There was a time when Peter Cross kept a photograph of Princess Anne in the spare bedroom of his Kent home.
Signed by the Princess Royal herself and framed in leather, the image was a touching reminder of what was once tactfully referred to publicly as her ‘close friendship’ with the former royal protection officer.
This week, after another blistering episode from the fourth series of The Crown, that so-called ‘friendship’ came under the spotlight once again with actress Olivia Colman, playing the on-screen version of the Queen, telling her only daughter of ‘rumours about a Sergeant Cross and the two of you being intimate’.
Hearing that Cross is to be ‘transferred back to desk duties in Croydon’, a tearful Anne, played by Erin Doherty, begs her mother: ‘Don’t do that to me. You can’t. He’s the one thing that makes me happy.’
But given that the series has been dogged by controversy over its tendency to twist reality for the sake of drama, what is the truth about the Princess’s relationship with her married former bodyguard — and what was the extent of their extra-marital affair?
By her side: Princess Anne with her lover/bodyguard Peter Cross (right) and her husband Mark Phillips (left) in 1980. This week, the Mail tracked down the now 72-year-old Cross and spoke exclusively to his former partner, Gillian Nicholls, who was privy to many of his secrets
The tale of the Princess and the policeman stretches back to 1979 when senior Scotland Yard officers assigned Sergeant Peter Cross to the royal protection squad. Above, Anne with her husband (right) and Cross (centre)
This week the Mail tracked down the now 72-year-old Cross and spoke exclusively to his former partner, Gillian Nicholls, who was privy to many of his secrets.
She confirmed this week that he continued to see the Princess after his dismissal. Indeed, on several occasions in the early 1980s, Gillian found herself fielding the Princess’s secretive phone calls to Cross at the office where they both worked.
‘His affair with her always overshadowed our relationship,’ she told me. ‘It always felt like she was there in the background.’
More, in a moment, of the real story about the affair which is decidedly more jaw-dropping than the two-minute fictionalised scene viewed by television audiences around the world this week.
Once filled with mutual affection and utter trust on the part of the doting Princess, the liaison ultimately ended in betrayal when the Sheffield-born former policeman sold his story to a Sunday tabloid in 1985.
The tale of the Princess and the policeman stretches back to 1979 when senior Scotland Yard officers assigned Sergeant Peter Cross to the royal protection squad.
He began guarding 29-year-old Anne in the autumn of that year at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire and during royal engagements. At the time, she had been married to Captain Mark Phillips for six years. Their son, Peter, was two.
Despite his decidedly urban background, Cross was said to have effortlessly blended in at the numerous equestrian events he attended, dressing in a houndstooth check cap and a quilted jacket. He and the Princess were often seen laughing and joking.
Pictured, Peter Cross today. He began guarding 29-year-old Anne in the autumn of that year at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire and during royal engagements. At the time, she had been married to Captain Mark Phillips for six years. Their son, Peter, was two
But behind closed doors, they had started having heart-to-heart chats on the back stairs at Gatcombe or drinking coffee together into the early hours.
According to Cross’s own account of their relationship: ‘It was very affectionate. We got on fantastically, basically because we’re both straight-talking people who like to be down to earth.’ He said the Princess was often alone because of her husband’s work commitments: ‘I had to be with her. I was her bodyguard. Naturally, we talked a lot.
‘She was just like any other woman in that situation — very lonely and isolated. We became very close because I think the Princess appreciated my point of view on life. I was always very down to earth and plain-speaking with her.’
Anne, he said, told him she ‘would have loved to be an ordinary housewife living in a semi with kids’. Despite her yearning for a simpler life, he continued to call her ‘Ma’am’ in public and, if they were alone, no name at all. It was only after he had left his position that he began to use her first name.
The moment they first kissed came when the Princess’s husband was away. Cross described sitting in an armchair with the Princess at his feet.
‘My right hand was kind of dangling over the arm of the chair. Suddenly, she turned and looked at me. At the same time, our hands brushed, then clasped together. For a few seconds we remained like that — like two statues, looking directly into each other’s eyes, our hands locked together. Then, suddenly, we kissed,’ he revealed in a previous interview.
Fearing they would be seen, they moved to the library — ‘and there we embraced’.
Their intimate meetings, he said, took place at an empty cottage on the estate, in her apartment at Buckingham Palace and in a three-bedroom semi in Ewell in Surrey lent to him by a friend.
His feelings for ‘one of the most fascinating women I’ve ever met’, he said, came ‘so close to love’, despite the fact he had been married to his childhood sweetheart Linda for a decade and had two young daughters.
