Twenty years after her death, Princess Margaret is best known for her sardonic (and, let’s face it, often deeply snobby) one-liners, her tumultuous marriage to Vogue photographer Lord Snowdon, and her viral morning routine. (As recounted in Craig Brown’s brilliant Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, the late royal began most days with a few hours of chain-smoking in bed while “reading the newspapers” followed by a “vodka pick-me-up” and a four-course lunch “served in an informal manner from silver dishes”.) It’s only recently, however, that biographers have highlighted perhaps her most influential contribution to society: the modern craze for horoscopes. While astrology has, of course, been studied for millennia, it’s the arrival of Margaret that triggered the mainstream revival of the age-old practice.
Faced with covering yet another royal birth on 21 August 1930, a weary editor of the Sunday Express, John Gordon, decided to ask Cheiro, the best-known celebrity astrologer of the day, to predict Margaret’s future. Cheiro, though, proved to be OOO (it was August, after all), leaving his assistant R H Naylor to step into the role of makeshift clairvoyant. Along with various fluffy pronouncements – including the fact that the royal would have an “eventful” life – he also claimed that “events of tremendous importance to the royal family and the nation will come about near her seventh year”.
Inevitably, “What The Stars Foretell For The New Princess” proved a massive success, with Gordon promptly tasking Naylor with penning a weekly column. Rather than trying to write 365 horoscopes every seven days, the enterprising fortune teller churned out predictions for each of the 12 Sun signs, instead. Within a matter of years, every other newspaper on Fleet Street seemed to have commissioned an astrologer to share their predictions for the days, weeks, and months ahead based on the “movements of the heavens”. “By 1937, a survey in Britain revealed that two thirds of women believed in horoscopes,” Andrea Richards notes in The Library of Esoterica’s Astrology. Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, American Evangeline Adams – an astrologer to the stars whose client base included everyone from J P Morgan to Charlie Chaplin – began a radio horoscope programme, while The New York Post launched its horoscopes pages, which still run today.
As for Margaret? She never commented on her role in the vogue for horoscopes (although presumably she read them in her morning newspapers), and her seventh year did, indeed, prove significant for the royal family. Over the course of 1936, George V died, Edward VIII – later the Duke of Windsor – abdicated to be with his lover Wallis Simpson, and Margaret’s father George VI became monarch, putting her second in line to the throne (a fact she never quite forgave the universe for). A typically regal Leo, through and through.
From British Vogue