Netflix’s third season of The Crown continues to focus on the Queen’s relationship with her young, vivacious sister Princess Margaret (now played by Helena Bonham Carter).
In the series, Margaret is desperate to prove her worth to her sister and the rest of the royal family, and she gets her chance when in 1965 she embarks on a tour on the US, accompanied by her then-husband, Lord Snowden — before casually preventing an economic crisis back home just by attending a state dinner at the White House…
Here’s everything you need to know about Princess Margaret’s real-life visit to the States, including what Netflix The Crown season 3 got right (and what they embellished)…
Did Princess Margaret go to the US?
Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon set off on an overseas visit to the US in 1965, where they were wined and dined by Hollywood A-Listers — although that didn’t prevent the princess from ruffling a few feathers.
She reportedly told legendary screen actress Grace Kelly that she ‘didn’t look’ like an actress, to which the To Catch A Thief star retorted, “I wasn’t born a movie star” (an obvious reference to how, unlike herself, Princess Margaret had been born a person of significance and hadn’t worked for her title).
She also reportedly demanded that Judy Garland (of The Wizard of Oz fame) sing on the spot for her, to which the offended screen actress told the royal’s aide: “Tell her I’ll sing if she christens a ship first.”
In fact, while Netflix seems to suggest that the princess’s visit was a roaring success from start to finish, the wild behaviour and late night drinking of the royal couple and their entourage meant that they were reportedly barred by British diplomats from making a return visit to the States in the 1970s…
Did Princess Margaret meet President Lyndon B Johnson?
President Lyndon B Johnson and his wife First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, held a dinner dance in honour of the princess and her husband, Lord Snowdon, on 17th November 1965 while the royal couple were touring the US.
Christopher Warwick’s biography ‘Princess Margaret’, which details the events of the America trip, notes: “Then came the high-spot; a White House reception given by President Lyndon B Johnson. Guests told Princess Margaret that it was the first party of its kind in the White House since the Kennedys had left. And as those present said afterwards, the reception had not only been greatly appreciated and enjoyed, but the Snowdons had received the type of publicity that other figures in the public eye would have had to pay millions for… even the most hostile critics could not overlook the fact that Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon had been to America to ‘show the flag’ and had done so with a professionalism difficult to fault.”
You can watch this British Pathé archive footage below, in which the voiceover narrator reveals that the “crack of the evening” was “the president’s recipe for a happy marriage: ‘Let her think she’s having her own way. Second, let her have it.'”
Did Princess Margaret persuade the president to bail out Britain?
In The Crown episode ‘Margaretology’, Princess Margaret’s visit to see the president was shown to be Britain’s last-ditch attempt to persuade the US administration to bail the country out of its economic crisis and prevent the government from devaluing the pound.
As Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) explains to her sister in the series, Britain has a deficit of £800 million, and needs a bailout of “at least” £1 billion — and only the royal family’s soft power can hope to obtain it.
So was the princess’s dinner with the Johnsons as important for the British economy as Netflix suggested?
However, there’s not much evidence to suggest that the dinner was as crucial for sterling’s survival as Netflix suggests – it seems this is dramatic licence. In July 1966 the United States did support the decision to bailout Britain’s sterling — but the pound was eventually devalued in in November 1967.
Did Princess Margaret kiss President Lyndon B Johnson?
While Princess Margaret (Bonham Carter) plants an unexpected kiss on the president after signing a duet together in The Crown, unfortunately there’s no suggestion to say that she did in real life!
The Crown season three is available on Netflix now