Rushing to her assistance on March 20, 1974, Ronnie Russell, a 28-year-old married father of two from Strood, Medway, engaged her armed assailant with his fists, was fired upon, and then acted as her human shield.
Forty-six years later the George Medal he was awarded to recognise his gallantry is coming to auction at London saleroom Dix Noonan Webb estimated at £15,000-20,000 on March 4-5.
He recalled: “I honestly thought that I was going to die. But I didn’t care. I still believe that the life of a member of the Royal Family is much more important than mine. I just stood rigid and braced myself, waiting for the shot I expected to come and hit me in the back.” (Daily Express).
Now 72 years old and living in Bristol, back then he boxed at the Repton Club in Bethnal Green – the same club as the Kray Twins – and was area manager for Exclusive Office Cleaning, London, and that evening, he had been working in Princess Square on Pall Mall. After finishing work, he set off back home to Kent at about 8pm. However for some reason, he drove a different route down to the Mall – it was there that he saw a royal car, with a blue light on denoting that it had a royal passenger. A few minutes later by Admiralty Arch a car drove towards him – he thought it was road rage, but then realised it was something more serious and turned back.
Inside the royal car were the Queen’s daughter, the 23-year-old Princess Anne, and her husband of four months, Captain Mark Phillips, who were returning from an official engagement in the City.
At the time Princess Anne was the undoubted ‘celebrity’ member of the Royal Family: a talented equestrian athlete, she had won the 1971 BBC ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ award, and her recent wedding had been watched by a global television audience of 500 million. On the night in question she was guarded by just a single royal protection officer.
Russell recalled (in the Chatham Standard, March 26, 1974): “At first I thought the limousine had been involved in a road accident. Traffic was still moving past but I pulled my car up onto the kerb and ran across the road. It was then that I saw the man, whom I thought had been arguing with the chauffeur, was holding a gun. He was pulling at the doors and smashing the windows with the butt. I ran up to the man with the gun and punched him on the back of the head. As I did so he turned round and shot at me. He missed, and it hit the windscreen of a taxi that had pulled up behind me, shattering it.
“I ran round the car to the other side and saw an injured policeman still being held up by a uniformed chauffeur. He was trying to use his personal radio. The man was still shattering windows with the gun butt, and there were more shots so I didn’t hang about. I doubled back to the royal car and saw the gunman get hold of Princess Anne by the arm. He was saying ‘Come on Anne, you know you’ve got to come’. He had hold of her by the forearm and she looked frightened. She was telling him, ‘Go away. Don’t be silly. Go away.’ Mark had his arm round her waist and was trying to pull her back into the car. I belted round the nearside where the passenger door was open. Anne had slipped the grip and by this time was back in the car, and I said ‘Come this way. You will be safe.’
“She came out and I stood in front of her as a shield facing the gunman. He then ran round the front of the car to get to us and Mark pulled Anne back in. The gunman tried to get between me and the car and I hit him the second time. By this time other police were arriving and there were sirens everywhere. The gunman turned to run and I threw a left hook with all my weight.”
The attempted kidnapper, Ian Ball, who had been armed with a .22 revolver and a .38 revolver, and was carrying four pairs of handcuffs and a ransom letter, subsequently stood trial at the Old Bailey, where Russell appeared as one of the key prosecution witnesses. Found guilty, Ball was sentenced to life imprisonment for the attempted murder of Inspector Beaton and other offences.
The motive for the kidnap was the £3 million ransom that he hoped to extract. For his part in foiling the kidnap of Princess Anne, Russell was awarded the George Medal, one of seven awards made for the incident.
Oliver Pepys, associate director and medal auctioneer at Dix Noonan Webb, said: “We are delighted to be offering this medal in our auction in March – we have sold several George Medals in the past but most have been linked to the Blitz and bomb disposal in the Second World War, so to be offering this peacetime medal, with such a cracking story is a huge honour. A wide variety of gallantry medals were given to the Magnificent Seven after the event but to my knowledge this is the first to come to auction.”