One of the strangest things to ever happen to the UK’s Royal Family occurred one night in March, 1974. A lone gunman forced the car carrying Princess Anne and her husband off the road. What happened next shocked the world, led to serious questions about royal security and highlighted the UK’s woeful record on mental health. Here is the strange story of Ian Ball – the man who tried to kidnap Princess Anne.

Forced To A Halt

On the night of March 20th, 1974, the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, and her husband of four months, Captain Mark Phillips, were driving back to Buckingham Palace in London from a charity ball when their car was forced to come to a stop by a Ford Escort driven by a man named Ian Ball. Ball planned to kidnap the princess, and he’d chosen this moment to carry out his devious plan.

The Protection Officer And The Chauffeur Try To Intervene

After blocking the princess in, Ball jumped out of his car and pulled out a gun and began firing. Princess Anne’s royal protection officer, Inspector James Beaton, jumped from Anne’s car and tried to return fire. However, his pistol jammed and he was shot by Ball. Ball then shot Anne’s chauffeur, Alex Callender, after he jumped from the car and tried to disarm him. Ball then advanced on the princess’s car, gun in hand.

The Man From The Daily Mail Steps In

As Ball advanced on the princess’s car, a tabloid journalist called Brian McConnell tried to intervene. Ball rounded on him and shot him in the chest. The way was now clear for Ball to get to the princess, who was still in the back of her limousine alongside her husband. But what on earth had brought about this extraordinary turn of events?

Ian Ball’s Plan

Ball’s plan was to kidnap the princess and hold her for ransom. He planned to demand three million pounds for her safe return. His plan, which was outlined in a letter found in Ball’s car, explained why he had decided to target a senior member of the Royal Family. He explained that he had become disillusioned with the Royal Family, and also laid out how he wanted the money to be paid.

The Queen, Twenty Suitcases Of Money And Switzerland

Ball’s letter explained that he wanted the three million pounds to be given to him in five pound notes in Switzerland. He also demanded Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II accompanied the money to Switzerland. Once he received the cash, he would hand the princess over to her mother. After the kidnapping attempt, police worked out that three million pounds in five pound denominations would have required twenty suitcases.

‘An Easy Target’

So why Princess Anne? Well, Ball saw her as an easy target. Ball had seen her out and about in London and the surrounding area in her car with her husband on several occasions, and he had observed that she was only ever accompanied by one royal protection officer. Thus he decided that Anne, of all the royals, would be the easiest to intercept.

How He Knew Where She Would Be

So, how did Ball know the princess and her husband would be traveling down that particular road at that particular moment? Well, remarkably, all he needed to do was make a call to the Buckingham Palace Press Office and ask. That’s right. Ball was able to find out the princess’s itinerary and work out when she would be driving back from the charity ball courtesy of Buckingham Palace itself. Anne’s car bore a royal insignia, so it wasn’t hard to find – just look for the limo with the elaborate crest painted on the side and hey presto.

The Media Was Obsessed With Anne

At the time, Anne was the darling of the media, much as Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are today. The press obsessively followed the young woman around, and there was intense press interest in her following on from her marriage to a commoner. Her various public engagements were well reported on, and Ball couldn’t help noticing this very prominent royal when formulating his dastardly plan.

“Not Bloody Likely!”

After shooting Anne’s protection officer, chauffeur and a journalist from the Daily Mail, Ball moved in on the princess’s car. He demanded the young woman get out and come with him. Anne’s response became the stuff of legend. “Not bloody likely!” she thundered at the would-be kidnapper. This infuriated Ball, who made a grab for the princess and tried to pull her from the car. Anne’s husband, Captain Mark Phillips, in turn pulled her back, and an undignified tug of war began between the two men.

Anne Is Piggy In The Middle

During the ensuing tussle, Anne’s dress was torn up the back. She later admitted that this was the only moment she felt in real danger. The rest of the conversation she had with Ball as he demanded over and over again for her to vacate the vehicle and come with him she later described as ‘tedious’.

