Standing tall in her highly decorated Royal Navy Admiral uniform, Princess Anne’s eyes glistened, welling up ever-so-slightly as the Archbishop of Canterbury read a final blessing for the Queen before lying-in-state on September 14. After dutifully travelling the length of the country with her beloved mother’s coffin, the brief crack in the Princess Royal's stoic facade was rare but perfectly mirrored the emotions of a usually buttoned-up country struggling to hold it together.
After four days escorting Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin by car from Balmoral to Aberdeen and by plane from Edinburgh to London, the tearful moment at Westminster Hall was one of the most difficult stops in the Princess Royal’s poignant journey with the “mummy” she was so close to. After spending the final 24 hours of her mother’s life by her side, it was always Anne’s wish to remain alongside the Queen as her body was transported.
And while much of the route was witnessed by the public, many moments in those sombre days were also extremely private, often in prayer or deep contemplation. Westminster Hall, however, was the place where Anne would have to finally hand her over, witnessing the late monarch being passed from family to state.
As King Charles took a day away from the public eye to reflect and rest at his Highgrove Home (and to make time for those red boxes of state papers the Queen used to sift through every day), Anne forged ahead with her duties. On Thursday, she returned to Scotland, meeting representatives from organisations Her Majesty was patron of and chatting with well-wishers in Glasgow who had come to pay their respects.
For the many royalists and those touched by the life of the Queen, the 72-year-old 16th-in-line has quickly become a steady presence helping comfort the nation through its mourning and, just like her mother, been the constant that many feared would now be a thing of the past. As the stalwart of the family, Anne has reliably been present during every moment since the September 8 death of the sovereign and will continue to be so until she is buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor on Monday.
It should come as no surprise. While it may be her siblings, children, nieces or nephews receiving all the media’s attention (often focused on their dramas rather than work), Anne’s approach to royal life has simply been to keep her head down and get on with her responsibilities—even when few are watching. It’s how she earned the title as hardest working member of the family, carrying out more than 387 engagements last year alone (even with COVID as an obstacle)—two more than her older brother Charles and more than three times more than the then Duchess of Cambridge. "She needs no praise nor attention," a family friend told me this week. "The work itself is where she gets her satisfaction."
For Anne, a life of that work is all she has known. Taking on her first duties as a teenager (she skipped university in favour of charity work and becoming a competitive equestrian), she carefully watched her mother for guidance. “It was about listening, and it was about learning, not making assumptions and certainly not throwing your weight around,” she recently said. And even as she slowly slid down the ranks in the line of succession (thanks to a ridiculous and, now banished, rule known as male royal primogeniture), her commitment to The Firm has remained as strong as ever.
And while much talk is now focused on other family members “stepping up” to support the new king, or those bigger roles taken on by the newly-styled Prince and Princess of Wales, it’s business as usual for Anne, who I’m told already has a packed diary of engagements to dive into the moment royal mourning ends seven days after the funeral.
It feels almost criminal to think that, because of her current standing, Anne has not become a Counsellor of State after the death of the Queen—a role that allows the sovereign’s spouse and the next four in line (over the age of 21) to stand in for King Charles if he is unable to undertake his duties due to illness or absence abroad. Instead, joining Camilla, Queen Consort, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew is a third non-working royal on the list—Princess Beatrice. Make it make sense.
But despite the limitations of her ranking, there will be no family member Charles will need more than his sister. As he takes to the throne, the King will need support from those who can provide wise counsel and be trustworthy enough to guide him as he navigates his new role. After all, with changing tides when it comes to support of the royal family from younger and more diverse groups, it will not be an easy walk.
It’s rumoured that a new, elevated title may be on the horizon for Anne, and I can’t think of anyone in the family more deserving. But if it happens, don’t expect it to make much difference. Title or no title, Anne will always go above and beyond the call of duty—whether anyone is watching or not.
Watch: Princess Anne greets well-wishers in Glasgow