The Passionate Princess

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In the Fifties Margaret was a fixture on the party scene and in the gossip pages

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In the years that followed, Margaret indulged herself in a lifestyle that took a toll on both her health and her popularity. "She was not our favorite royal," said a 40 — ish Mayfair manicurist last week. "We resented having our tax money going to support her hedonistic lifestyle." Margaret smoked — up to 60 cigarettes day at one point — and drank heavily. Her name was linked with a variety of men, in particular Roderick Llewellyn, a landscape gardener 17 years her junior with whom she had an affair that lasted several years.

Margaret was criticized for spending too much time on holiday — all those trips to the Caribbean island of Mustique, where she had a house — and not enough time on her public duties. To be fair, her health was shaky — but even this was seen as partly self-inflicted. She had hepatitis in 1978 and bronchitis in 1981, and a piece of a lung was removed for fear of cancer in 1985. The biopsy proved negative, and she quit smoking — only to take up her famous, long black cigarette holder again three months later. After being hospitalized with pneumonia in 1993, she finally kicked the habit.

Amid the widespread disapproval of her lifestyle, any good works she did tended to be forgotten. True, Margaret could be a difficult, high-handed presence — who often demanded deference even from her friends. But her many adopted charities greatly valued her efforts on their behalf. And she dutifully slogged through her allotted round of ribbon cuttings, provincial trips and hospital openings. Patron or president of more than 80 organizations, she worked hard for the Guide Association, the Royal Ballet and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a particular favorite of which she had served as president continuously since the age of 23.

Improbably, she succeeded brilliantly at one of the skills that some of her more conservative family members fumbled: parenting. Lord Linley, 40, a successful cabinet maker, and Lady Sarah, 37, an artist, married intelligently and durably, stayed close to their mother, gave her three grandsons and are by nearly all accounts happy and well-adjusted. They rarely make headlines — in fact, they are quiet, respected, near-perfect royals of the sort Margaret herself might have been, had her youthful dreams not been thwarted.

Margaret's nephew Prince Charles, who, after hearing the news, traveled to the royal Sandringham estate in Norfolk to stay with the now frail Queen Mother, paid tribute to his "darling aunt." Said he: "She had such a wonderfully free spirit. She loved life and lived it to the full." She had incredible musical talents and a very sharp mind, he noted, and she would be hugely missed by his family. For all her faults, Princess Margaret will also be missed by many Britons. If nothing else, the passionate, unpredictable princess brought life and color to a royal family once more famed for duty than for sparkle.
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