The topsy-turvy life of Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen’s bobsleighing cousin who courted controversy with Russian business dealings and a wife dubbed ‘Princess Pushy’
- The first cousin of the late Queen Elizabeth is not officially a working royal
- But he and his wife Marie-Christine have hit the headlines all the same
With an uncanny likeness to Russia’s murdered Tsar Nicholas II and a wife who claims to be more royal than the royals, Prince Michael of Kent has often hit the headlines, though sometimes for the wrong reasons.
The 80-year-old first cousin of the late Queen Elizabeth is not officially a working royal but has been under the spotlight more than most.
A grandson of King George V and cousin-twice-removed of the last Tsar, Prince Michael is perhaps better known than his hard-working older brother, the Duke of Kent.
That is at least partly down to his various headline-making controversies over the years, including much-criticised business interests in Russia and unashamed flogging of tacky royal souvenirs on US television.
But it is the saga of his marriage to Princess Michael of Kent – famously dubbed ‘Princess Pushy’ by Princess Anne – that has really elevated his profile.
Prince Michael of Kent and his wife Princess Michael have often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. Above: The couple at the ‘Together at Christmas’ carol service at Westminster Abbey last year
Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Michael of Kent attend day 4 of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 17, 2016 in Ascot
Princess Michael of Kent, Prince Michael of Kent and their daughter-in-law Lady Frederick Windsor attend the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor and Thomas Kingston at St George’s Chapel on May 18, 2019 in Windsor
The Princess has had feuds with Kensington Palace neighbours and friends, accusations of racism levelled her way and faced claims that she thinks overly highly of herself – after saying she had more royal blood than all those who had married into her husband’s family since Prince Philip.
Whilst she claimed that her allegedly esteemed lineage was ‘just a genealogical thing, a fact of life’, Prince Michael himself can certainly boast of his royal credentials.
His father, Prince George, the Duke of Kent, was the younger brother of both King George VI and King Edward VIII, who famously became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in 1936 so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
His grandfather, King George V, was a first cousin of Tsar Nicholas. These family connections explain why Prince Michael looks like both men.
He is also a cousin of the late Prince Philip through his mother, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, who was the niece of the Duke of Edinburgh’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark.
Born just weeks before his father’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1942, Prince Michael is the youngest of three.
The oldest, the Duke of Kent, now 87, inherited his title when he was only six. His sister, Princess Alexandra, 86, is, like the Duke, a working royal.
Whilst he has to cope with being the youngest of three, Prince Michael can boast about the fact that one of his godparents was wartime US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He agreed to take on the honour after being asked to do so by the Prince’s parents, due to the fact he was born on the US’s Independence Day.
Prince Michael of Kent (pictured left in 1985) bears an uncanny resemblance to Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II (right), who was murdered along with his wife and children in 1918
The 80-year-old first cousin of the late Queen Elizabeth is not officially a working royal but has been under the spotlight more than most. He is perhaps better known than his hard-working older brother, the Duke of Kent. Above: Prince Michael, right, with his brother attending the funeral of the Queen at Westminster Abbey
Prince Michael (left) is seen with his mother the Duchess of Kent, brother the Duke of Kent and sister Princess Alexandra in August 1950
Prince Michael is seen in the grounds of his family’s Buckinghamshire home in 1950, when he was eight
Prince Michael was a page boy at the Queen’s wedding to Prince Philip in 1947. Above: The Prince (left, holding up the then Princess’s dress) is seen at the service in Westminster Abbey
Prince Michael of Kent, then 17, is seen sitting on his motorbike in 1959. His brother preferred fast cars
Prince Michael of Kent is seen at Goodwood motor racing circus in 1963, when he was 21
Like his brother, Prince Michael was both educated at Eton College and had a long Army career. Above: Prince Michael in 1962, during his time at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst
Prince Michael was in Britain’s reserve bobsleigh squad for the 1972 Winter Olympics. Above: The Prince competing in 1971
When the Queen and Prince Philip married at Westminster Abbey in 1947, Prince Michael, then aged just five, was one of the page boys.
