Princess Anne nearly met a horrifying fate in 1974.
The British royal, then 23, was traveling back to Buckingham Palace after attending a charity event with her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips. However, a car blocked her way and soon after, its driver Ian Ball pulled out a handgun.
Ball shot Anne’s chauffeur and security officer Jim Beaton, as well as a nearby journalist who attempted to intervene, Tatler reported.
Beaton, who was shot in the shoulder, attempted to fire back at the assailant but missed. The 31-year-old’s gun — a Walther PPK — jammed, to his horror.
Ball, who was planning to kidnap Anne for around $4 million ransom (around $16 million in today’s money), tried to get her out of the car. But at that moment, she responded, “Not bloody likely,” the outlet reported. Right at that moment, a passing boxer named Ronnie Russell punched Ball in the head.
Russell, along with Beaton, were honored for their bravery and received the George Cross, known as the highest civilian honor for gallantry.
Beaton, now 76, told The Times on Tuesday he never suspected Anne was at risk of kidnapping that day.
“I thought it was somebody who wanted to be a pain in the neck,” he recalled. “There was no hint of what was to happen.”
According to Beaton, Ball shot him and demanded the bodyguard put down his weapon or he would shoot the princess. When Ball tried to force entry to the car, Beaton went around the other side and climbed in beside the royal couple. Ball fired again and this time Beaton put up his own arm to obstruct the bullet.
He was shot through the hand and then shot in the abdomen, Tatler reported.
According to the outlet, journalist Brian McConnell, Anne’s chauffer Alexander Callender and policeman Michael Hills were all shot that day. The men survived.
They all credited Russell for his act of bravery. After Russell punched Ball, the assailant attempted to run away. However, he was caught by officers who chased after him.
Beaton went on to continue working for Anne for another five years. Looking back, Beaton said the incident greatly impacted the way royal family members are protected today.
“I had nothing,” he explained. “There was no back-up vehicle. The training was non-existent; but then again, [we thought] nothing was going to happen. They are highly specialized now, highly trained.”
Beaton also shared that after the attack, the royals ceased having only one officer for protection. In fact, when Anne visited Beaton at the hospital, she arrived with two policemen.
“From then on, that’s what it was,” said Beaton.
The type of guns used by the bodyguards was also changed.
“The Walthers were got rid of overnight,” said Beaton.
People magazine previously reported Russell, now 72, was auctioning his medal for bravery.
“I’ve been very unwell, it’s rough,” Russell told The Mirror about his decision to sell the medal nearly 46 years later after the attack.
“I have to make provision for a funeral at some stage,” he said. “I want to know that’s all done for and not leave that burden to someone else. I just hope whoever buys it will invite me to lunch or something, where I could tell the story properly.”
According to the outlet, the father of three was driving to work in central London that day. After he decided to take a short cut, he noticed a white Ford Escort driving erratically towards Buckingham Palace.
Russell, who sensed something was wrong, turned his car around and drove towards the palace. Outside the palace gates, he saw four men lying wounded from gunshots as Ball tried to wrestle Anne out of her limousine at gunpoint.
Ball used his car — the same one Russell saw — to block in the limousine. He had fired several shots through the rear window of Anne’s car. Ball also climbed into the front seat and ordered Anne to get out. That’s when Anne uttered her famous line.
Russell ran towards the hold-up and punched Ball in the back of the head. Ball fired a revolver at Russell, but the shot missed. The amateur heavyweight then reached for a nightstick belonging to a nearby policeman who had been shot in the stomach.
Russell then saw Ball tried to wrestle with Anne as Phillips desperately held onto her waist from inside the car. Russell ran to the other side of the car and punched Ball in the jaw.
“I thought it was now or never,” Russell told The Mirror. “I hit Ball very hard. He was flat on the floor face down. I jumped on his back for good measure. I could have died, yeah, but I knew what I was doing. The only person I did not want to get shot was Princess Anne.”
With Ball lying on the floor, Russell helped Anne to safety. That’s when Ball fled but was later arrested by a small army of police officers.
Ball pleaded guilty to attempted murder and kidnapping. He has since been detained in a high-security psychiatric hospital.
When Anne’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded Russell his George Medal in 1974, she told him: “The medal is from the queen, but I want to thank you as Anne’s mother.”
According to Russell, the reigning monarch, now 93, paid off his mortgage as a gift.
“I thought that was wonderful,” said Russell. “I was actually close to repossession at the time. They were going to repossess my home. So, I dug myself out of that one.”