Here's Princess Margaret Learning to Waterski

Illustration for article titled Here's Princess Margaret Learning to Waterski
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Did you know that Princess Margaret was a water-skier? Somehow, this is very in keeping with everything we know about Princess Margaret, and the only surprising thing is that she never figured out how to chain-smoke while doing it.


Apparently, however, shots of her water activities led to a tiff between Queen Elizabeth II and the tabloids of the time. Photos taken in the same place more than a year later, by a different photographer—Ray Bellisario, known as “Britain’s first paparazzo” and very good at getting candid shots of the royals and others—were the subject of the royal family’s first formal complaint of invasion of privacy to the newly formed British Press Council. The Times reported at the time:

Queen Elizabeth II had protested to the council against what she considered to be “an unreasonable intrusion on the private lives of herself and Princess Margaret” last July.

The incident was the publication of photographs in The Sunday Express and The People, both mass‐circulation newspapers, showing the Princess and the Queen during an afternoon of water‐skiing at Sunninghill Park, near Ascot.

One photograph showed the Queen helping her sister don a water‐ski suit over her bathing suit. Others showed the Queen reclining on the ground, the Princess in the water and the Princess, dressed and barefoot, carrying her bathing suit.

A palace spokesperson said that “the Queen felt very strongly” about it; the pictures are in this Daily Mail obituary and you can see why she was mad, since he caught Her Majesty sprawled casually on the ground, knees apart, in a shot that is humanizing but no doubt felt invasive, especially in 1964. Bellisario’s response was that he hadn’t trespassed and in fact “many people have seen Princess Margaret water‐skiing.” This was apparently a long-running enthusiasm for the royal and her husband, the Earl Snowdon; here’s a vintage newsreel of their attendance at a waterskiing championship.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.



I could never water ski. I probably didn’t try hard enough after my sister gave herself an enema attempting to water ski. Missouri’s Table Rock Lake was never the same after that day.