Snowdon and the daughter he had by cheating on Margaret

Tony was in the third week of his honeymoon in the Caribbean when, back in Britain, a daughter was born to Jeremy and Camilla Fry.

Baby Polly was delivered in the same four-poster bed that Princess Margaret had slept in during visits to the family home.

Forty-four years later, in 2004, Polly contacted Tony. He was her godfather and had been a much-loved uncle-figure to all five Fry children as they grew up.

But ever since she was 18, Polly had heard rumours from family friends that Tony, not Jeremy, was her father. When she pressed them, they hastily backtracked, assuring her there was no truth in such gossip.

Now  -  with a husband, businessman Barnaby Higson, and five children of her own  -  she felt compelled to discover the truth. As she put it herself: 'When you reach a certain stage in your life, you just want to know. . .'.

Lord Snowdon Polly Fry November 2006

Me and my girl: Lord Snowdon dismissed a positive DNA test in 2004

Her mother was dead and could not be asked, so she wrote to Tony and asked to see him. Over lunch, she nervously put her question: 'Could we have a DNA test to settle things one way or another?' At first Tony demurred, unwilling to rake over the past or risk upsetting Jeremy. But, honourably, he agreed to do what Polly wished.

The test, jointly funded by each of them, was made using saliva taken from their mouths. It proved conclusively that what Polly had suspected was true: Tony was her father. Polly was relieved. She finally knew who she really was. But she also felt worried at having forced the issue and uncovered something perhaps best left undisturbed.

She had not wanted her siblings to find out in case it changed their feelings about her, nor for the news to reach Jeremy who was 80 and increasingly frail. But to her great distress, the story broke in the newspapers - leaked, probably, by a friend.

When contacted by the Press, Jeremy said the 'allegation' that he was not Polly's father was 'utter nonsense'; Tony denied knowledge of any rumours or of a DNA test.

Polly's response to inquiries was: 'No comment', and with her silence, Jeremy's denial and Tony's stonewalling, the story died. But Polly's hope that she and Tony could forge a new relationship as father and daughter remained unfulfilled.

He was about to turn 74, an age at which few men expect an addition to their family, and had no wish to change the tenor of his life.

His old avuncular affection for her remained unchanged, but that was as far as he wanted to go. It was too late in the day to adjust his emotional perspective.


Snowdon secrets: A new biography of Lord Snowdon reveals a man who bewitched women - and men

He stood on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, his new bride by his side and 30,000 cheering spectators below. It was an intoxicating, overwhelming moment. He was 30 years old, at the peak of his profession as an international photographer, and he had just married the sister of the Queen of England. What else was there left to do or conquer?

For some people, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. For others, it is fame, money or social success. The twin motivating forces in the life of Antony Armstrong-Jones - the future Earl of Snowdon - were work and sex.

He considered a day without either wasted, and he pursued them with immense, charismatic charm and a drive and determination unfettered by many of the usual constraints. It was a complex, inflammable mix.

Enlarge   Princess Margaret Lord Snowdon Bahamas 14 March 1967

Happy in paradise? Lord Snowdon with Princess Margaret in the Bahamas in 1967

Nearly half a century has passed since that day in May 1960 when he married Princess Margaret, the first commoner to wed a king's daughter for 450 years. It was a marriage that began with besotted love, ended in open warfare, and showed all the different facets of this colourful and fascinating man.

He never stopped being a working photographer and used his new position to become a tireless  -  and often unsung  -  campaigner for the rights of the disabled and disadvantaged.

But one of the contradictions in his nature most difficult for those who loved him to accept was the thoughtfulness and compassion he showed to others  -  particularly those from a less fortunate background  -  while 'being beastly', as one victim put it, to those close to him.

Women, in particular, have often discovered this to their cost. Yet he has remained irresistible to them all his life.

The template was laid in childhood. It is a psychological fact that a boy who has not had proper mothering often distrusts women in later life and finds it hard to form a lasting relationship. Never was this more true than of Tony Armstong-Jones.