Another infidelity was with Gillian Nicholls (above), who met Peter Cross in 1981. He had recently quit the police – unable to stomach what was, in effect, a demotion by being pushed back to uniformed duties – and found a job as an insurance salesman at Sun Life Financial of Canada in Bromley, Kent, where Gillian worked as a receptionist
By September 1980, Mark Phillips is said to have become angered by their ‘over-familiarity’. Cross was told he would have to quit by Commander Michael Trestrail, the Queen’s own bodyguard.
By the time Anne found out, Cross had already packed his bags and left his quarters. She is said to have gone to her room and wept.
Whether or not the Queen was involved with the decision has never been revealed. But one certain inaccuracy contained with The Crown’s reference to the affair this week is that of timing. Moments before raising the sticky subject of Cross, Olivia Colman’s Queen asks after Anne’s ‘children’, suggesting that both Peter and Zara had been born at the time.
In fact, Zara Phillips, now Zara Tindall, was not born until later. Cross claimed Anne wrote to him to say how sorry she was that he had been removed.
Just before Christmas 1980, he received a visit from a royal detective with a card and a box of biscuits from Anne. The detective asked him for his phone number to give to the Princess.
Soon after, he was summoned to Gatcombe Park, where Anne met him in the library.
‘We talked, held hands and kissed,’ recalled Cross. He said Anne told him: ‘If you ever feel like a day in the country, you know you’re very welcome.’
Cross added: ‘ ‘A day in the country’ became our secret code — a phrase that meant we could get together. After that, we met about once a month.’
Speaking soon after her ex-husband’s kiss-and-tell, Linda Cross told how the Princess regularly called their home in Mitcham, Surrey, between January and September 1981 — usually at the weekend.
She specifically remembered the Princess calling on May 15, 1981, to break the news that she had given birth to a baby daughter, and also on July 29, 1981 — the day of the Prince of Wales’s wedding to Lady Diana Spencer.
‘She rang almost every week,’ said Linda. ‘Sometimes the kids would answer. I got used to them shouting, ‘Dad, it’s Princess Anne on the phone for you!’ ‘
While she said that previous infidelities had left her marriage in tatters, the strain of being entangled in his relationship with the Princess was the final straw.
Another infidelity was with Gillian Nicholls, who met Peter Cross in 1981. He had recently quit the police — unable to stomach what was, in effect, a demotion by being pushed back to uniformed duties — and found a job as an insurance salesman at Sun Life Financial of Canada in Bromley, Kent, where Gillian worked as a receptionist.
When they both transferred to Bob Gordon Insurance Services in Central London, Cross began giving her lifts to work and they began an affair.
‘I was attracted to him right from the start,’ she told me this week. ‘There was just something about him, an inner confidence and self-belief. He was charming and could be funny. You felt flattered if he showed you attention.’
At first she knew almost nothing about Cross’s former existence as a royal protection officer until the day that Princess Anne telephoned the open-plan office and she answered his phone.
‘I knew straight away that it was Princess Anne,’ said Gillian. ‘She said his name really fast and in such a posh, clipped voice that it sounded like ‘piddercruss’. I said that he wasn’t in the office and she said ‘no problem’ and hung up.
‘I told him later that I thought Princess Anne had called for him. He wasn’t at all surprised. He talked a bit about having worked for her and said ‘she rings me now and again’.
This week, after another blistering episode from the fourth series of The Crown, that so-called ‘friendship’ came under the spotlight once again with actress Olivia Colman, playing the on-screen version of the Queen, telling her only daughter of ‘rumours about a Sergeant Cross and the two of you being intimate’. Hearing that Cross is to be ‘transferred back to desk duties in Croydon’, a tearful Anne, played by Erin Doherty (above), begs her mother: ‘Don’t do that to me. You can’t. He’s the one thing that makes me happy’
‘He didn’t give anything away about their relationship. I think I was more amused at the time that I’d spoken to Princess Anne on the phone.
‘She called the office a lot, sometimes daily, and when I asked who it was she started giving the name ‘Mrs Wallis’, which, of course, immediately made me think of Wallis Simpson. When they spoke on the phone, he would close the door to his office and chat for an hour every time.
‘I did think it was odd that she kept calling, which is why I asked him what they were talking about and went into his office with cups of tea for him. I didn’t like it but I accepted that she wanted to keep in touch with him.’
When Gillian used to ask Cross what they talked about for so long, she says he told her ‘horses’. She laughs at that now, given that she was also a keen equestrian and yet when she and Cross eventually embarked on an affair of their own, he showed no interest in her own part-bred Arab mare, Nancy.
