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Before they were royal: The early life of Antony Armstrong-Jones

Antony Armstrong-Jones was born on the 7th March 1930, the son of barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones and his first wife Anne Messel, in Belgravia, London. It is perhaps his mother’s lineage that later led to his creative side, Oliver Messel the stage designer was a maternal uncle, and relatives further back included a cartoonist for Punch magazine and a Berlin architect.

Antony did not have the smoothest of childhoods; his parents divorced when he was five-years-old. Later, aged sixteen on a visit to a family home in Wales he contracted polio and spent six months in Liverpool Royal Infirmary.

His sister, Susan, was the only family member who visited him, but his mother sent him the gift of a camera.

His schooling was at boarding schools and at one of them he had his first brush with royalty as two of his fellow pupils were Prince Tomislav and Prince Andrew of Yugoslavia, their father King Peter of Yugoslavia had also attended the school Sandroyd School in Wiltshire and often visited them.

From there he went to Eton and showed athletic prowess in boxing and rowing as a cox. Antony went to Jesus College, Cambridge to study architecture but sadly failed his second-year exams, however, he did cox the winning Cambridge boat in the 1950 University Boat Race.

On leaving Cambridge, Antony decided on a career in photography, mainly portraits within fashion, design and theatre. His uncle Oliver Messel was able to introduce him to many people within the sphere of theatre. He was further assisted by his step-mother who knew Baron the photographer through a mutual friend, after visiting Antony in his flat-cum-studio he took him on as an apprentice and then when his talent showed an associate.

His photographs often featured in the Tatler magazine, with him being acknowledged as the photographer and he had become a society photographer with a good reputation. Through his friend Jocelyn Stevens who launched Queen magazine, he became known as a Royal Photographer including taking pictures of The Queen and Prince Philip in 1957 prior to their tour of Canada.

This meant he was moving in royal circles and met Princess Margaret, who at the time was just finishing a relationship with Captain Townsend. They fell in love and were married in 1960.

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