His father, Ronnie Armstrong-Jones, was a barrister; his mother, Anne, the daughter of the wealthy banker Leonard Messel. After a glittering society wedding, they settled in a house in Eaton Terrace, Belgravia, a wedding present from Messel. Here, their first child, Susan, was born, and three years later, in 1930, Tony.

Ronnie was happy-go-lucky, loving shooting and fishing. The socially ambitious Anne was metropolitan and found her deepest satisfaction in clothes and parties. The marriage soon unravelled, and ended in divorce when Tony was five.

His father started out on a gipsy-like existence that led from house to house and woman to woman. Anne  -  known as Tugboat Annie ('because she goes from peer to peer')  -  married the Earl of Rosse, whose family homes were the romantic Birr Castle in 26,500 acres in Ireland and Womersley Park in Yorkshire.

She was now in her element. Her social career went from strength to strength  -  as did her image of herself as the most beautiful and spectacular woman in any gathering. Dressed in dramatic silks and velvets, and wearing the famous Rosse emeralds, she would stop briefly as if for applause when she entered a theatre, opera house or ball.

Her earlier marriage and everything connected with it were consigned to oblivion. This all but included her Armstrong-Jones offspring. When she had sons by her new husband, Tony and Susan were relegated to second place. The effect of this downgrading was damaging in the extreme.

Like all little boys, Tony longed for her love and approval, but she referred to him as her 'ugly son'. She would introduce the Rosse boys as 'my sons', leaving Tony hovering in the background. 'Oh, and this is my other son,' she would say if anyone asked.

Tony and his sister shuttled between the formal, nanny-led life of their mother's domain and the carefree existence favoured by Ronnie. Resentment from the acrimonious divorce hung over them like a cloud.

Moving between boarding school and two sets of parents  -  in his father's case, often to a house different from the one in which he had stayed in the previous holiday  -  inculcated in Tony a habit of compartmentalising.

He learned to separate the different aspects of his life and the people in them. Later, a wife might suddenly discover that someone she thought was a stranger had known her husband well for 20 years.

His mother's rejection also set a pattern. His enthralment to her glamour and his anger at being ignored manifested itself later in an attraction to beautiful women and yet a destructive urge in his relationships with them.

The resentment he must have felt about her open preference for her other sons would surface in the cruelty that edged much of his adult repartee. Inventions and design  -  the real love of his life  -  began early. At six, he constructed a submarine for his bath, shaped from wood and weighted with drawing pins.

At wartime Eton, he made tiny crystal wireless sets to sell to other boys (radios were forbidden) and an electric toaster to help him in his duties as a fag.

In whatever he made he was encouraged and helped by his uncle, the artist and stage designer Oliver Messel. Kind, charming, brilliant and infinitely ingenious, Uncle Oliver was Tony's adored mentor and a major influence throughout his life.

Oliver was also a committed homosexual. The camp atmosphere in which Oliver lived and moved affected his nephew.

Lord Snowdon with his mother

Second place: Anthony, aged 18 months, with his mother Anne in 1931

In the summer holidays of 1946, Tony was struck by devastating illness. His father had given the 16-year-old a small but powerful motorbike, which was often hard to get going. One day, when Tony had been kick-starting it for some time, he felt a terrible pain in his leg. The next day he went down with a fever of 105F.

The doctor performed a lumbar puncture and eventually diagnosed polio. There was an epidemic of the deadly virus that year, and it had probably entered Tony's bloodstream through contaminated water while he was rowing or bathing at Eton.

The energetic kick-starting had caused it to attack the muscles of his leg. He faced being crippled.

For the next six months he was bedridden in Liverpool Royal Infirmary  -  a terrible time when he was bored, lonely and depressed by a bleak-looking future. Only his sister Susan visited him.

But gradually his paralysed legs came back to life and, with intense determination yet agonising slowness, he taught himself to walk again. It was an experience that honed his already strong will into a powerful weapon: he would never take no for an answer.

He emerged from the infirmary with a withered left leg that was an inch shorter than the other one, and the realisation that, apart from his sister, the only person on whom he could truly rely was himself.

