The Princess and the Gangster - Fact or Fiction?

Princess Margaret and John Bindon photographed on Mustique

A few months ago, I watched a little British film called The Bank Job. The film is based on the 1971 robbery of Lloyd's Bank in London to steal photographs kept in a safe deposit box, and subsequently hushed up by MI5. The photographs were rumored to be of Princess Margaret in a compromising position set on a Caribbean beach with a small-time gangster and actor by the name of John Bindon although he’s not specifically named in the film. The robbery became known as the “walkie-talkie bank job” because a member of the public overheard the robbers talking on a two-way radio.

I had never heard that Princess Margaret had been involved with a gangster, so I was intrigued. However, flipping through the two biographies of Princess Margaret that I own, one by Christopher Warwick and the most recent by Tim Heald, Warwick doesn’t mention him at all and Heald dismisses the rumors. So I turned to the good old Internet to do some research. I found Bindon’s Wikipedia entry which gave me some clues; apparently there were two separate documentaries on British television that detailed the alleged relationship, as well as an article in the Daily Mail written by journalist Wendy Leigh, the author of several biographies of Prince Edward, Hugh Grant and Grace Kelly.

Here are some facts that can be confirmed: Princess Margaret was introduced to Bindon on the island of Mustique where she owned a home for many years, in the late 1960’s. Bindon was dating Vicki Hodge at the time, a baronet’s daughter turned model and actress. Bindon later claimed that not only did he and the Princess have a brief affair but they had also done drugs together. The princess later publicly denied meeting Bindon, until photos surfaced that showed otherwise. She then claimed that while she might have had a nodding acquaintance with him, the rumors that they had any kind of sexual relationship were absurd. Despite the palace denials, Bindon’s ex-girlfriend Vicki Hodge believes that the story is true. “John told me that he had sex with Princess Margaret the first time that he went to Mustique (that would have been in 1968 according to Wikipedia), Hodge told The Daily Mail. “He always told me about his affairs, but he refused to go into details. In those days in Mustique, everyone thought nothing of making love on the beach. It could well have been that Margaret and John’s one dangerous moment was on the beach and that someone could have snatched a photo.”

So who exactly is this John Bindon guy? Well, John “Biffo” Bindon was born in 1943 in Fulham, London. The second of three children, Bindon had dropped out of school by the age of 15. He was soon given the nickname of “Biffo” for starting or getting into fights. By the time he was out of his teens, he had already done a stint in prison for possessing live ammunition. After a series of odd jobs, Bindon decided that acting was his true calling. Director Ken Loach spotted him in a pub and cast him in a film called Poor Cow, but his next big break was playing a gangster in a film starring Mick Jagger where he played a violent gangster, typecasting him from then on.

Bindon was suspected of running a protection racket in west London, and that he had ties to the Richardson Gang and to the Kray twins. Nobody apparently knows the extent of his involvement in the London underworld. He was also known for something else; apparently he was so well-endowed that one could hang five beer mugs off the end of it. Again, according to Vicki Hodge, one afternoon in Mustique while the butler was serving lobster and champagne, Princess Margaret while sipping her usual gin and tonic was asked by her friend Lord Glenconner if she wanted to see it. She said yes, and examined it ‘rather like a fossil.’

Princess Margaret’s enduring love affair with Mustique began in 1960 when her good friend Colin Tennant gifted her with ten acres of land as a wedding gift. She had a house built and called it “Les Jolies Eaux,” meaning the beautiful waters. It became her favorite escape from London and royal life over the years. By the time she allegedly met John Bindon, her marriage to Lord Snowdon was already in trouble, and they would separate for good in 1978. Mustique was also the scene of some wild parties that became the stuff of legend. According to the Daily Mail, Princess Margaret’s lover, landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, Colin Tennant, and Nicholas Courtney all stripped naked and were photographed by Margaret (oh yeah, that’s totally wild).

While it makes for a scandalous story, I have a hard time believing it. Although Princess Margaret was known as the Party Princess, there were still boundaries that weren't crossed.  Before her marriage to Lord Snowdon, she loved to go out to nightclubs every night, dressed to the nines, drinking and dancing until the wee hours.  She loved nothing more than singing around the piano or playing charades.  During the sixties, she and Lord Snowdon spent a great deal of time with a more glittering showbiz crowd, no the usual sort of people that royalty hung around with. While Princess Margaret allegedly had affairs with Peter Sellars and Warren Beatty, they at least had good looks and talent to recommend them. A thug like John Bindon might have been a curiosity to someone like Princess Margaret but I have a feeling that she would draw the line if he tried to take liberties. While she loved to laugh and flirt, Princess Margaret was always aware that she was the Queen’s sister, and never let people forget it. She might have enjoyed his off-color jokes but Bindon was not her type. Even Roddy Llewellyn, her much younger lover, was the son of a baronet. Bindon later claimed that MI-5 warned him off.

While Bindon had a credible career as an actor, he also had a vicious temper. While working security for Led Zeppelin, he got into a number of fights with crew members, journalists, and bouncers. He developed an addition to cocaine and heroin. Later he was arrested for stabbing to death gangster, Johnny Darke, at a London pub but he was acquitted. He later died of AIDS (although some claim it was liver cancer) in 1993, at the age of 50.

Despite the lack of evidence, the rumors still persist. At least two programmes have been shown in Britain that suggest that Princess Margaret and John Bindon were once lovers, including The Secret Life of Princess Margaret (ITV 2005) and The Princess and the Gangster (Channel 4, 2009).


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Marilyn Braun said…
Great post!

Never heard anything about Princess Margaret having a possible relationship with a gangster so this is fascinating.

I agree with you, he doesn't seem like the type she would get involved with. She was always royal with a capital R. But then Peter Townsend, Antony Armstrong Jones and Roddy didn't seem like appropriate types either!

The principals are dead so we're unlikely to know the complete truth. She was definately a fascinating woman.
Hi Marilyn,

Yes, the story is fascinating isn't it? The one thing that Antony Armstrong-Jones, Roddy, and Peter Townsend had in common was a certain bohemianism perhaps, but they were also upper class or upper middle class while Bindon was a straight up cockney. It's amusing to think of an associate of the Krays hanging out with Mags.
If you're interested in John Bindon, you might enjoy my review of one his old haunts, The Water Rat, which has now become an Italian trattoria named Osteria dell' Arancio:
Bryan Hemming said…
I used to see Bindon at The Roebuck in Kings Road during the 1970s, where He was a regular. He was often with Vicki Hodges. He was he usually drunk on a stool at the bar.

The rumours about the photos with Princess Margaret were rife at the time, but there was nothing about them having been robbed. I heard that he kept them as insurance against being arrested for his many criminal activities from a couple of heroin users I knew well. One was a high class call girl.

Johnny Darke was repeatedly and violently stabbed in a drinking club in Putney, as far as I remember reading, after which Bindon fled to Ireland, where he was arrested.

It was suspected the photos may have had something to do with him getting acquitted. Though the acquittal was extremely unexpected, considering the gravity of the offence and the evidence, it was the verdict of the jury.
Unknown said…
Someone needs to make a proper film about would be a smash..a fascinating character..surprisingly intelligent by numerous accounts..a proper lad was our John ;-D

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