says Her Highness. “It took a little while to get used to but I enjoyed just being Anne and being able to take part in everything that was going on.”
She certainly did take part in everything, including drama and she was in various productions, including one in which her artistic temperament got the better of her.
It was the occasion of a school pageant and Anne’s role was that of a courier on horseback – riding her own horse, High Jinks.
As a safety precaution it was suggested that she should wear a riding helment under her medieval hat. Anne refused point blank and lost her temper when the suggestion turned into an order.
She stormed off to phone her mother and returned soon afterwards, quite calm and agreeing to wear the riding helmet as suggested.
Anne was also a very strong swimmer and took a life-saving course at school, which she passed with such a high ranking that she should have received a medal from her father at a school ceremony.
Again, she dug her heels in and refused to accept it because she did not want to run the gauntlet of publicity and a good-natured ribbing from her friends.
Anne was a good pupil and during her final year at Benenden she was the senior girl in Guildford House. One of her tasks was to welcome new girls and put them at ease, which she did remarkably well. She left school with six O-levels and two A-levels. There was talk of her going to university, but she dug her heels in again.
“I did not see the point in going to university for no other reason than it prolonged getting on with life,” she said.
“I think a lot of people go because it is the thing to do rather than for a particular point. I did not want to be among those. My time at Benenden gave me what I needed. It was a happy time and I learned a great deal so I just wanted to get on with the work I knew was before me.”
That work has been in the public eye ever since. She has been applauded many times for her non-stop efforts on behalf of others and she has also delighted the media when she has experienced a kidnap attempt or crossed swords with authorities, even landing in court because of one of her dogs biting someone.
The Princess Royal has never been boring. Her sense of humour is never far away and one of her favourite gifts is chocolates.
She appreciates flowers and other presentations, but the smile gets warmer when she received chocolates and she invariably says: “These will never arrive home!”
Clearly she learned a great deal at Benenden.