He went back to Eton and then to Cambridge, where his personality aroused strong feelings: great affection or extreme annoyance. His charm could be irresistible; at the same time, if he did not like someone he made it perfectly obvious with sarcastic remarks and mockery.

Despite his disability, he coxed the Cambridge Eight to victory in the 1950 Boat Race. Off the river, his chief pleasure was dashing up to parties in London on his motorbike.

He relished the company of women but enjoyed playing tricks on them, sometimes with a sadistic edge. When girlfriends came to stay with his mother at Birr Castle, one prank was to catch a pike in the lake, make the girl an apple pie bed and put the pike between the sheets.

As the girl's toes touched its cold, slimy mass she would scream in pure horror  -  an added frisson being given by the fact that, after death, a pike's vicious jaws can snap shut on the nearest object if touched.

His concentration on rowing at Cambridge was at the expense of studying, and after failing his exams he was sent down for a year. He had no intention of returning. He told his parents he would try to make a go of his favourite hobby, photography.

His mother's reaction was instantaneous and negative. Photography was no career for a gentleman. Photographers were tradesmen, who came to the tradesmen's entrance, and were treated as such. But he would not be deterred. With his father's help, he set up a small studio in London.

As an Old Etonian, a former Cambridge man and the stepson of an earl, he had many useful contacts. At society parties he would pick out the prettiest girls, offer them a studio photograph, give them a print or two and sell the pictures to a magazine. Often the girls or their mothers would then recommend him to friends. So the business grew.

His mother's distaste for his job was widely shared, and some young upper-class hearties took violent offence at the determination and chutzpah with which he would pursue a picture. At one party he was pushed into a goldfish pond in white tie and tails, to emerge dripping with mud.

At another he was debagged by two Old Etonians  -  ironically, in view of his later marriage, the leader was the Hon. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, nephew of the Queen Mother  -  while two more sat on his head, leaving him almost unconscious in the bushes of the Savoy hotel's garden.

Next day, with typical courage, Tony turned up looking smart in a grey morning coat in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, his face covered in cuts and bruises.

Soon his studio in Pimlico was humming with activity, with young men and women rushing in and out, chatting, teasing, laughing.

Tony was always at the centre of things, lithe and startlingly good looking in a black sweater and drainpipe trousers. His white teeth and vivid blue eyes were set off by his tan  -  whenever he got the chance, he would sunbathe on the roof, lying on reflective silver foil to mop up every last ray.

He was now a regular at the Chelsea home of his Uncle Oliver, in a milieu of decorative and glossy people, where homosexuality was taken for granted and guests were expected to kiss the waiters. A camp manner seemed as natural as breathing and few could escape the drenching aura of homo-eroticism.

Tony, fascinated by the beautiful, the exotic and the erotic, felt at home. His eyes sparkling with energy and the desire for fun, he employed his natural flirtatiousness with men as well as women, and was, in consequence, a target for them.

It was a predilection that caused his asthmatic father great alarm  -  deeply prejudiced against homosexuality, he would warn Tony against certain individuals with the hoarse repetition: 'He's a bu-ugger! He's a bu-ugger!'

This did not influence Tony, many of whose closest friends were homosexual or had homosexual leanings. 'I didn't fall in love with boys,' Tony said later, adding thoughtfully a moment afterwards, 'but a few men have been in love with me.'

To most of the girls who worked for him there seemed little doubt that he was what we now call gay, especially when they saw him kiss visiting friends like the ballet director John Cranko on the lips.

There was also the camp manner he had absorbed from Oliver and his penchant for the slightly malicious joke. After his step-mother Carol let on that she had been frightened by a heavy breather on the telephone, Tony would ring her up in the small hours and pant heavily and lasciviously into the mouthpiece. 'So funny to hear her reaction,' he told a friend who tried to dissuade him.