Photos of the ceremony show him holding up the then Princess’s dress as she stood next to her husband-to-be in front of Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher.
CLICK TO READ MORE: End of an era as the royal ‘Rent-a-Kents’ close their business, less than a year after Prince Michael told undercover reporters he could be hired to make ‘confidential’ representations to Putin’s regime
The Prince was later among the guests at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.
Like his brother, Prince Michael was both educated at Eton College and had a long Army career.
His time in the forces came to an end in 1981, when he retired with the rank of Major.
By then, he had also competed in rowing and bobsleigh competitions, which saw him end up Britain’s reserve squad for the 1972 Winter Olympics.
The closure of the military chapter in his life came just three years after the beginning of the one that would define him – his marriage to Princess Michael, who was born Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz.
Although she has boasted of the fact she is a descendant of both Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II of France, and his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, the Princess was raised in the Australian suburbs.
That did still not stop the Queen from apparently mischievously remarking to Lord Mountbatten that the Princess ‘sounds a bit too grand for us’.
The pair’s union was immediately the subject of controversy, thanks to the fact that the Princess had previously been married for six years to British financier Thomas Troubridge.
And because the Princess was a Catholic, it meant Prince Michael had to renounce his succession rights, thanks to the Act of Settlement 1701.
The Act infamously barred Catholics from having any place in the line of succession and remained in place until 2013, when new legislation was passed.
The couple had a civil ceremony after the then Pope, Paul VI, had barred them from having a Catholic wedding.
But the background of Prince Michael’s choice of wife was just the first in a series of unwanted newspaper headlines.
Prince Michael and his wife are seen on holiday in Palma de Mallorca in 1989
Prince Michael had a civil ceremony for their wedding after the then Pope, Paul VI, had barred them from having a Catholic wedding
In the mid-1980s it emerged that the Princess had become close to wealthy oil tycoon Ward Hunt, leading to speculation that she nearly left her husband.
Soon afterwards, it emerged that her father, who abandoned her mother at the end of the Second World War, had been an officer in the Nazi SS for 11 years.
The Princess insisted she had not known about her father’s past and was deeply affected by the shame of the saga.
Royal expert Phil Dampier told how she ‘developed an ulcer and lost two stones in weight’ as a result.
She later said in an interview: ‘It came as a really great blow to me, because I always rather hero-worshipped him.
‘What the public perception of me will be, I don’t know. I wasn’t alive when all this happened.
‘So I hope they will judge me on my own performance but my shoulders are broad and I shall carry it. But yes, it’s a deep shame for me.’
Prince Michael poured further fuel on the rumour mill when he insisted that the significant amount of time they spent apart actually made their marriage ‘richer’.
Later, in the 1990s, he was photographed escorting the Royal Ballet’s former principal dancer Bryony Brind, who was 18 years his junior.
The Princess then added to the doubts about the strength of their marriage when she was photographed a few years later holding hands with and stroking the cheek of Russian furniture magnate Mikhail Kravchenko on a trip to Venice.
Both insisted that nothing untoward had occurred.
In 2006, American artist and socialite Lucy Weber claimed to have had an eight-year relationship with the Prince, but he refused to comment.
In 2010, he insisted that his marriage was solid, saying: ‘I think people put two and two together and make five.
‘We spend a lot of time apart. The princess is a writer and she likes to get to write.
Prince Michael and his wife are seen after getting married in Vienna in June 1978
The couple are seen posing together after their wedding in Vienna Town Hall
Marie-Christine is thought to have been given the name ‘Princess Pushy’ by Princess Anne, because of her alleged attempts to raise her profile after marrying into the Royal Family. Above: The couple arriving at Claridges in 1986
Prince and Princess Michael of Kent pictured with their son Frederick at Kensington Palace
Prince Michael and his wife are seen together in 1986 leaving a high society wedding
Princess Michael said that her husband was the ‘funniest man I had ever met’ after their first encounter
‘We both have different interests and, although some coincide, this makes for a much richer life than always doing the same thing.
