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PRINCESS MARGARET: 1930-2002 Her sad years of decline; FINAL YEARS.

THE Queen's younger sister had a love of life that saw her swigging Scotch and chain-smoking high-tar cigarettes from an early age.

But by the 1980s, she was paying a heavy price for her excesses.

Margaret had been hooked on smoking for 40 years, starting in an era when it was considered to be very chic and fashionable.

Notorious for puffing away wherever she was, she got through 60 a day at the height of her addiction.

For years, the princess was frequently pictured clutching her cigarette holder and a tumbler of whisky - her favourite was Famous Grouse - at functions.

Her husband, Lord Snowdon, scolded her for smoking during meals and would stub her cigarettes out on dinner plates.

In 1985, Margaret was treated in London's Brompton Hospital after an X-ray showed a shadow on her left lung.

When a small area of the lung was removed, it was found to be benign. The scare did not stop her smoking.

Four monarchs - Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and the princess's own father, George VI - all died of smoking- related illnesses.

But the princess ignored doctors' repeated warnings before struggling to cut down to 30 a day.

Margaret herself had once said: "My vices are cigarettes and drink. And I don't see myself giving them up."

But Margaret's love of hard living was to take her in and out of hospital over the following years.

She had to cancel engagements twice in 1992 because of infections or feverish colds, and the following year she needed hospital treatment after another severe bout of pneumonia.

Margaret finally gave up smoking in 1996. But it was too late to prevent her suffering a series of strokes.

As well as her bouts of ill health, she also had a series of emotional setbacks. By 1980, the year she turned 50, Margaret and her 33-year-old lover Roddy Llewellyn had been together for seven years.

The Queen's disapproval of her affair came to a head over plan's to celebrate Margaret's birthday.

The monarch refused to allow Roddy to attend the full official celebrations, only sanctioning his appearance at a party after a meal for the more "important" guests.

Llewellyn kept well clear of the royal family throughout the night, and only danced with Margaret after the Queen and Prince Philip had gone home.

Roddy said: "If our relationship ended, life for me would rather lose its point. We dance and sing, we're generally happy, and I don't see why things should not continue as they are forever."

But just months later, in 1981, while the couple were together on Margaret's beloved Caribbean hideaway of Mustique, Llewellyn confessed he was in love with someone closer to his own age.

He went on to marry Tatiana Soskin, the daughter of a Russian-born film producer. Margaret was devastated.

Behind her lay a trail of unfulfilled relationships. Marriage, for the Queen's divorced sister in the climate of the early 1980s, was unthinkable.

She said: "I'm back to where I started with Peter (Townsend) - but this time I am divorced."

Another watershed for the princess came in 1981 with the wedding of Charles and Diana. The focus of public attention was switching to a younger generation.

People began to talk of Margaret as having been the Diana of her day. Di found an ally in the older princess, later admitting that "Margot" had given her the most help in finding her Royal feet.

In 1992, Margaret came face to face for the first time in 34 years with the man described as the love of her life.

But she was nervous about being alone with Peter Townsend, and invited a few friends to the lunch.

The meeting only served to remind her what might have been. It was obvious he had led a more fulfilled life than her. Townsend died three years later.

An even more controversial reminder of her colourful past came in 1994 when extracts were published from some of her love letters to Robin Douglas- Home.

They had been written more than 30 years earlier, when Margaret was still married to Lord Snowdon.

They were featured in newspapers throughout the world, and the princess was said to be extremely distressed.

For years she had spent much of her time on the paradise island of Mustique, her private retreat from the trials and tribulations of royal life.

It was on the Caribbean isle in 1998 that Margaret was struck down with the first in a series of strokes.

She was flown by air ambulance to Barbados, where tests revealed the stroke had been a mild one. But her recovery was slow, and the stroke left her feeling tired and depressed.

A year later, Margaret suffered a freak accident when she scalded her right foot and ankle in the bath at her Mustique home. She was confined to a wheelchair. Again, her recovery was slow. In spite of constant pain, she attended the wedding of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys Jones.

But shortly before Christmas 2000, she suffered a second stroke, followed by a severe loss of appetite.

She was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London. Within three months, she suffered another stroke.

The attack prevented her from taking part in any of the Queen's 75th birthday celebrations the following month.

Her public appearances became fewer and fewer. Paralysed down her left side and with poor eyesight, she depended entirely on her staff and close friends.

The once-vivacious beauty, who had adored the company of men, virtually shunned visits from male friends.

Margaret had became a shadow of the fun-loving socialite she once was.
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 10, 2002
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