But there were also, and increasingly, girls. 'If it moves, he'll have it,' was the summing-up of one close friend. Even at prep school it had been noted by fellow pupils that Tony, though small in stature, was physically well endowed; as an adult, his sexual appetite was demanding and constant.

A sudden infatuation could strike in a matter of minutes, and the chosen girl would find herself wooed with a romantic concentration that was irresistible  -  all the more so because, at the time, it was perfectly genuine. She was the adored one, the perfect companion he had been seeking all his life.

Many of these beautiful creatures were the virginal 18-year-old débutantes he photographed, and it became a challenge to see if he could get them into bed, something not easy in those pre-Pill days when pregnancy was every girl's nightmare. Usually, however, he succeeded.

Some of them lasted two or three days, others two or three weeks. Often they were simultaneous, but his two-timing was always conducted with great discretion.

He did have one special girlfriend  -  a dancer named Jacqui Chan, whom he met after he expanded into photographing actors and actresses. With her porcelain looks and exotic charm, she was Tony's first real love. Friends noted that he was seldom unkind to her, while other girls, especially if they became too clingy, could be treated with casual cruelty. 'Oh, were we supposed to be going out to dinner? I'd quite forgotten.'

By now his growing portfolio included the likes of Dirk Bogarde and Marlene Dietrich  -  but still the snobs turned up their noses at him.

When he took the wedding photographs of Lady Anne Coke, daughter of the Earl of Leicester, her father dubbed him 'Tony Snapshot'. More bruisingly, her bridegroom, the Hon. Colin Tennant, made him use the servants' entrance. It was the start of a lifelong bitter enmity towards Tennant, a former escort of Princess Margaret and one of her close friends.

Their paths would cross in the years ahead and Tony seldom referred to him without the epithet 's**t'. At the time, he merely said: 'I'll get even with you for that,' adding more prophetically than he knew, 'I'll marry your best friend!'

The social de haut en bas attitude towards him was soon to change. The young Duke of Kent, the Queen's cousin, chose Tony to take the coming-of-age pictures for his 21st birthday. After this came the commission every photographer dreamed of  -  from the Queen herself.

When staying with friends, she had seen Tony's striking pictures of their family and asked for him  -  rather than a regular Palace photographer such as Cecil Beaton  -  to take a picture of her children.

Daringly, Tony posed the Royal Family dressed informally by a stream in the Buckingham Palace gardens. Beaton was most put out. 'I don't think A. A. Jones's pictures are at all interesting,' he wrote sniffily in his diary.

But the Queen was delighted. Tony's reputation was sealed and his fees rose exponentially. Vogue gave him a lucrative contract; the Aga Khan invited him to photograph his wedding.

He was busier than ever, but this was no impediment to starting another serious love affair, with Gina Ward, the actress niece of an earl. She came for a sitting, and their mutual infatuation was immediate and blazing.

Though caught up in the thrill of first love, Gina realised that she could not expect fidelity: 'He couldn't buy a packet of cigarettes without flirting with the man or woman behind the counter.'

Among those of whom she became desperately jealousy was a ballet dancer called Gilbert Norman. And then, just a few months after meeting Gina, Tony went to a dinner party held by one of Princess Margaret's ladies-in-waiting, Lady Elizabeth Cavendish. She had met Tony and thought the young photographer's originality and high spirits would appeal to the Princess.

She sat them next to each other, and the two hit it off. Quickly they established their mutual interest in the arts and ballet. 'I enjoyed his company very much, but I didn't take a lot of notice of him because I thought he was queer,' the Princess later told her authorised biographer.

However, not long after this meeting, Tony's behaviour, never conventional to begin with, became noticeably stranger. One evening at dinner with Jacqui Chan, he suddenly got up and left. 'Where have you been?' she said when he finally returned. 'Mind your own business,' he replied.

Sometimes he would disappear for an evening without explanation. When evenings became weekends, it was too much even for the long-suffering Jacqui. There was a flaming row and she left. It was only later that she would learn the astonishing truth  -  he was courting the Princess.