‘So we have a tremendous life and we enjoy practically all of it.’
As for their business interests, the couple have been accused of exploiting their connections, earning the nickname Rent-a-Kent as a result.
Unlike his siblings, Prince Michael is not classified as working royal, and nor his is wife.
They therefore do not receive public money and have had to find other ways to make a living.
In 1994, many royal watchers were left open-mouthed when Prince Michael advertised tacky branded fits on US television, under the heading ‘House of Windsor’.
In the appearance on Larry King’s CNN show, he was seen holding up decorated plates and other items and also mentioned the phone number that viewers could ring if they wanted to buy the products.
Whilst the sales pitch worked – CNN’s phone lines were said to be ‘jammed’ with would-be customers – the brazen use of his royal status was said to have infuriated the Queen.
MPs also complained of Prince Michael’s alleged use of foreign embassy facilities for business trips, prompting him to insist that controversy was ‘unhelpful and occasionally hurtful’.
He added: ‘If you believe in what you are doing, it gives you a solid base from which to operate.
‘So when the knocks come, unpalatable and disagreeable though they may be, you just get on with it. You have to resist the temptation to get affected by it.’
The couple needed the money to fund both their lavish lifestyle and the £120,000-a-year rent on their Kensington Palace apartment.
The couple have two children, Lord Frederick Windsor and Lady Gabriella Kingston. The family is pictured here leaving St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington with four-day-old Lady Gabriella in 1981
Prince and Princess Michael together at their daughter’s 2019 wedding at St George’s Chapel
Prince Michael was a first cousin of the Queen and the pair were pictured together over the decades. Above: They warmly greet each other during an engagement in 2015
Queen Elizabeth II greets Prince Michael of Kent as she arrives at the Honourable Artillery Company on June 1, 2016
They had earlier bought and lived in Nether Lypiatt Manor in Gloucestershire, having turned down Highgrove – later owned by King Charles when he was the Prince of Wales – because it was too small.
There was uproar in 2002 when it was claimed that they were paying a peppercorn rent of just £69 a week for their Kensington Palace apartment.
The Queen then paid the rent out of her private funds in recognition of the royal and charitable work the couple did at their own expense.
But this arrangement only lasted for a few years and, faced with a demand that they meet the cost of the rent themselves, they sold their plush home for £5.75million in 2006.
More recently, Prince Michael’s long association with Russia has come back to bite him.
Having learnt to speak Russian while in the Army, the Prince had business interests in the country until last year, when he had to sever ties after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The illegal invasion also prompted him to hand back the Order of Friendship award -one of Russia’s highest honours – he was given by the Kremlin in 2009.
The gong was handed out by then president Dimitry Medvedev.
His personal website, which now appears to have ceased functioning, had also listed the Prince as a patron of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, a post which he departed from in March last year.
And in 2021, video clips emerged showing undercover reporters posing as Asian businessmen being told that the Prince could secretly introduce them to senior figures in Putin’s regime.
Prince Michael was filmed saying he would be prepared to leverage his connections in Moscow to ‘bring some benefit’ to what he was told was a Korean gold firm’s efforts to expand into Russia.
His fee of £50,000 would ensure he made ‘confidential’ representations to Putin’s inner circle.
It later emerged that the creators of the bogus firm, House of Haedong, were reporters from the Channel 4 programme Dispatches.
Prince Michael’s spokesman said afterwards that he had ‘no special relationship’ with Putin, having last met him in 2003 and having had ‘no contact with him or his office since then’.
That controversy came after Prince Michael visited Moscow in 2018 to open the Brookes Moscow School, a £25million academy popular with wealthy Russian parents.
That trip came in the aftermath of the Salisbury poisonings, which led to then Prime Minister Theresa May’s fierce criticism of Putin and the Russian regime.
