There was a time when Peter Cross kept a photograph of Princess Anne in the spare bedroom of his Kent home.
Signed by the Princess Royal herself and framed in leather, the image was a touching reminder of what was once tactfully referred to publicly as her 'close friendship' with the former royal protection officer.
This week, after another blistering episode from the fourth series of The Crown, that so-called 'friendship' came under the spotlight once again with actress Olivia Colman, playing the on-screen version of the Queen, telling her only daughter of 'rumours about a Sergeant Cross and the two of you being intimate'.
Hearing that Cross is to be 'transferred back to desk duties in Croydon', a tearful Anne, played by Erin Doherty, begs her mother: 'Don't do that to me. You can't. He's the one thing that makes me happy.'
But given that the series has been dogged by controversy over its tendency to twist reality for the sake of drama, what is the truth about the Princess's relationship with her married former bodyguard — and what was the extent of their extra-marital affair?Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
By her side: Princess Anne with her lover/bodyguard Peter Cross (right) and her husband Mark Phillips (left) in 1980. This week, the Mail tracked down the now 72-year-old Cross and spoke exclusively to his former partner, Gillian Nicholls, who was privy to many of his secrets
The tale of the Princess and the policeman stretches back to 1979 when senior Scotland Yard officers assigned Sergeant Peter Cross to the royal protection squad. Above, Anne with her husband (right) and Cross (centre)
This week the Mail tracked down the now 72-year-old Cross and spoke exclusively to his former partner, Gillian Nicholls, who was privy to many of his secrets.
She confirmed this week that he continued to see the Princess after his dismissal. Indeed, on several occasions in the early 1980s, Gillian found herself fielding the Princess's secretive phone calls to Cross at the office where they both worked.
'His affair with her always overshadowed our relationship,' she told me. 'It always felt like she was there in the background.'
More, in a moment, of the real story about the affair which is decidedly more jaw-dropping than the two-minute fictionalised scene viewed by television audiences around the world this week.
Once filled with mutual affection and utter trust on the part of the doting Princess, the liaison ultimately ended in betrayal when the Sheffield-born former policeman sold his story to a Sunday tabloid in 1985.
The tale of the Princess and the policeman stretches back to 1979 when senior Scotland Yard officers assigned Sergeant Peter Cross to the royal protection squad.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
He began guarding 29-year-old Anne in the autumn of that year at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire and during royal engagements. At the time, she had been married to Captain Mark Phillips for six years. Their son, Peter, was two.
Despite his decidedly urban background, Cross was said to have effortlessly blended in at the numerous equestrian events he attended, dressing in a houndstooth check cap and a quilted jacket. He and the Princess were often seen laughing and joking.
Pictured, Peter Cross today. He began guarding 29-year-old Anne in the autumn of that year at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire and during royal engagements. At the time, she had been married to Captain Mark Phillips for six years. Their son, Peter, was two
But behind closed doors, they had started having heart-to-heart chats on the back stairs at Gatcombe or drinking coffee together into the early hours.
According to Cross's own account of their relationship: 'It was very affectionate. We got on fantastically, basically because we're both straight-talking people who like to be down to earth.' He said the Princess was often alone because of her husband's work commitments: 'I had to be with her. I was her bodyguard. Naturally, we talked a lot.
'She was just like any other woman in that situation — very lonely and isolated. We became very close because I think the Princess appreciated my point of view on life. I was always very down to earth and plain-speaking with her.'
Anne, he said, told him she 'would have loved to be an ordinary housewife living in a semi with kids'. Despite her yearning for a simpler life, he continued to call her 'Ma'am' in public and, if they were alone, no name at all. It was only after he had left his position that he began to use her first name.
The moment they first kissed came when the Princess's husband was away. Cross described sitting in an armchair with the Princess at his feet.
'My right hand was kind of dangling over the arm of the chair. Suddenly, she turned and looked at me. At the same time, our hands brushed, then clasped together. For a few seconds we remained like that — like two statues, looking directly into each other's eyes, our hands locked together. Then, suddenly, we kissed,' he revealed in a previous interview.
Fearing they would be seen, they moved to the library — 'and there we embraced'.
Their intimate meetings, he said, took place at an empty cottage on the estate, in her apartment at Buckingham Palace and in a three-bedroom semi in Ewell in Surrey lent to him by a friend.
His feelings for 'one of the most fascinating women I've ever met', he said, came 'so close to love', despite the fact he had been married to his childhood sweetheart Linda for a decade and had two young daughters.
Another infidelity was with Gillian Nicholls (above), who met Peter Cross in 1981. He had recently quit the police - unable to stomach what was, in effect, a demotion by being pushed back to uniformed duties - and found a job as an insurance salesman at Sun Life Financial of Canada in Bromley, Kent, where Gillian worked as a receptionist
By September 1980, Mark Phillips is said to have become angered by their 'over-familiarity'. Cross was told he would have to quit by Commander Michael Trestrail, the Queen's own bodyguard.
By the time Anne found out, Cross had already packed his bags and left his quarters. She is said to have gone to her room and wept.
Whether or not the Queen was involved with the decision has never been revealed. But one certain inaccuracy contained with The Crown's reference to the affair this week is that of timing. Moments before raising the sticky subject of Cross, Olivia Colman's Queen asks after Anne's 'children', suggesting that both Peter and Zara had been born at the time.
In fact, Zara Phillips, now Zara Tindall, was not born until later. Cross claimed Anne wrote to him to say how sorry she was that he had been removed.
Just before Christmas 1980, he received a visit from a royal detective with a card and a box of biscuits from Anne. The detective asked him for his phone number to give to the Princess.
Soon after, he was summoned to Gatcombe Park, where Anne met him in the library.
'We talked, held hands and kissed,' recalled Cross. He said Anne told him: 'If you ever feel like a day in the country, you know you're very welcome.'
Cross added: ' 'A day in the country' became our secret code — a phrase that meant we could get together. After that, we met about once a month.'
Speaking soon after her ex-husband's kiss-and-tell, Linda Cross told how the Princess regularly called their home in Mitcham, Surrey, between January and September 1981 — usually at the weekend.
She specifically remembered the Princess calling on May 15, 1981, to break the news that she had given birth to a baby daughter, and also on July 29, 1981 — the day of the Prince of Wales's wedding to Lady Diana Spencer.
'She rang almost every week,' said Linda. 'Sometimes the kids would answer. I got used to them shouting, 'Dad, it's Princess Anne on the phone for you!' '