The woman he had his sights on was a pocket Venus (she was five foot one) with a voluptuous hour-glass figure, superb complexion and huge dark-fringed eyes that in some lights looked violet, in others a deep sapphire blue.

At 28, she was at the height of her beauty and charisma, exuding an aura of sophisticated, challenging sexuality, with a glance that could turn from melting to icy in a moment. She was intelligent, imperious, capricious, wilful, often flirtatious and easily bored, but witty, sparkling and gay with those whose company she enjoyed.

The premature death of her father, King George VI, in 1952 had been a massive blow to her, and one of the big problems of her life would be that no one would ever measure up to him.

The only man she thought might was the royal equerry, Peter Townsend, and she'd had to give him up because he was divorced. Now, as the tragic heroine of a star-crossed love, she aroused both chivalry and sympathy, while the country speculated eagerly about the men in her social circle.

Night after night, usually in a party of six or eight, she would visit theatres, restaurants and nightclubs. But she could never really decide what she wanted to be: party girl or regal princess.

She sat for her portrait by Tony, and he took charge in his usual way. With the utmost politeness, he made her change her clothes, her jewellery and her pose as if she were any other sitter, at the same time chatting away with his mixture of jokes and gossip about mutual friends.

Margaret, accustomed to unquestioning deference, had never met anyone like him, and a real rapport began, followed by secret visits to his studio. The Princess's car dropped her in the next road and she would slip down a small alley into the small basement sitting room where Tony would cook them supper. Sometimes they would sunbathe together on the roof.

Other meetings were at the houses of close friends. At weekends, he joined the Princess and her mother at Royal Lodge, Windsor. No one noticed, partly because the two were careful, but also because the idea that the Queen of England's sister was conducting a secret love affair with a photographer was so outré.

For Tony it was all overwhelming. He was used to pretty girls, and aware of the effect his well-honed sexual expertise had on women. But Margaret was something different, gilded with the mysterious, mythic aura of royalty.

She was a challenge like no other. Just taking the Queen's sister on the back of his motorbike was almost unbelievable. The thought of a relationship seemed far-fetched.
But she made her interest plain, and for once Tony found he was not the one controlling the situation. Each had extraordinary sexual magnetism, with a libido to match. When they entered each other's force field of attraction, their mutual gravitational pull was irresistible and soon they were sexually besotted.

Tremendously impressed by the Princess for her beauty, intelligence and wit, Tony was also enormously proud of himself for becoming her lover. Yet, however deeply attached they were, girls still came and went at the studio, and although Jacqui was less in evidence, he was still carrying on his affair with Gina.

There was, too, another development that would return later to haunt him. At weekends, he often went to visit two of his closest friends, Jeremy Fry and his wife Camilla, at their house, Widcombe Manor, near Bath.

Fry, tall and extremely good looking, had an overwhelming magnetic attraction  -  and taste  -  for men and women alike. Camilla was one of Tony's old flames. All three knew each other intimately.

It was a time when moral codes were changing, and the Sixties  -  with its explosive mixture of sexual freedom and the breaking down of taboos  -  were just over the horizon. Tony, with his urge to challenge accepted boundaries, was at the forefront of this new age.

In the sophisticated world in which he and the Frys moved, where relationships of every kind flourished and where it was implicit that sexual orientation was a matter of preference, it was inevitable not only that they would be in the avant-garde of any such attitude, but also that their behaviour would represent it.

Jeremy's passion for Camilla had waned and, frustrated, she found it easy to encourage a charming former boyfriend; while Jeremy and Tony were highly sexed. Alcohol and 'poppers'  -  amyl nitrate stimulants  -  helped them all shed any remaining inhibitions. As one friend put it later, 'it was a pretty good free-for-all there'.

During one of these romps in early September 1959, a child was conceived; soon afterwards, in October, Tony went to stay at Balmoral for the first time.

While he was staying, the Princess received a letter from Peter Townsend telling her that he was getting married. The Princess was stunned, and it is popularly supposed that Tony proposed to her that very day while they walked in the heather and she, out of pique, accepted.

