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The wedding present that became Princess Margaret’s respite from royal life

We were like Robinson Crusoe, collecting rainwater to shower with and hunting for lobsters in their holes. We later had a third son, Christopher, and twin daughters followed in 1970, yet we continued
to shuttle between Mustique [Charles and Henry went to a local school on the island] and England as a family, and later, Glen, the country house in Scotland that Colin had inherited.

Princess Margaret styles up her lady-in-waiting.

Princess Margaret styles up her lady-in-waiting.

I’d known Princess Margaret since we were children. In 1960 she and Tony Armstrong-Jones [later Lord Snowdon] moored at Mustique on the Royal Yacht Britannia during their six-week Caribbean honeymoon.

We didn’t have much to offer them as refreshments, only rum and the most disgusting sour hibiscus mixer, but Princess Margaret had a huge smile on her face as we gave her a tour of the island. “Ma’am, we haven’t given you a wedding present,” Colin said that evening. “Would you like something in a little box or a piece of land?” She made up her mind without waiting for Tony to respond. A few years later, Princess Margaret called Colin out of the blue and asked: “Is it true, did you really mean it about the land? And does it come with a house?”

Colin, who didn’t want to disappoint her, said of course it was true and promised to build Princess Margaret a house on the plot of land we’d chosen for her, set against steep cliffs so no intruders could climb up.

Even by the late 1960s, the island was very primitive: we only had Tilley lamps for lighting, there was no hot water and most of our food came out of tins. But Princess Margaret made no fuss.

Mustique offered her a break from her Tony who, like Colin, was unpredictable and demanding. Tony disliked Colin and rarely returned after that first visit, apparently referring to the island as “mistake”. But as promised, Colin had a villa built for Princess Margaret, called Les Jolies Eaux, designed by a fabulous stage designer, Oliver Messel, who was Tony’s uncle. Colin thought it might make Tony enjoy coming more, but he never did. Princess Margaret, on the other hand, kept returning.

Lady Anne Glenconner with her husband, Lord Colin Glenconner, and son, Charles, at the Peacock Ball in 1986.

Lady Anne Glenconner with her husband, Lord Colin Glenconner, and son, Charles, at the Peacock Ball in 1986.Credit:Courtesy of Lady Glenconner’s private collection

By the 1970s, word began to spread about Mustique. Nelson Rockefeller and Bob Dylan moored their yachts offshore and Colin threw a series of extravagant parties, where aristocracy mingled with the stars of the day.

Colin called these bashes “the Caribbean Spectaculars” – and they were terribly extravagant. At one party, Bianca Jagger stepped out of a great ball of glitter and, for Colin’s 60th, which we themed The Peacock Ball, he bought reams of silk clothes from India and arranged them on a yacht offshore so everyone could take their pick. We had a gold dress made for Princess Margaret, which she loved. She said: “For the first time I feel like a real princess.”

Jerry Hall, who’d replaced Bianca Jagger by this point, sashayed in, remarking: “You have the same dress as me.” No, I remember thinking, you have the same dress as me!

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There were roll-top baths full of champagne, rum punch galore and adult film screenings for naughtier guests. When David Bowie bought a villa on the island, I knew Mustique had arrived. Yet I quietly resented the money Colin was hemorrhaging on all these parties. I couldn’t rein him in.

I became lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret in 1971 and some of the happiest times we spent together were on Mustique. It provided privacy to her and her lover Roddy Llewellyn, as well as an escape from the press. The island was also a sanctuary to her as her marriage to Tony unravelled and in the run-up to her divorce in 1978.

During the day, Princess Margaret would swim – always breaststroke, keeping her head above the water – and I’d swim sideways alongside, treading water rather erratically so I could continue our conversations. We’d swim for miles; it was our favourite pastime. We’d also collect shells and have sundowners at Basil’s Bar, watching for the green flash over the sea at sunset.

Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret, Lady Anne Glenconner and Charles.

Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret, Lady Anne Glenconner and Charles.

Sadly, as the Princess’s health waned, she had two health scares on Mustique: a small stroke in 1998, when she was 67, and the following year, she scalded her feet in a hot bath and suffered badly.

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By the 1980s, Colin had sold up, so when we visited Mustique we’d stay with Princess Margaret at Les Jolies Eaux. She died in 2002 and Colin died in 2010. The villa was bought by an American businessman, Jim Murray, and it has changed tremendously. I still visit the island most years, though I now stay with another of my friends, Princess Josephine Loewenstein.

Mustique has been such a huge part of my life that I decided to set my first novel – a whodunnit – there to show those who haven’t been what it’s really like. While it doesn’t feature any of the characters who made the place so colourful, there are shadows of them all.

Mustique was Colin’s dream, but it meant I had a life full of Caribbean sunshine rather than cold, grey English weather, so I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve dedicated the novel to Colin for doing exactly as he promised and making Mustique a household name.

Murder on Mustique (Hachette Australia) by Lady Anne Glenconner is out now.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale December 6. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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