For years she has been the unsung heroine of the Royal Family, a smiling face at countless official functions, always content to support the Queen rather than seeking the spotlight for herself.

But I can reveal that Princess Alexandra, the Duke of Kent’s sister, has been forced to cancel her engagements after developing symptoms of a crippling condition called polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) — an inflammation of the muscles that leads to stiffness and agonising pain. In extreme cases, it can even lead to blindness.

Yesterday, she pulled out of a trip to Southport. Her illness comes just two months after the Queen was taken to hospital and forced to cancel her engagements.

Struck down: Princess Alexandra, pictured in December, had to cancel an engagement in Southport

Struck down: Princess Alexandra, pictured in December, had to cancel an engagement in Southport

Though the condition responds to drugs, the Princess, 76, will not appear at any official events for the next month. 

Despite the death of her husband, former Scots Guards-officer-turned businessman Sir Angus Ogilvy, nine  years ago, Alexandra has continued to maintain a full schedule of official duties.

Since Sir Angus’s death, Alexandra has lived alone at the former marital home in Richmond Park.

She has two children, James Ogilvy and Marina Mowatt, and four grandchildren.


‘Alexandra has always put duty first, second and third,’ says a friend. ‘She is devoted to the Queen — there has never been any talk of retirement.’ 

If PMR is caught in time, sufferers can continue to lead active lives. It is understood that the condition came on unexpectedly. Nor can it have helped that so much of her time is spent — like other members of the  Royal Family — on her feet, meeting people.

Princess Alexandra's illness comes just two months after the Queen was taken to hospital and forced to cancel her engagements

Princess Alexandra’s illness comes just two months after the Queen was taken to hospital and forced to cancel her engagements

All the same, the Princess’s withdrawal from duties underlines how  much the Royal Family has come  to depend on the quietly spoken  Alexandra.

Among others affected by the illness are Elinor Goodman, the former Channel 4 News political editor, and Lord Butler, the one-time head of the Civil Service.

Lady Levene, wife of the chairman of Lloyd’s of London and a former Lord Mayor of the City of London, has also been a high-profile victim.

Last night Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Princess had cancelled all engagements for May because of PMR.

‘It’s a common condition that responds well to a course of drugs,’ a royal aide says.


Dancing queen Zizi tops the bill

Precocious: Zizi Strallen

Precocious: Zizi Strallen

She performed for Prince Charles aged four and went on to be the youngest cast member of West End hit Dirty Dancing. 

And now actress Bonnie Langford’s precocious niece Zizi Strallen is joining  her Olivier-nominated sisters Scarlett and Summer as a star of the West End stage in her  own right.

However, despite her leading role as Meg in the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Zizi’s next role is slightly less conspicuous.

She is Broadchurch star Olivia Colman’s stunt double in dance comedy movie Cuban Fury, out later this year.

‘Being someone’s double isn’t exactly at the top of my list of things I’d like to be doing, I’d rather be the lead in a film myself, but it is totally surreal as Olivia is a massive idol of mine,’ Zizi, 22, tells me.

‘I was brought in to teach the cast how to do some of the upside-down salsa lifts in a scene and they ended up asking me to do it.

‘I’m sure that if Olivia had more time she could have mastered it eventually,’ she adds diplomatically.

And despite the success of her older sisters, Zizi insists there is no competition among the Strallen siblings: ‘There is absolutely no rivalry. We may look the same but we are all so different. I don’t think we’ve ever been up for the same part.’


Sixties icon Bailey is a grandpa

Thrilled: Wife Catherine

Thrilled: Wife Catherine

His lothario reputation was forged in the Swinging Sixties and five decades on David Bailey is still regarded as a ladies’ man, despite being happily married to wife No 4, Catherine Dyer, for nearly 30 years.

But at 75 the fashion photographer — whose former wives include two of the great beauties of the age, model Marie Helvin and actress Catherine Deneuve — may have to admit age is catching up with him: he has become a grandfather.

His daughter Paloma, 27, has had a son, Samir, with her Moroccan-born partner Wiz Amuri.

‘We are so thrilled, but I must say it does feel a bit weird to say I’m a grandmother!’ says mother-of-three Catherine, 51, at  son Fenton’s first photo exhibition at Marylebone’s Imitate Modern gallery.

Fenton adds: ‘Seeing all the hard work of caring for a newborn does put you off having children  — though I do want to get married one day. But only once. Four times like my father sounds expensive!’


Bracing himself for the loss of a swathe of council seats, David Cameron will doubtless be readying himself for grilling by TV. 

But woe betide the make-up artist  who dares to tease the PM’s locks. 

‘He won’t let anyone touch his hair when he comes in for an interview,’ says an ITV source.

Balding? Prime Minister David Cameron

Balding? Prime Minister David Cameron


‘He doesn’t mind a dab of make-up to reduce glare from the lights — but no one can use a brush or comb. It’s because he is losing his hair.

‘Apparently, he does it all himself with his wife Sam’s hairdryer and only he knows how to hide his bald patch.’



Shopping channel QVC may be much mocked by the chattering classes, but well-born handbag designer Lulu Guinness thinks it’s the height of cool — and very good for business. 

‘The snobbery surrounding it is misplaced and more fool them,’ Lulu tells me at the opening of the Conde Nast College of Fashion and Design in Soho.

‘I sell more on QVC in an hour than I would in a store in a year. 

‘I obviously have a big following of people who suffer from insomnia!’


Three years after his death, the legend of novelist Dick Francis lives on through the work of his son and former manager Felix. 

He helped his father write several books between 2006 and his death in 2010 and has continued the brand, by writing two under his own name  — a third, called Refusal, will be published in September. 

Now Felix has signed a deal with the publishers G. P. Putnam’s Sons to deliver two more in 2014 and 2015.


Three of crooner Bryan Ferry’s boys have had brushes with authority, but son Tara likes to stay out of trouble. 

‘I’m certainly no saint,’ says the model at the Baroque Cabaret event at the Playboy Club. ‘But I like to avoid trouble as I’ve seen the pain it causes.’

Bryan Ferry, with his four son's (left to right) Merlin Ferry, Isaac Ferry, Otis Ferry and Tara Ferry

Bryan Ferry, with his four son’s (left to right) Merlin Ferry, Isaac Ferry, Otis Ferry and Tara Ferry

Otis has been arrested several times over his pro-hunting activism, Merlin received a community order after being caught with a knife a second time and Isaac was suspended from Eton for sending hate mail to an anti-hunt protester.

Tara, 23, who plays drums with Rubber Kiss Goodbye, says: ‘I haven’t discussed my ambitions with my father, but I aim to do more music and less modelling.’


PS The new editor of Radio 4’s Today show, who has yet to be chosen following the departure of Ceri Thomas, will be under pressure to stop presenter Sarah Montague laughing so often.

A BBC source tells me the braying is a source of complaints.

‘Today’s presenters have been told to broadcast in a less formal way, but the feeling is that Sarah is turning off listeners,’ reports my mole.

Montague, Lady Brooke outside the BBC — her husband is baronet Sir Christopher Brooke — has said of her laugh: ‘Some people tell you to your face that it bugs the hell out of them at seven o’clock in the morning.’