The following year, he was praised for ‘melting the ice of mistrust’ between Russia and Britain on a visit to Yekaterinburg – the town where Tsar Nicholas and his family were murdered.
The Princess courted controversy when she arrived at The Queen’s Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace in 2017 wearing an ornate Blackamoor brooch
Once extremely popular, jewellery of this sort is now considered to be offensive due to the fact it usually depicts an African or non-European male, as a servant
Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are seen leaving private London venue Oswald’s in March after dinner with friends
Lady Gabriella Windsor with her father Prince Michael of Kent for her wedding to Thomas Kingston at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in 2019
Lord Frederick Windsor, Prince Michael’s son, is seen with his wife Lady Frederick Windsor arriving for the ‘Together at Christmas’ carol service at Westminster Abbey in 2022
His popularity in Moscow has seen him get given the affectionate nickname of ‘Kentski’, according to one former Russian diplomat.
Speaking after the Prince was filmed by Channel 4, they added that he has ‘significant connections among influential business people, and he is respected by major political figures.
‘It can be hard to know where the line is between his royal duties and his personal commercial activities.’
Going further back, in 2012 it emerged that the Prince had been given a ‘stipend’ of £320,000 by former tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who died in 2013.
However, despite the income, Princess Michael previously complained of how she and her husband had to rein in their lifestyle after they began paying the full rent on their Kensington Palace apartment.
She told an interviewer: ‘I am in very austere economic times, too, thank you very much.
‘We’ve cut back dramatically. I mean, we never go out to dinner unless we go to somebody’s house.
‘We never go to restaurants. That’s too extravagant. We invite people here. I cook.’
But the bad press generated by their financial affairs is nothing compared to the backlash the Princess herself has faced on occasion.
In 2004, a group of black diners in New York’s Da Silvano restaurant claimed to have heard her say ‘go back to the colonies’.
She insisted that she had asked to be moved to a quieter table and, when told that the only one available was ‘in Siberia’ – meaning a less busy part of the restaurant – she responded: ‘Siberia? At this point, I would be ready to go back to the colonies.’
This bad publicity this generated was topped by her 2017 decision to arrive for the Queen’s Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace – where guests included Prince Harry’s mixed race fiancée Meghan Markle – wearing a Blackamoor Brooch.
Whilst she apologised, matters were not helped an ex-boyfriend of her daughter claimed that ‘royals and Nazis go together like blini and caviar’.
Lady Gabriella’s boyfriend of three years, Aatish Taseer, claimed that the Princess once owned two black sheep at her Gloucestershire home which she named Venus and Serena, after African-American tennis sisters.
And the couple’s son, Lord Frederick Windsor, 43, also brought further controversy for his parents when he was allegedly spotted snorting cocaine at a London party in 1999.
Last summer, it was reported that Prince Michael and his wife were to retire from public life – prompting some questions about what they were retiring from.
This was followed by news in March this year that they are closing their business, which is called Cantium Services.
The Prince’s spokesman declined to comment on the application at Companies House to ‘strike off’ Cantium.
Last year’s initial reports of their retirement were followed by yet another party – the couple’s annual summer bash in the garden of their home at Kensington Palace.
A Daily Mail report detailing the Prince’s uncanny resemblance to both King George V and Tsar Nicholas II
A June 1978 report in the Daily Mail telling of Prince Michael’s romance with Princess Michael
Princess Michael was given the nickname of ‘Princess Pushy’ by Princess Anne. Above: A Daily Mail report mentioning her nickname
The gathering of around 150 friends and family happened to be held on the same day as Prince Michael’s 80th birthday.
The guests included Michael’s elder brother and Chantal Hanover, the ex-wife of Prince Ernst August.
Whilst that party was largely free from the media spotlight, Prince Michael and his wife did appear in front of the lense of a camera again in September last year, when they both attended the funeral of the Queen.
And the couple could get another outing later this year at the King’s Coronation – if they are invited.
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