'I Was Princess Margaret's Lady-in-Waiting. "The Crown" Got Us Wrong'

I first met Princess Margaret in 1936 when I was 3 and she was 5 years old. My family home, Holkham Hall, is less than 20 miles from Sandringham, so Queen Mary used to bring Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret round when she visited.

Princess Margaret and I got on very well. We were both quite naughty together. At Holkham, there was a big, marble hall that we weren't allowed to go into—but of course we did. We used to ride our tricycles in the hall. I remember the late Queen coming down the steps, with her friends who were her age, and saying, "What are you doing, Anne and Margaret? Very naughty." We shrieked with laughter and pedaled off.

The Queen was always very sensible—I think she was quite old for her age—and she was a wonderful older sister to Princess Margaret.

We met quite often. My father was an equerry to King George VI when he was Duke of York so, as a result, we were asked to Christmas parties and birthday parties at Buckingham Palace. We used to meet the family on the beach, too. I remember Princess Margaret and I would make sandcastles and dig holes, hoping that people would fall into them. They never did.

Queen with Maids of Honor at Coronation
Queen Elizabeth II with her Maids of Honor on the day of her coronation on June 2,1953. Anne Glenconner is third from the left. The Print Collector/Getty Images

As an adult, I served as a Maid of Honor at the Queen's coronation. My husband was part of Princess Margaret's set so, when we got married, she came to our wedding.

Being Princess Margaret's lady-in-waiting

After I had my twins in 1971, Princess Margaret said to me, "Anne, I do hope you're not going to have any more children." I had three boys and twin girls, so I said, "Absolutely not, Ma'am."

"In that case," she said, "Would you like to become my lady-in-waiting?"

I was absolutely thrilled. It was a tremendous honor to be asked to be a member of the household, and it was a wonderful position. I served as Princess Margaret's lady-in-waiting for 30 years and I absolutely loved it.

A lady-in-waiting acts as a go-between. People came up to me and asked, "What color is she wearing tomorrow?" because they wanted flowers to compliment her outfit. I told people what she liked to drink, I found out where the lavatory was at different events—all those sorts of things in order to make her day run as smoothly as possible.

At a cocktail party or dinner, I'd find people that Princess Margaret wanted to meet and bring them over and introduce them. I had to gauge when the timing was right; if she was having a fascinating talk with somebody, I didn't want to butt in with a new person. I had to assess whether she was enjoying the conversation. A lot of that was down to eye contact.

Princess Margaret with Anne Glenconner
Princess Margaret (left) with Anne Glenconner (right) in 1969. Glenconner was friends with Princess Margaret as a child and later went on to be her lady-in-waiting. Anne Glenconner

At dinner parties, I always sat at a table where we could have eye contact, so I knew if she needed me. I became very attuned to her, and I think it helped that I'd always been her friend.

When you're traveling—which I did a lot with Princess Margaret, to Australia, Zimbabwe, Canada, all over the place—all day, it's hard work. In the evening, Princess Margaret would say, "Get into your dressing gown, Anne, and come and have a drink with me." I'd go up to her sitting room and we'd talk about the day, laugh and have a really good time together.

The Crown is a fairytale

Before Helena Bonham Carter played Princess Margaret on The Crown, she came and saw me. I spent about two or three hours with her, and we talked about how Princess Margaret spoke, how she walked, that sort of thing. But I found The Crown's portrayal of Princess Margaret so disappointing.

They had a scene where Princess Margaret had dinner at the White House and made up dirty limericks. Princess Margaret would never have done that! I said that to Helena afterwards, and she said she's an actress so she had to follow the script.

There was also a scene where my character and Princess Margaret were sitting by a swimming pool in an awful country club, wearing bikinis. Princess Margaret never wore a bikini; she always wore a swimsuit. And in that scene, I am sitting, pimping for her, saying something along the lines of, "Oh, Ma'am, look at that young man over there. Hasn't he got a pert bottom?" It was perfectly ridiculous and completely untrue.

When it started, I thought The Crown was rather good. And then I think it suddenly went off-piste. It went bonkers. Now, none of us who know the Royal family watch it. We think it's a fairytale.

