Partners in paradise


While relatives gather at Princess Margaret's funeral in Windsor today, her one true lifelong friend, Lord Glenconner, is conducting a last lonely vigil 3,000 miles away in his little slave chattel house by the sea on the island of St Lucia.

One might have expected 75-year-old Glenconner - Colin Tennant as he used to be - to have been one of the principal mourners, positioned close to the Royal Family and sitting next to his wife Lady Anne, who was the Princess's lady-in-waiting.

He is the devoted former suitor, heir to a Scottish industrial fortune, who bought the uninhabited island of Mustique in 1959 and gave her ten acres of land when she married Lord Snowdon. For more than 30 years he entertained her there every spring and surely would have liked to be with her at the end.

Instead, as he describes in an exclusive and poignant interview with the Daily Mail, he is trying to come to terms from afar with her death and the lack of respect - in his view - accorded to it.

'People may have worshipped Princess Diana, but in my estimation Margaret was a much truer and greater Royal,' he said angrily this week.

'She never sought publicity, but simply got on with the job because that was her duty. It would never occur to her to go running to the press because there was something wrong in her life.

'In my opinion she was also much prettier than Diana and she never flaunted herself. If you look at some earlier pictures, she is absolutely stunning.'

Glenconner, wearing a battered straw hat and flowing white shirt, seemed overwhelmed by memories and at times during our interview strolled off into the tropical undergrowth to be alone.

He was one of Margaret's favourite escorts in the Fifties and witnessed her beauty first hand. Relatives say he would have married her had he not been discouraged by his father.

'I really don't want go to the funeral,' he said. 'It is better this way, I don't think I could handle it. I would just get in the way. It was purely my decision and frankly I think the formal ritual of the service has more to do with showbusiness than mourning.'

Though millions saw Margaret as an austere figure, Glenconner was never one of them. When her marriage to Lord Snowdon fell apart, he devoted his life to trying to make hers more pleasurable.

Having given her the land, he then built her a house, Les Jolies Eaux, which became her favourite home. As they partied together on Mustique-they often dressed as the King and Queen, if only at fancy dress events.

'It was quite remarkable,' he said. 'Once she was ashore she just wanted to become part of the island and blend in.

'It was as though she was shedding all her concerns. The people here helped. In the early days they could never work out who she was. There was an old lady in the village who was known as Mrs Princess and people thought Margaret was a relative.

'They were so unworldly in those days. They were never affected by status. I encouraged that. So did Margaret. Workers would wander round the grounds of her house and when they saw her they would talk about the weather, her kids or just ask her if she'd had a good night's sleep.

'In the early evenings she would stroll down to the beach bar, study the plastic menu and order wine to go with the catch of the day. If there was music playing she would dance with a taxi driver or even someone who had just brought in the fish. Over the years she developed lasting relationships with these people.

'She remembered all their names and the names of their children. She never set out to be regal or better off than her neighbours.

Her kitchen and the furnishings came straight out of the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition. She visited it as a guest, saw the items and promptly ordered them - in the fashion of the day there was a lot of Formica.'

When the 46-year-old Princess invited 29-year-old gardener Roddy Llewellyn to join her on Mustique in 1976, it shocked people back home.

On the island it barely raised eyebrows. Yet Mustique was soon seen as the island of scandal as aristocrats and superstars misbehaved on the beaches, and many suffered blighted lives.

Margaret's friend, Virginia Royston, the widow of Viscount 'Pip' Royston, moved in with Basil, the owner of the island's infamous bar and a local man, but succumbed to liver failure at 46. One of Glenconner's sons died of drugrelated hepatitis and another of Aids. He himself ran through his fortune and was forced to sell the island about ten years ago.

Today all that is forgotten. The Union Flag at the tiny airstrip was lowered immediately after the news of Margaret's death, while the local people who once danced barefoot on the sands with her have been gathering all week in the little bamboo Church of Assembly to pray for 'the soul of our sister Margaret'.

'Her arrival electrified the island,' said one of the locals, Breadfruit Hillary, this week. Another, Carlon 'Carib' Child, remembered how she astonished everyone by dancing with him. 'She sat at a table, tapping her feet to the reggae music. When I asked her to dance she kicked off her shoes and said: "Why not?"'

They still talk about Margaret's own parties, where suckling pigs were barbecued in hot rum and steel bands thumped away into the small hours. Throughout it all security was at a minimum.

A lone Scotland Yard officer would be reinforced by two uniformed officers from neighbouring St Vincent.

'There was no need for more police. The whole island would have fought to defend her,' said Breadfruit Hillary.

Margaret helped set up an education trust that provides funds for children of the estate workers to attend school. Mick Jagger is the current chairman. She often went shopping incognito in a straw hat and clutching a beach bag.

Another local, Ina Johnson, remembers how 'she would take home T-shirts for her friends. Once she helped an American visitor who was dithering over the selection of baseball caps. "Don't you think they are a bit overpriced?" asked the woman.

'Margaret said they were worth every penny, because some of the money went to the education fund. "Oh you work on the island then?" asked the American. Margaret replied: "I suppose in some ways I do."'

The Princess's reputation for haughtiness was quite unfounded,' says Glenconner. 'She was never rude. Her manners were impeccable, although she found it much easier when dealing with people at official meetings.

'She loved church men and was very close to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Casual attention didn't really bother her, even when people took pictures.

'It had been happening all her life, but she did not like them intruding on her privacy. If she didn't know how to respond, she simply froze.'

The Princess spent one of her last holidays with her old friend Glenconner just before the mysterious accident in her Mustique house in 1999 in which her feet were scalded. The true story of this incident has never been told before.

Margaret had risen early and was preparing to take a shower in very hot water, as usual. Suddenly, her maid realised she had not called for her breakfast.

She alerted her lady-in-waiting - not Glenconner's wife on this occasion, but Jane Stevens who was holidaying with the Princess. She found Margaret sitting, shellshocked, on the edge of the bath. She had turned on the shower and found the water too hot even for her. She tried to add some cold and turned the single tap the wrong way by mistake.

Scalding water gathered in the bottom of the bath and when she stepped in, her foot was literally stuck to the bottom. It was the start of her decline.

'She would have come out last year,' says Glenconner sadly, 'but she was just too ill to travel. She so enjoyed it here.

'God, it seems such a short time ago. She was so happy just doing ordinary things. I still can't believe she's gone.

'We will miss her terribly. The Princess was a friend, a dear friend whom I will never forget.

'It's much better that I am here today and not at Windsor. I prefer to remember her in this part of the world where she was always happy.'