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Intimate documentary dives into the life and loves of Princess Margaret, the ‘Rebel Princess’

A new documentary dives into the life of Princess Margaret and explores how she went from being King George VI’s favourite to royal rebel. 

The second part of Private Lives of the Windsors, airing on the Smithsonian channel, follows the Countess of Snowdon from early childhood to the collapse of her marriage. 

Through testimonies from friends, biographers and royal experts, we learn more about the queen’s younger sister’s aspirations, her taste for ‘naughtiness’ and her disdain for royal life. 

The documentary explains that Margaret’s eight-year long love affair with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, the 18 years her junior, combined with the socio-economical trouble the UK faced in the 1970s, provoked a shift in how the press treated the royal family. 

The second part of Private Lives of the Windsors, airing on the Smithsonian channel, follows the Countess of Snowdon from early childhood to the collapse of her marriage and sheds light on her relationship with the media. Pictured in 1949, aged 19

The second part of Private Lives of the Windsors, airing on the Smithsonian channel, follows the Countess of Snowdon from early childhood to the collapse of her marriage and sheds light on her relationship with the media. Pictured in 1949, aged 19

The Countess of Snowdon's extra-marital affair with Roddy Llewellyn, which lasted eight years before the couple were discovered by paparazzi, was a turning point in the media's attitude towards the royal family

The Countess of Snowdon's extra-marital affair with Roddy Llewellyn, which lasted eight years before the couple were discovered by paparazzi, was a turning point in the media's attitude towards the royal family

The Countess of Snowdon’s extra-marital affair with Roddy Llewellyn, which lasted eight years before the couple were discovered by paparazzi, was a turning point in the media’s attitude towards the royal family 

‘That was the moment that the first brick was pulled out of the edifice,’ said historian Dominic Sandbrook of the Llewellyn affair. 

‘The treatment of the royal family changed, and Margaret is the first one that they really go for in terms of giving her a really good kicking,’ he added. 

This change, Sandbrook said, was due, in part to the arrival of Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch to the UK market.

Murdoch took over the ownership of the now defunct News of the World and The Sun in the late 1960s.  

Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960. Six years into their marriage, their relationship deteriorated. Pictured in 1970

Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960. Six years into their marriage, their relationship deteriorated. Pictured in 1970

Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones in May 1960. Six years into their marriage, their relationship deteriorated. Pictured in 1970

Princess Margaret, pictured in Jamaica in 1955,  was a great PR weapon for the royal family because she appeared more modern and less stuffy than the institution was believed to be at the time

Princess Margaret, pictured in Jamaica in 1955,  was a great PR weapon for the royal family because she appeared more modern and less stuffy than the institution was believed to be at the time

Princess Margaret, pictured in Jamaica in 1955,  was a great PR weapon for the royal family because she appeared more modern and less stuffy than the institution was believed to be at the time

Who was Roddy Llewellyn?

Sir Roderic Victor Llewellyn, 5th Llewellyn Baronet, known as ‘Roddy’ met Princess Margaret when he was a 25-year-old landscape gardener and she was 43 in 1973, at the Café Royal in Edinburgh. 

Margaret’s biographer Theo Aronson noted: ‘He was well-mannered, well-spoken, and amusing; above all, he was very sweet-natured.’ 

The couple’s relationship only became known to the public after they were photographed on her private island of Mustique in 1976, while she was still married to Lord Snowdon. 

Within weeks of the photographs being published, Margaret and Snowdon announced their separation. They divorced in 1978. 

The pair enjoyed a eight-year long affair,  but called it quits in 1981, and he went on to marry film producer’s daughter Tatiana Soskin that same year.

Roddy, who is still alive today,  went on to become an author, a landscaper and a journalist. 

Both Margaret, who died in 2002 aged 71, and Snowdon, who died last year aged 86, were rumoured to have had numerous affairs during their 18-year marriage.

Llewellyn, 71, the son of Olympic gold medal-winning show jumper Sir Harry Llewellyn, is now a baronet and married with three grown-up children. 

‘He’s Australian, he’s non deferential, he’s a populist, he doesn’t believe in just giving automatic respect to the royal family. He doesn’t believe to giving automatic respect to anybody,’ Sandbrook added. 

‘And his attitude chimed with the public mood.’

Margaret’s marriage to Lord Snowdon, whom she wed in May 1960, was on the brink of collapse when the Princess met Roddy Llewellyn in 1973. 

Aged 25, Lelwellyn was 18 years younger then Margaret, who was then 43. The pair would often travel to Mustique, in the Caribbeans, where Margaret often retreated to escape the public eye. 