My close friendship with Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret came and stayed with me a dozen times. She would arrive with her Marigold gloves and say, "Would you like me to clean your car?" I'd say, "Ma'am, yes please!" She made all the fires in the house, which she had learned to do as a Girl Guide, and even did some gardening. She was an absolute joy to have stay.

She also used to come to Scotland and stay with us at our family estate, Glenn House. That was a bigger affair—we had a house party, picnics, and we put on amateur theatricals in the evening, which she loved. She loved dressing up, and she was fun to be with. Quite often at Glenn House, she played the piano in the evening and we'd all stand around it and sing.

I stayed with her, too. I lived with her at Kensington Palace for a whole year when my flat was being done up in London. I used to come home in the evening, and she would say, "Oh, Anne! Come and have a drink. What have you been doing?" We got on so well together. It was one of the best times of my life.

She was a really good friend. When my son had AIDS, nobody knew how it was caught at the time and people were terrified. A lot of my friends suddenly said, "Oh, so sorry, we can't come and stay with you," and you knew why. But Princess Margaret never did that, and she always kissed my son whenever she saw him.

She used to visit my son when he was in The London Lighthouse, which was a special place for young men with AIDS. She visited long before Princess Diana did. Princess Margaret was not touchy-feely, but she was fun. We used to go into the men's rooms and she'd make them laugh. Nobody knew she was doing this; she never took photographers. It was something private she did, and we often did it together. When my son passed away, she came to his funeral.

Our time together in Mustique

My husband, Colin, owned the island Mustique. When Princess Margaret married Tony [Antony Armstrong-Jones] in 1960, they came to Mustique on their honeymoon and wegave them a plot of land on the island as a wedding present.

Anne Glenconner and Princess Margaret
Lady Anne Glenconner photographed with Princess Margaret on the Caribbean island of Mustique, January 1977. Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

When her marriage started to go wrong, Princess Margaret asked us, "Have I still got the plot of land?" And we said, "Yes, of course, Ma'am." And she said, "Well, I'd like to come out and see it."

I warned her, "You've got no hot water, no electric light, and it's not really suitable for you."

But she said, "Oh, no, I'd love to come." And she came and absolutely loved it. We had a great time together.

She came for about a fortnight, and we showed her where we thought would be a good place for her house. There were a lot of mosquitoes in those days, so we dressed her in Colin's pajamas and tied her ankles with pieces of string! She didn't look her best, but she wasn't worried about how she looked.

And then she built the house, which she loved. She chose everything for it. The Queen came twice to see her, and I remember it was so touching when Margaret showed her everything, even the cupboards in the kitchen. Princess Margaret was so proud of her house, and the Queen took such trouble looking at everything, saying to her, "Oh, Margaret, I love that. It's so clever of you..." She was a wonderful elder sister.

Princess Margaret as a "spare"

Princess Margaret was a "spare"—a term that has been brought into focus because of Prince Harry's book. I think the only thing Princess Margaret complained about was that she wasn't educated as well as the Queen. Her elder sister had people from Oxford and Cambridge come and teach her things, while Princess Margaret did not. I think that was the only thing she ever really minded. But she was completely loyal to her sister all her life; I never heard her say anything derogatory about her.

Anne Glenconner at her 90th Birthday
Anne Glenconner on her 90th birthday in 2022. Glenconner was Princess Margaret's lady-in-waiting for over 30 years. Anne Glenconner

I haven't read Prince Harry's book and I'm not going to read it. I think it would upset me; it's all too sad. Princess Margaret would never have written a book like that. She was loyal.

I wrote a memoir in 2019, Lady in Waiting, which had some very sweet stories about Princess Margaret and me. I wrote very lovingly about Princess Margaret and even about my dear husband, who wasn't very easy. I never complained about anything in my book.

I've loved publishing my two memoirs and have been amazed by the response I've had and the letters I've received from readers all over the world who have been moved and fascinated by my life. I've also been able to set the record straight about Princess Margaret and show people what she was really like. I was able to get across what a wonderful friend she was to me. And she was wonderful. I miss her so much.

Anne Glenconner is the author of Whatever Next? and Lady in Waiting. She served as Princess Margaret's lady-in-waiting for three decades.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek's My Turn deputy editor, Katie Russell.