Fags, Booze and Sass – why we need Princess Margaret

Now the Sussexes are stepping away from official duties, we need the sass of Princess Margaret like never before

Fag in mouth, Princess Margaret tries out a Leica, watched by her husband, Lord Snowdon
Fag in mouth, Princess Margaret tries out a Leica, watched by her husband, Lord Snowdon

Amid the tantalising news that Archie Harrison, now an eight-month-old baby, needs regular feeding and that Prince William likes his curry spicy but mild – unlike his wife who likes it hot, God help us – the most recent highlight from the royals has to be that the legend that was Princess Margaret is back from the dead.

It’s really true. Apparently she has been communicating via a psychic with Helena Bonham Carter, imparting some of her finest wisdom with the actress, who is now playing the troubled royal in the third and fourth seasons of The Crown. This is classic Margaret, being badass enough to be bossing people around from the dead.

Bonham Carter claimed that communicating with the dead people she is hired to portray is a standard part of her artistic process. She says Princess Margaret has been characteristically forthcoming – a sure sign it must indeed be her. Asked whether the princess felt the actress was the right person to be playing her, apparently she said she was glad it was Bonham Carter.

“My main thing when you play someone who is real, you kind of want their blessing because you have a responsibility,” said Bonham Carter. “So I asked her: ‘Are you OK with me playing you?’ and she said: ‘You’re better than the other actress’ … that they were thinking of. They will not admit who it was. It was me and somebody else.”

Focusing on the details that really matter, Princess Margaret then said: “But you’re going to have to brush up and be more groomed and neater,” adding: “Get the smoking right. I smoked in a very particular way. Remember that – this is a big note – the cigarette holder was as much a weapon for expression as it was for smoking.”

This is all such good news for everyone. Not just that The Crown is now decorated with a Golden Globe, but that she might actually be out there somewhere still doing her thing – fagging, boozing, brooding and being generally fabulous.

Frankly, never has the British public needed a resurrection – and what a resurrection! – more than now. Prince Philip, the royal family’s most reliable gagster, has been in and out of hospital over the Christmas period. In the meantime we are having to make do with dreary tales of the “fab four” and their various dietary requirements. Prince Andrew has gone rather too far in the opposite direction. One thought him too bland for scandal, but he hasn’t become necessarily less so for being caught up in the Epstein scandal; there is a kind of drab fecklessness to it all.

Eight-and-a-half months pregnant when I started watching The Crown, I lay fat and angry on the sofa for days trawling through back-to-back episodes, rewinding the scenes with Princess Margaret to cheer me up and distract me from the inevitability of childbirth. It’s fair to say I developed a full-blown obsession with her in all her sass, lamenting deeply that I was born in this age of wearisome wokeness.

I think my favourite scene is when she returns home from a party not long after being told that she is not allowed to marry Peter Townsend and proceeds to dance drunkenly around her vast boudoir, smashing it up one-handed so she doesn’t have to stop smoking at any point. Vanessa Kirby, who plays her in the first two seasons of The Crown, was just too fantastic for words and she was a hard act for Bonham Carter to follow – but thank goodness there is more to come.

And even if Helena Bonham Carter is slightly mad and, in fact, has not actually spoken to the deceased Princess, I’m grateful that at the very least Princess Margaret has returned to our screens. Enough with the curry and the breast milk, I say. Bring on the gin and the fags.

2nd February 2020