‘He looked the part in Hunter wellies and the Barbour jacket and the flat cap and checked shirt,’ she said, ‘but he never showed any interest in horses when we were together.’ She confirms that Cross also told her of his invitations to tea at Gatcombe Park after leaving Anne’s service.
He eventually left his wife in 1983 and, at first, went to live with his father in South Croydon, Surrey. Then, after Gillian sold her flat, they bought a home of their own — a three-bedroom semi in nearby Farnborough.
During the three years that followed, the pair continued working together, popping to the pub after work for drinks with colleagues and holidaying in Malta and Lanzarote. Cross kept his leather-framed, signed photograph of Princess Anne in the spare bedroom at their home.
Anne’s first marriage finally fell apart after she embarked on an affair with Commander Tim Laurence in the late-1980s. Cross then reared his head again, twisting the knife further by giving his own insights into her failed marriage to Mark Phillips. (Above, Anne in Saltburn-by-the-Sea)
‘I wasn’t going to have it on display in the front room where everyone could see it,’ says Gillian, ‘but I didn’t mind it being in the house. I never felt threatened by Princess Anne. I’ve always admired her. She is one of the most hard-working royals.
‘It wasn’t like he was going to go off with her even if he used to talk about her. He said that when Zara was born, Anne had telephoned him. He said he’d bought her a teddy bear.’
Suspicions about Cross’s affair with the Princess were first hinted at publicly in the summer of 1982 in a newspaper article stating simply that her royal protection officer had been sacked because the ‘country-set sarge’ was ‘over-familiar’ with his royal charge. At first, Cross denied the allegations — but later admitted lying because he had been in the middle of his divorce from Linda at the time.
His last conversation with Anne, he has always claimed, was in November 1983 when she invited him for ‘a day in the country’ and he told her that he was in a new relationship, with Gillian. He arranged to call the next day but when he did, there was no reply and no further contact.
‘He told me that he told Anne that he was happy now in a relationship with me. But whether or not he did, nobody will ever know,’ said Gillian.
By 1984, he was said to be asking for £600,000 to tell all about the affair.
Gillian recalls going with him to a hotel in Central London: ‘He was meeting someone to talk about writing a book about the affair. He worried about money a lot because he was still paying the mortgage on his old house and the mortgage on ours. I don’t think the meeting went well because nothing came of it. I remember my dad said to him that he should take care because he was messing with powerful people.’
Linda Cross said at the time that her ex-husband had also approached her for help with a memoir but that she refused to help him.
Gillian, meanwhile, hoped she and Cross would marry and start a family. But in 1985, three years into their relationship, he suddenly walked out on her, two weeks after returning from a holiday in the Canaries.
‘He said that he loved me but couldn’t live with me,’ said Gillian. ‘He was forever messing me around. He was charming but I could never trust him.’
She was utterly heartbroken when, just six weeks later, she discovered he had married a dental nurse he had met six months earlier while having a check-up. Their wedding took place in September 1985, a couple of weeks before Cross finally sold his story to the News of The World.
He said he wanted ‘to get even with those who ganged up so unfairly after our friendship was betrayed. Telling my story will help do that’. He added that he had great affection for the Princess’s two children: ‘I’ve never meant Anne or any of the royals any harm.’
Gillian sees things rather differently: ‘He always said he’d never hurt her. But in the end he betrayed her.’
We will never know what the Princess Royal felt about Cross’s treachery or about the way their relationship was handled by the producers of The Crown. In the Netflix series, her fictional alter ego tells the Queen of her unhappiness. In reality, of course, she never speaks publicly about her private life, adhering to the Royal Family’s ‘never complain, never explain’ motto.
Anne’s first marriage finally fell apart after she embarked on an affair with Commander Tim Laurence in the late-1980s. Cross then reared his head again, twisting the knife further by giving his own insights into her failed marriage to Mark Phillips.
Princess Anne divorced in 1992 and married Commander Laurence, now a vice admiral, in December that year.
As for Cross, he is still married to his second wife, his former dental nurse, Angela.
The couple, who have two sons, live quietly in a two-bedroom pebbledashed 1930s terrace in Hertfordshire.
For years he believed that he was a victim of the Establishment, that his policing career had been destroyed because of his relationship with the Princess.
‘Several people at Gatcombe were very jealous of my relationship with the Princess,’ he said. ‘Others were just puzzled that a Princess and a policeman could have so much in common.’
This week, he admitted that he had seen the episode of The Crown in which his name is mentioned but he declined to talk about the past.