It wasn't like that. She was determined to show the world quite the opposite reaction and the truthful one  -  that she was over Townsend and his marriage would not wound her.

The decision to marry came several months later  -  at Widcombe Manor, which the Frys had offered as a 'safe house' for their courtship. And it was here, at the scene of those recent frolics, that they became secretly engaged.

Never has a royal love affair leading to an engagement been kept so quiet, but Tony's sharp-eyed friends noticed something was up. His style was changing from tight jeans and desert boots to well-cut dark suits and crisp white shirts.

A conversation that Tony had with the young interior designer David Hicks might also have given the game away, but didn't. 'I'm going to make a very grand marriage,' said Hicks. 'Oh, really?' said Tony. 'Who to?' 'Lady Pamela Mountbatten,' replied Hicks proudly. 'Oh, I don't call that grand,' responded Tony.

There were last-minute loose ends to be tied up, and he telephoned Gina, who was too staggered by his news to feel anything but shock and disbelief. 'Tony, you'll have an awful life,' she told him. 'You can't take this on. And anyway you're in love with me!'

Only after the call was over did the pain of her own loss strike home, with the feeling that she had been ' broken into a hundred pieces'.

Jacqui had to be told, too. She was filming at Pinewood, and Tony delegated his friend Bob Belton to drive down and break the news. There was a long silence before Jacqui said: 'Well, I hope she can cope better than I could.'

As soon as the engagement was announced, warnings flew thick and fast. Lady Elizabeth Cavendish asked the Princess if she was quite sure 'because you won't always know where he is and he won't always want to tell you'.

One of Tony's friends, Peter Saunders, warned: 'These people aren't for you, Tony. They will chew you up and spit you out. I know it's a physical thing at the moment but at the end of the day, for goodness sake, don't do it.'

Tony's father, deeply upset, wrote: 'Boy, you would be mad to marry Princess Margaret.' But for his mother, this was the culmination of all her social ambitions. From being 'my ugly son', he was now her pet, and the approval he had always craved was at last forthcoming  -  for all the wrong reasons.

In the royal palaces, a frisson of horror ran through the courtiers.

One of the most experienced, Sir Alan Lascelles, lamented that 'the boy Jones has led a very diversified and sometimes a wild life and the danger of scandal and slander is never far off'.

As if to prove the point, a story circulated that a Cambridge rowing coach, who had been in love with Tony in his university days, had heard about the engagement and committed suicide by swimming out to sea.

There were other hiccups. Tony intended to have Jeremy Fry as his best man, but then it was announced that Fry had stood down owing to a recurrence of jaundice.

In fact, it was found that he had earlier been convicted at Marlborough Street Magistrates Court of a minor homosexual offence, for which he was fined £2.

Jeremy Thorpe, a close friend of Tony's since their Eton days, was briefly considered as a replacement, but discreet police inquiries found he was also thought to have homosexual tendencies.

Despite such last-minute flurries, Tony always had the Queen Mother's support, and the Queen's followed. From their point of view, his intelligence, natural finesse, excellent manners and obvious devotion to Margaret spoke heavily in his favour.

He got on well with Prince Philip, too  -  one of the Duke's early letters has an arrow pointing to his signature 'Philip' with the words: 'Try and bring yourself to call me this!'

In all the heady excitement, the couple's love was unmistakable and both found it difficult, as one friend put it, 'to keep their hands off each other'.

But seeing each other at their best, happiest and most unselfish, neither Tony nor Margaret realised that, au fond, they were each accustomed to getting their own way.

As one friend put it sadly: 'They were both centre-stage people  -  but only one person can occupy the centre at any given moment.' There was trouble ahead.

  • Extracted from SNOWDON: THE BIOGRAPHY by Anne de Courcy, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on June 12 at £20. © 2008 Anne de Courcy. To order a copy for £18 (inc. p&p), call 0845 606 4206. Snowdon And Margaret: Inside A Royal Marriage will be on Channel Four on Wednesday June 25 at 9pm.

Snowdon and the daughter he had by cheating on Margaret

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.