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Obituary: Sweden's fairy tale Princess Lilian

Monday, 11 March 2013 - 10:37am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Welsh fashion model who captured the heart of a Prince but could not marry him for 33 years.
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Her Royal Highness Princess Lilian Of Sweden, who has died aged 97, was the widow of Prince Bertil of Sweden, uncle of the present King, Carl XVI Gustaf.

Hers was one of those old-fashioned royal love stories: the beautiful young girl forbidden to marry her prince for dynastic reasons. In her case, the story was resolved in her favour, and she ended her life a respected member of the Swedish royal family; indeed, she looked more regal than many born into European royal families.

She was born Lillian May Davies in Swansea on August 30 1915, the daughter of William Davies and his wife, Gladys Mary Curran. She originally spelt her name with two "l"s, but changed to Lilian when she adopted a career variously described as fashion model, ballerina and singer. In September 1940, at Horsham, she married a Scottish actor called Ivan Craig (1912-95), whose career never flourished beyond bit parts such as 2nd policeman in Murder at the Windmill in 1949 and Lord Blackheath in four episodes of Ivanhoe in 1958. He went to Africa during the war and after a long separation they were divorced.

During the Second World War Lilian worked at a factory making wirelesses for the Royal Navy, and at a hospital for wounded soldiers. She met Prince Bertil of Sweden in 1943, some say at a cocktail party to mark her 28th birthday, others at a nightclub called Nuthouse; yet another version placed their meeting on the London Underground.

He was the third son of the then Crown Prince Gustaf Adolph, and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria through his late mother, Princess Margaret of Connaught. Something of a playboy, he fell for Lilian, and they were soon lovers. She came to Sweden to live openly, if discreetly, with Prince Bertil in 1957 and they remained together until his death in January 1997, having finally been allowed to marry only in 1976.

A marriage had not at first been permitted owing to the strict rules of the Swedish royal house. Two of Prince Bertil's brothers had married commoners and had renounced their rights to the throne, effectively dropping out of royal life.

Prince Bertil was needed as the most active male member of the royal family after his father and grandfather, especially following the death of his eldest brother, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolph, in a plane crash in 1947. At that time old King Gustaf V was still alive. He was succeeded by his son, Gustaf VI Adolph in 1950, and he lived until 1973, disapproving of divorcees. The heir, the present King Carl XVI Gustaf, was less than a year old when his father was killed, and there was a strong possibility that Prince Bertil might have had to serve as Regent.

King Gustaf Adolph asked Prince Bertil not to marry Lilian until after his death. Ironically, her first public appearance at the Swedish court was for the 90th birthday celebrations of the King in 1972. But she was a well-known figure in international society, and she and Prince Bertil were frequently photographed at their villa in the South of France in magazines such as Point de Vue.

Times had changed by the time that King Carl Gustaf came to the throne, and he himself was married to a commoner. Prince Bertil therefore married Lilian on December 7 1976 at the Palace Church of Drottiningholm in the presence of the King and the Queen. A game old couple, they honeymooned in Kenya and at their French villa.

Thereafter Princess Lilian appeared as publicly at court as she had previously done privately. Also, every year from 1976 until 2005 she attended the Nobel Prize-giving ceremony, adorned in royal jewels and Sweden's highest order of chivalry (the Seraphim). It was only at the age of 91 that she discontinued this tradition, deciding that she was too old.

Prince Bertil died aged 84 on January 5 1997, with Princess Lilian at his side. In her years of widowhood she continued to undertake royal engagements and to support many of her husband's causes.

In 2000 she published a book about her life with Prince Bertil. Five years later she celebrated her 90th birthday, when it was noted that she was as active as ever as she attended a flamenco festival at the House of Dance and a smoking dinner at Nalen. Refusing to allow a fuss to be made, she asked for no personal presents, preferring people to make donations to SOS Children's Villages. "I have most things," she said.

Inevitably she was asked for the secret of her longevity, and she replied: "I think that the work - and laughter - keeps me somewhat young in mind. I don't do gymnastics or exercise. But I do feel the same wish to help as my husband did."

The Princess remained supremely elegant, liking to wear high heels and haute couture clothes. She loved practical jokes and was fortified by the love of Queen Silvia, to whom she was especially close, and the younger members of the Swedish royal family.

White orchids invariably adorned the Villa Solbacken, where she lived under the care of a rota of three nurses.

At the time of her death, she was the oldest member of the Swedish royal family, entirely accepted by all generations of that family.

There were no children of either of her marriages.

HRH Princess Lilian of Sweden, born August 30 1915, died March 10, 2013




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