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Princess Anne and Family

The Royal Year in Review: the Princess Royal

Princess Anne, Princess Royal
ITV still/ fair use

Princess Anne’s year usually comes to an end with her tucking over 500 engagements under her belt and the words ‘hardest working royal’ ringing in her ears. This year has been very different for the Princess Royal. As well as turning 70, she’s seen her usual pattern of life turned upside down. But Anne, as you would expect, has turned that to her advantage and packed out her diary in a new way that has still left her at the top of the tree when it comes to regal duty.

The year began, as always, with a seemingly endless string of engagements for the Princess Royal. Anne’s first engagement of 2020 took her to Oxford where, on January 8th, she attended the Farming Conference Debate at the Oxford Union. From that point, her diary took on its usual packed appearance. It also included a family moment when Anne received an honorary degree from the Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, her sister-in-law, The Duchess of Cornwall.

The first month of the year took the Princess to Northern Ireland for a two day visit which included engagements at the University of Ulster and Maghaberry Prison, the latter in her capacity as Patron of the Butler Trust. Within hours of leaving Belfast, the Princess was in Aberdeenshire for a Memorial Service marking the 50th anniversary of the Lifeboat Disaster at Fraserburgh. Trips to Birmingham, Lancashire and Cumbria followed in the next three days.

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In between those visits came a regular cycle of meetings and audiences in London as well as dinners held in honour of some of the many organisations of which Anne is patron. In January 2020 these included Save the Children UK, the Vine Trust and the National Coastwatch Institution. The first month of the year also saw the Princess Royal attend the UK Africa Investment Summit, held at Buckingham Palace.

February began with a trip to one of her favourite patronages as she watched the Scottish Rugby Union team take on Ireland in Dublin as part of the Six Nations. Exactly a week later, she headed to Edinburgh to see the side play England. Between those two matches, the Princess had packed in visits to Surrey, Sheffield and Devon as well as a string of audiences and meetings in London.

The middle of the  month saw the Princess Royal visit organisations including the Camden Carers Association, Danemore Sheltered Housing Scheme in Kent and the Magpas Air Ambulance Operations Base in Huntingdon. Anne also headed to the General Register Office on Merseyside for a visit. One of her most high profile engagements of the early part of 2020 came when she attended London Fashion Week in an oft worn suit to present the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Before February was done, Anne had taken on engagements in Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire and Hartlepool.

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By then, the imminent changes that the year would bring were more than apparent. One of the high points of the Princess Royal’s year is her attendance at the Cheltenham Festival every March where she supports some of the equine organisations with which she is involved as well as taking time out to indulge her passion for racing. However, the 2020 meeting was surrounded by controversy as questions were asked as to whether such a large public gathering was correct given the concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Anne was still present and in the following days attended what would be her last face to face engagement for months when she took part in the British Horse Society’s National Convention in Buckinghamshire.

Once lockdown hit, the Princess was confined to her home from where she carried out a relentless string of video and telephone engagements. She is involved with over 200 charities and organisations and many of them received her support during those difficult months. Conference calls and video meetings with groups including the Animal Health Trust, Tenovus Cancer Care and Sense International packed out her diary. The Court Circular shows there were few days in April and May 2020 that didn’t include at least one meeting, however virtual, for the Princess Royal.

The month of June saw Anne equally busy and there was much excitement when she took part in The Queen’s first public video call, albeit dozens of miles away from her mother. The two came together to speak to carers during Carers Week. And as soon as the go ahead for face to face visits came, Anne was straight back on the road, heading to Cerney in Gloucestershire to thank members of the Royal Logistics Corps for their efforts during the pandemic. She is their Colonel-in-Chief.

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More visits came in July, including an engagement at the Bristol Port Company and another at Lydbrook Primary School. Anne’s diary was still filled with telephone and video meetings, too, while the Princess also took part in a Session of the International Olympic Committee virtually. She recorded a special reading for a podcast by Westminster Abbey. The new way of working only seemed to supplement Anne’s already busy pace.

The summer also brought a rare opportunity to hear some of Anne’s own thoughts as she took part in several interviews to mark her 70th birthday. While the landmark itself, on August 15th, was spent quietly, the days around it included a TV special in which the Princess and her family confirmed that she likes to pack a lot into her life while her devotion to duty and her deep, genuine interest in all that she does shone through.

The early autumn provided more opportunity for Anne to head out and about with September taking her to Cornwall, Suffolk, Essex and East Sussex. She presented the Princess Royal Award at the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and held a summit in her role as Patron of the English Rural Housing Association. In her role as Patron of the Butler Trust, she visited Edinburgh Prison.

October gave the Princess Royal the chance to show her support for several organisations very close to her heart. There were visits to the British Horse Society, Riding for the Disabled and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux as well as engagements with The Royal Logistics Corps. The Princess visited Southampton and Northamptonshire as well as Bletchley Park.

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The second England wide lockdown of 2020 in November saw a renewed focus on video engagements with Anne meeting virtually with the Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps, the Royal Canadian Medical Society and World Horse Welfare among others. As always, she took part in the Royal Family’s Remembrance acts, laying a wreath at thee Cenotah.

December saw online engagements with the Wellington Trust, the Blues and Royals, Wise and UK Youth. The Princess Royal was also present at a special reception given by The Queen at Windsor Castle to show support for frontline workers in the local area as Christmas approached.

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The past year has brought challenges for Anne. As well as adjusting her hectic schedule to a new way of working, she has seen her family life change, too. Her son, Peter Phillips, announced he was separating from his wife, Autumn, after 12 years of marriage. Anne, a devoted grandmother, has also shared the experiences of families around the world as coronavirus restrictions have limited her contact with her four granddaughters

However, she heads into 2021 with the happy news that her daughter, Zara Tindall, will welcome her third child in the year to come. And, as she stood alongside The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Earl and Countess of Wessex, on that chilly day in December, there was little doubt of the vital role that the Princess Royal still plays in the Royal Family. It is a role she cherishes and embraces and one which she has once more carried out with diligence and duty in the hard months of 2020.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton, a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. June has been a reporter, producer and editor, picking up several awards over the years. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.