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Princess Alexandra: the British Royal Family’s unsung heroine

Princess Alexandra of Kent

The recent illness that struck Princess Alexandra of Kent left her with no choice but to cancel all her engagements until the end of May. For someone who’s been dedicating her life for the service of others and for the support of the Crown, it must be pretty sad point in her life. Just recently, the Princess was reportedly struck with polymyalgia rheumatic (PMR), an inflammation of the muscles that leads to stiffness and agonizing pain.

Unlike other attention-seeking members of the royal family, Princess Alexandra has been happy to performing her duties without ever wanting to seek publicity. Peace and quiet is Princess Alexandra’s preferred lifestyle, and an existence as little punctuated by the click of cameras as possible is what enables her to make her jovial, easy-going contribution to the public life.

A royal birth

Princess Alexandra was born on Christmas Day, 1936. She is the only daughter of Prince George, Duke of Kent, fourth son and fifth child of King George V and Queen Mary, and of Princess Marina, youngest daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece (a son of King George I of Greece) and Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna (a granddaughter of Czar Alexander II of Russia). She was barely six when her father died of plane crash in Scotland. At a very young age, Princess Alexander was thrusted upon the role of becoming her mother’s companion as the dowager duchess performed public duties. Later on, she pursued her own interests, supported charities, represented her cousin Queen Elizabeth and supported her in any means that she could. One friend notes that “Alexandra has always put duty first, second and third.”

Fairy-tale wedding

In 1963, she married the Hon. Angus Ogilvy, second son of the 12th Earl of Airlie, at Westminster Abbey. The marriage was a stunning event and the bride arrived in a Rolls-Royce, rather than the usual state coach. Her dress was designed by John Cavanagh, which was of white tulle over which was magnolia lace. Her 21-foot train extended from her headdress and she was crowned with her mother’s diamond fringe tiara. Four small bridesmaids and a chief bridesmaid, twelve-year old Princess Anne, plus two kilted pages completed her wedding entourage.

The marriage was a very happy one, blessed by the birth of a son, James, in 1964, and a daughter, Marina, in 1966. It survived the shattering effect of the Lonrho Affair, where Mr. Ogilvy’s reputation was threatened, and which forced him to resign almost 50 city directorships all at the same time.

Selfless Life

Princess Alexandra and her family established their residence at Thatched House Lodge, a fine well-shielded cottage in Richmond Park. The Princess also maintains an office at St. James’s Palace. In fact, Her Royal Highness has one of the smallest permanent staffs of all the working members of the Royal Family, who have their work cut out making all the necessary arrangements from start to finish for the hundreds or more engagements she undertakes every year. To pay for the cost of her public duties, Her Royal Highness receives 225,000 pounds a year.

Mr. Ogilvy has been her constant companion in many events, ranging from visits to theaters, concert halls, dinners, public engagements, charitable events and State occasions.

The death of Mr. Ogilvy in 2004 was a blow to Princess Alexandra, but she decided to continue her full schedule of official duties. Since then, she lived alone at Thatched House Lodge.

Princess Alexandra’s first, and longest established, public position was as Patron of the British Red Cross Society. It fitted her well with her training as a nurse in child welfare although, she confessed: “I was always terrified of dropping a baby on its head.” But her “try-anything-at-once” attitude has since become celebrated. Aside from being the “first” English princess to have attended an ordinary school (She was 11 when she attended Heathfield School near Ascot), the Princess also tried a royal ride on a London transport bus. Meanwhile, a trip to British Hong Kong enabled her to ride a Chinese sampan, giving her also a distant few of China. There, she got her try of Chinese cuisine, too, and she fell in love with it. In fact, she has been a regular patron of Chinese restaurants in and around Richmond.

Princess Alexandra undertakes an average of 120 engagements every year, making her one of the most active members of the Royal Family. Well past retirement age, the Princess has refused to cut back in her engagements.

In 1959, Princess Alexandra embarked on an extensive tour of Australia, where she represented the Queen during Queensland Centenary Celebrations.

She also stood on behalf of Her Majesty during the independence celebration of Nigeria in 1960, where she opened the first Parliament on October 3.

Princess Alexandra has been founding Chancellor of Lancaster University a position she held from 1964 until 2005

She is also President of Alexandra Rose Day, which was founded in honor of her great-grandmother, Alexandra of Denmark.

A day in her life

She starts every morning by reading newspapers and then reading and answering letters. She may decide to hold meetings with her staff “to discuss issues relating to her program of future engagements and related administrative matters.” She also spends time to study briefs in preparation for forthcoming engagements.
Afternoons are spent visiting organizations of which Her Royal Highness is Patron or with which she is closely affiliated. These visits usually take her to various youth projects, hospitals, care homes, museums and agricultural shows.

In the evening, Princess Alexandra attends engagements, theatrical performance, an exhibition or a gala, as well as Receptions held at Buckingham Palace.


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