Princess Margaret swimming in Mustique, West Indies. The photos of Margaret's romantic getaway with her lover of eight years Roddy llewellyn were shared by the Sun in 1976

Princess Margaret swimming in Mustique, West Indies. The photos of Margaret's romantic getaway with her lover of eight years Roddy llewellyn were shared by the Sun in 1976

Princess Margaret swimming in Mustique, West Indies. The photos of Margaret’s romantic getaway with her lover of eight years Roddy llewellyn were shared by the Sun in 1976

While the Queen was  training as Queen-to-be, Margaret found it hard to cope with the demands of royal life (pictured together in 1955)

While the Queen was  training as Queen-to-be, Margaret found it hard to cope with the demands of royal life (pictured together in 1955)

While the Queen was  training as Queen-to-be, Margaret found it hard to cope with the demands of royal life (pictured together in 1955)

Professor Jane Ridley, a royal historian and biographer, explained that King George VI's indulgence meant that Margaret 'never really learned boundaries in the way that Elizabeth certainly did learn boundaries'

Professor Jane Ridley, a royal historian and biographer, explained that King George VI's indulgence meant that Margaret 'never really learned boundaries in the way that Elizabeth certainly did learn boundaries'

Professor Jane Ridley, a royal historian and biographer, explained that King George VI’s indulgence meant that Margaret ‘never really learned boundaries in the way that Elizabeth certainly did learn boundaries’

King George VI with the Queen Mother and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at the Royal Lodge in Windsor before his passing

King George VI with the Queen Mother and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at the Royal Lodge in Windsor before his passing

King George VI with the Queen Mother and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at the Royal Lodge in Windsor before his passing 

The lovers were discovered, however, when a paparazzi infiltrated the island and snapped pictured of Margaret and Roddy in their swimwear on the beach. 

Sandbrook described the pictures as a tabloid editor’s ‘fantasy’ and the news quickly hit the news stands. 

‘I think the Queen would have been very upset. She is said to have asked the then Prime Minister James Callahan, “What are we going to do about my sister’s guttersnipe life?”,’ Christopher Warwick added. 

The second episode of Private Lives of the Windsors starts during Margaret’s early days, after her father George VI’s coronation. 

The show explains that being the second born, Margaret was cut more slack from her parents than her older sister and future Queen, Princess Elizabeth.

Royal historian and biographer Dr Piers Brendon explained that George VI loved Margaret’s ‘naughtiness’ and would hardly reprimand her, feeding into her taste for mischief. 

‘He indulged her, he was devoted to her, she was absurdly spoiled as a girl,’ he said. 

‘It was not entirely a healthy relationship, I think he was too indulgent towards her,’ he added. 

Group Captain Peter Townsend (left) looks over as the Queen and Princess Margaret attend the Olympic Horse Trials at Badminton. Margaret and Townsend developed a romance after his divorce in 1952

Group Captain Peter Townsend (left) looks over as the Queen and Princess Margaret attend the Olympic Horse Trials at Badminton. Margaret and Townsend developed a romance after his divorce in 1952

Group Captain Peter Townsend (left) looks over as the Queen and Princess Margaret attend the Olympic Horse Trials at Badminton. Margaret and Townsend developed a romance after his divorce in 1952

Historian and biographers said that Margaret was not as in love with Townsend as the public wanted to believe, and was in fact riddled with doubts over their marriage. Pictured: Townsend and Margaret speaking an an event in 1947

Historian and biographers said that Margaret was not as in love with Townsend as the public wanted to believe, and was in fact riddled with doubts over their marriage. Pictured: Townsend and Margaret speaking an an event in 1947

Historian and biographers said that Margaret was not as in love with Townsend as the public wanted to believe, and was in fact riddled with doubts over their marriage. Pictured: Townsend and Margaret speaking an an event in 1947

The Princess eventually decided against marrying Townsend. She is pictured a few weeks before making the announcement public

The Princess eventually decided against marrying Townsend. She is pictured a few weeks before making the announcement public

The Princess eventually decided against marrying Townsend. She is pictured a few weeks before making the announcement public 

Professor Jane Ridley, a royal historian and biographer, added that her father’s indulgence meant that ‘she never really learned boundaries in the way that Elizabeth certainly did learn boundaries.’

After George VI became King following the abdication of King Edward III, who gave up his royal duties to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, Princess Elizabeth became the heir to the throne, and Margaret became the spare. 

The documentary explains that the Queen mother raised her youngest daughter to be a ‘debutante,’ and as accomplished and feminine as was expected of women her age in the late 1940s.

Margaret in 1952.  Her romance with Group Captain Townsend came out after Margaret was seen brushing off a piece of fluff from Townsend's coat at the Queen's coronation in 1953

Margaret in 1952.  Her romance with Group Captain Townsend came out after Margaret was seen brushing off a piece of fluff from Townsend's coat at the Queen's coronation in 1953

Margaret in 1952.  Her romance with Group Captain Townsend came out after Margaret was seen brushing off a piece of fluff from Townsend’s coat at the Queen’s coronation in 1953

However, taming free-spirit Margaret was no easy task, as historian Fern Riddell explained. 

She related one instance where George VI and the Queen Mother were entertaining a Scottish minister over tea in Buckingham Palace. 

The Queen mother had asked Margaret to sing a few song, and the Princess, then 19-years-old, picked ‘I’m just a girl who can’t say no,’ from the musical Oklahoma. 

‘[It] is well known for the fact it is very naughty. And she recites this song to shocked and astounded silence. Until the king roars with laughter,’ Riddell said.  

Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret with US president Lyndon B. Johnson and the First Lady during their tour of American in 1965

Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret with US president Lyndon B. Johnson and the First Lady during their tour of American in 1965

Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret with US president Lyndon B. Johnson and the First Lady during their tour of American in 1965  

Margaret’s friend and biographer Christopher Warwick explained this sort of incidents were very much part of Margaret’s personality.  

As she reached 20, Margaret enjoyed wild popularity with the media, and was widely seen as a fashion icon, rivaled only by actress Elizabeth Taylor. 

Cultural historian Fern Riddell said Margaret was a great PR weapon for the royal family as she went ‘against the stereotype,’ that the British monarchy was ‘stuffy and conservative.’ 

However, it was her love story with group captain Peter Townsend that propelled the princess to become a front page regular. 

Townsend had been working for King George since Margaret was 13, and as she grew older, the two developed a friendship which turned into romance after Townsend’s divorce in 1952.  

Director Alfred Hitchcock and actor Paul Newman pose with Princess Margaret during her US tour of 1965

Director Alfred Hitchcock and actor Paul Newman pose with Princess Margaret during her US tour of 1965

Director Alfred Hitchcock and actor Paul Newman pose with Princess Margaret during her US tour of 1965

Their love story was meant to remain a secret. However, it all became public when the princess was caught brushing fluff off Townsend’s coat during the Queen’s coronation on June 2 1953. 

The story blew up in the press, and Margaret quickly announced she wanted to marry Townsend. 

However, the Queen was head of the church of England, which did not recognise remarriage of divorcees and as such, she could not give her full consent.  

Historian Dr Chandrika Kaul said Margaret was annoyed at Elizabeth because she felt she was ‘being Queen rather than a loving sister and imposing her will upon Margaret’s desires’.

‘And Elizabeth felt very uncomfortable doing it, but she felt she didn’t really have any choice in the matter,’ she added.

Townsend was posted in Brussels when the news broke out to avoid further controversy. 

Margaret was told she would be able to marry Townsend if she waited until she was 25 and renounced her royal privileges. 

Prime Minister Antony Eden was actually working on a plan that would see Margaret getting everything she wanted without having to renounce her royal title.

However, Dr Kaul explained that while Margaret and Peter Townsend lived separate lives, they grew more distant, not only physically, but also emotionally, which resulted in the princess having doubts about the relationship. 

The Earl and Countess of Snowdon had a tumultuous relationship which only grew in toxicity over time. By the end of their marriage, they barely spoke

The Earl and Countess of Snowdon had a tumultuous relationship which only grew in toxicity over time. By the end of their marriage, they barely spoke

The Earl and Countess of Snowdon had a tumultuous relationship which only grew in toxicity over time. By the end of their marriage, they barely spoke 

Lord Snowdon smoking a cigarette in 1974. The documentary reveals that Margaret and her husband were barely on speaking term by the time of their divorce in 1978

Lord Snowdon smoking a cigarette in 1974. The documentary reveals that Margaret and her husband were barely on speaking term by the time of their divorce in 1978

Lord Snowdon smoking a cigarette in 1974. The documentary reveals that Margaret and her husband were barely on speaking term by the time of their divorce in 1978

The princess wrote to the prime minister to tell him she could only be sure she wanted to marry Townsend by seeing him first. 

Her friend and biographer Christopher Warwick noted this letter showed that Margaret was not as smitten with Townsend as the media and the public wanted to believe.  

The documentary explores how the 'Rebel Princess', pictured at a party in West Maling, Kent, changed the media's attitude to the royals for ever with her love affairs

The documentary explores how the 'Rebel Princess', pictured at a party in West Maling, Kent, changed the media's attitude to the royals for ever with her love affairs

The documentary explores how the ‘Rebel Princess’, pictured at a party in West Maling, Kent, changed the media’s attitude to the royals for ever with her love affairs 

‘”It is only by seeing him that I can decide whether to can marry him or not”,’ he quoted the letter Margaret wrote. 

‘That isn’t a woman who’s massively in love. This is a woman who’s actually thinking “I’m not sure want to go ahead with this”.’

‘The perception was that this man was the love of her life. No he wasn’t. But this is the public perception, it still exists today,’ he added. 

Eventually, Margaret broke it off with Townsend. Following their estrangement, she felt she had been ‘left on the shelf’ because she could not find anyone who would take her, even though she was only 27. 

But she eventually went on to marry Lord Snowdon in May 1960 after a secret relationship.

Her husband, who became the Earl of Snowdon after their marriage, was not without controversy either. 

The new wave photographer was known for his taste for both men and women, and had embraced the ideals of the 1960s cultural revolution, as one historian put that he was ‘not addicted to monogamy.’

At the time of his engagement to Margaret, he had been having affairs with dancer Jackie Chan and model Gina Ward.

He was also involved in a throuple with his best friend Jeremy Fry and his wife Camilla.

Camilla gave birth to Tony’s son a month after his May 1960 wedding to Margaret.

Private Lives of the Windsors airs on the Smithsonian Channel on July 20 and July 27.  

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