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Like Diana, a twinkle in her eye

Princess Margaret is seen in London in this 1965 photo  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Princess Margaret's life contained one great contradiction.

For a woman who was so deeply principled to put public duty before the dashing young officer she loved, Margaret also enjoyed life in the fast lane.

The party princess loved being surrounded by show business stars and fawning society "it" figures.

She was the vivacious royal rebel. She smoked hard, she drank hard, she partied with the best as she sought solace in the brittle glamour of London nightlife.

Her marriage to society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones was where postwar aristocratic glitz met the go-go swinging Sixties.

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She went on to outrage monarchy supporters with a very public liaison with an upper-class but unsuccessful gardener, Roddy Llewellyn, 17 years her junior.

In what seems now the now far-off Fifties, she was very definitely the society glamour girl of her age, "The Margaret Set" dominating the gossip columns.

"She was astonishingly beautiful as a young woman. She was the Princess Diana of her age," royal biographer Ben Pimlott told CNN.

"Like Diana, she had a twinkle in her eye and a lot of rapport with the public."

"She was the hip princess," said CNN royal correspondent Robert Jobson.

Early in the 1950s, the queen's sister had gathered around her a coterie of bright young society people.

Chief members were the Marquess of Blandford and Billy Wallace. His father, Capt. Euan Wallace, one-time minister of transport, had died in 1941 and left him a large legacy.

Fast cars, nightclubs and late parties set the style for the set, who could have been some English upper-crust alternative to the U.S. "Rat Pack."

Indeed, friends recall the princess sitting on cushions in a Kensington hotel being serenaded by Frank Sinatra after the singer had finished a Palladium show.

She was later associated with the actor Peter Sellers, who declared he was in love with her and hoped to marry the woman he called "Ma'am darling."

It was in 1956, believing it better to marry "somebody one at least liked" rather than face lonely spinsterhood, when Princess Margaret agreed to marry Billy Wallace.

Convinced that the queen's approval would be given, Wallace went off to the Bahamas and there had a brief romance.

So confident was he that nothing could prevent the engagement, he told the princess about it on his return. He was astonished when she promptly showed him the door.

Two years later, at a private dinner party in Chelsea, Princess Margaret met Armstrong-Jones.

Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret were married in Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960  

He had followed his barrister father to Eton and went on to Jesus College. Making his mark as a photographer, he had graduated from taking party pictures for glossy magazines, like Queen and Tatler, to specialise in theatre work. The princess was struck by his impish smile.

No word linking their names was ever leaked to the press before they became engaged in December 1959, two months after Margaret received a letter from former boyfriend Peter Townsend in Brussels, in which he broke the news that he was to remarry.

Armstrong-Jones was 30, just over five months older than the princess, when they were married in Westminster Abbey on May 6, 1960.

Five months later, Buckingham Palace announced that Armstrong-Jones had been created Earl of Snowdon. Margaret became HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon.

At first, it seemed an unlikely marriage had ended in triumph -- and that Margaret was at last enjoying happiness at last. But tensions grew as she persisted with her life, and he with his.

Lord Snowdon began spending long periods on business abroad. He was seen escorting glamorous model Lady Jacqueline Rufus Isaacs. The princess began taking long holidays without her husband on Mustique, the latest byword for the Margaret lifestyle.

Her connection with the island had begun in 1960 when she saw it while cruising the Caribbean on the royal yacht Britannia. Its owner, Colin Tennant, gave her a 10-acre plot as a wedding present.

Princess Margaret meets The Beatles at the London Pavilion, July 25, 1965  

In later years she used her four-bedroom island villa as a retreat from her busy schedule and spent time relaxing in the sunshine and the company of celebrities.

Margaret was linked with a string of men, though she may not have been romantically involved with them.

Robin Douglas-Home, nephew of Conservative Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, was a talented pianist with a reputation as a ladies' man.

He had met the princess during the 1950s but, during the mid-'60s when Margaret's marriage was on the rocks, the two flirted.

When the relationship made newspaper headlines, Lord Snowdon protested that there was no rift in the marriage.

During the early-'70s, another figure from the '50s re-entered the princess's life.

The Hon. Dominic Elliot, a son of the Earl of Minto, spent time with Margaret at her holiday home on Mustique.

Mick Jagger
Visitor to Mustique: Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger  

A more exotic friendship was with Rolling Stones vocalist Mick Jagger who also spent time on the island.

By September 1973, the Snowdons were separated in all but name when the princess met Roddy Llewellyn and invited him to accompany her to Mustique.

In middle age, she soon found herself in love with the unsuccessful landscape gardener, whom most of her friends, all of her family and much of the British public regarded as totally unsuitable.

Llewellyn took Margaret to meet his father, showjumper Col. Harry Llewellyn, at the show jumper's country home near Abergavenny.

She also visited the younger Llewellyn at the so-called Llewellyn commune, 47-acre Surrendel Farm, near Hullavington, north Wiltshire.

Villagers said the princess dressed in old clothes and looked "like a farmer's wife".

Llewellyn launched himself on a career in the pop world, apparently with the princess's approval, but her standing and popularity slumped.

Labour MPs claimed that she was not worth the $75,000 she received in the Civil List. The Bishop of Truro, the Rt. Rev. Graham Leonard, said Margaret had two choices -- to accept the limitations of public life or withdraw.

In the early '70s, Margaret fell in love with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, who later launched a pop career  

In 1974, while Llewellyn had gone to Turkey to think things out, Margaret suffered a nervous breakdown. It was this collapse which gave rise to rumours, dismissed by the princess as ridiculous, that she had attempted suicide.

The Snowdon marriage was finally sundered early in 1976 when the News of the World published an apparently "intimate" picture of the princess and Llewellyn in Mustique.

On seeing the photograph, Snowdon left Kensington Palace and the official separation was announced.

In 1978, Margaret became the first close member of the royal family to divorce since Henry VIII set aside Catherine of Aragon.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told the queen that the Church of England now took a sympathetic view of marital breakdown.

The queen's sister was granted a decree nisi in a batch of 28 rubber-stamped cases.

But the relationship with Llewellyn was doomed to fail and in 1981 he married fashion designer Tania Soskin.

The UK Press Association contributed to this report


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