The Boxer And The Policeman

Anne wrenched free of Ball and transferred to the other side of the car, where she scrambled out of the rear side passenger door shortly after her lady-in-waiting, Rowena Brassey. Ball was about to make another grab for her when a passing pedestrian, former boxer Ron Russell, realized what was going on and punched Ball in the back of the head. Dazed, Ball tried reaching the princess again, only to be stopped in his tracks by Police Constable Micheal Hills, who happened upon this bizarre scene.

The Plan Fails

Ball spun round and shot Hills, but not before the police officer had called for back up. Princess Anne then told Ball that he better ‘go on’, meaning he might want to get out of there pronto. Realizing the game was up, Ball high-tailed it away, only to be wrestled to the ground by P.C. Peter Edmonds in nearby St. James’ Park. Edmonds had responded to P.C. Hills’ call.

Was He IRA?

With Ball now safely in police custody, the press began to speculate as to what his motives for trying to kidnap the princess actually were. At the time, Britain was under attack from the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the press wondered if Ball was a member of the paramilitary organization. Ball was quick to quash such rumors. “I have got no friends. I’m a loner. I put a lot of thought and work into it. I can’t expect people like you to understand or accept that I did it and planned it alone. Do you think I am part of the IRA or something? If there had been anyone else they would have helped me at the scene?” he said.

A Loner With Health Problems

It soon became obvious that Ball wasn’t a member of the IRA, and was in fact just a lone oddball with mental health issues. Many people struggled with this description as they could not accept that a mentally ill man was able to carry out such an elaborate plan and get so close to a member of the Royal Family on his own. However, no evidence has ever been found that he had accomplices.

Awards All Round

The four men Ball shot during his botched kidnapping attempt were all admitted into hospital and all four made a full recovery. Inspector James Beaton was later awarded the George Cross by the queen for bravely defending her daughter. The former boxer Ron Russell and P.C. Michael Hills received the George Medal, and  P.C. Peter Edwards, journalist Brian McConnell and chauffeur Alex Callender were awarded Queen’s Gallantry Medals.

Anne Takes To The Airwaves To Explain What Happened

Anne later visited Inspector Beaton in hospital to thank him for trying to save her from her would-be kidnapper. She later spoke about the kidnapping on a episode of the TV chat show, Parkinson. Anne said she had been ‘scrupulously polite’ towards Ball as she realized it would be ‘silly to be too rude at that stage’. Many people loved her for this, admiring how cool and calm she had been in such a tense situation.

Ball Goes On Trial

Beaton pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping. In his defense, he explained that he had actually wanted to highlight lapses in royal security. He also said that he actually wanted the three million pounds to go to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). He said that mental health services were woefully underfunded in the NHS, and the money should have gone to helping them improve. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in a secure mental health facility.

The Circus Moved On

Ball is still detained in a mental health facility all these years later, and the intense press focus on Princess Anne has long since faded. By the 1980s, the press and the country had fallen in love with Princess Diana, an obsession that would eventually lead to tragedy when the princess died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by paparazzi. Since then, focus has moved to the sons of Diana, Harry and William, and their wives, Meghan and Kate.

Princess Anne Moved On Too

Princess Anne now lives a much quieter life, carrying out most of her royal duties away from the intense media spotlight she found herself under in the 1970s. She divorced Captain Mark Phillips in 1992 and married naval officer Commander Tim Laurence that same year. Anne’s daughter, Zara, went on to compete in the Olympic Games in 2012, winning a silver medal in the equestrian category.

Royal Protection And Mental Health Today

The irony of Princess Anne’s kidnapping is that the excuses Ian Ball used – that he was highlighting failures in royal security and under-funding in the NHS – though seen at the time as just excuses, actually were brought into the spotlight by his actions. Royal security was indeed tightened up after the kidnapping attempt, and mental health is much more understood in the UK than it was in the 1970s, though many critics still say mental health services are still not receiving the funds they need. Ball will likely spend the rest of his life in a secure mental health unit for his crimes, but oddly, thanks to him, both the Royal Family’s safety and the country’s understanding of mental health issues are in a better shape than they were on that bizarre evening back in 1974. A very strange story indeed.