First published in the Sunday People on 27 September 2015
To mark 75 years of the George Cross, Lord Ashcroft meets Inspector Jim Beaton who was given the award for defending the royal and husband Captain Mark Philip.
Personal bodyguards know they will be judged by their reaction to a sudden drama – that brief and heart-stopping moment when their skill and courage are put to the test.
Inspector Jim Beaton faced that challenge 41 years ago in 1974.
He was protecting Princess Anne when an armed gunman tried to kidnap her, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace .
But even after he was shot in the shoulder and his semi-automatic pistol jammed, his only thought was to do his job.
Mr Beaton, now 72, said: “There were only two directions for me to go – forwards or backwards. Backwards wasn’t part of my make-up or training and so I went forwards and hoped for the best.”
That decision led him to be shot twice more.
But his outstanding courage almost certainly saved the lives of Princess Anne and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips.
The GC had been introduced by George VI in 1940 to recognise supreme bravery by civilians and military gallantry when not in the face of the enemy.
James Wallace Beaton, the son of an Aberdeenshire farm worker, joined the Metropolitan Police in 1962, aged 19.
In 1971 he trained as a marksman. Two years later, he became part of a team chosen to protect the Royal Family.
Beaton had been guarding Princess Anne, then 23, for less than a year when the future Princess Royal was attacked shortly before 8pm on March 20, 1974.
He was in the front seat of her black Daimler as she drove down The Mall in London after an engagement.
Next to Mr Beaton was the driver, Alexander Callender. In the back with Princess Anne and Captain Phillips, was her lady-in-waiting, Rowena Brassey, sitting on the jump seat.
As they reached the junction with Marlborough Road, a white Ford Escort swerved in front of the royal car and forced the driver to stop suddenly.
The Escort driver, Ian Ball, got out and went towards the royal vehicle. Mr Beaton climbed out of the passenger seat, suspecting the man had somehow taken exception to the chauffeur’s driving.
He remembered: “As I walked towards him he pointed a pistol at me and shot me in the right shoulder.
“It felt like a punch or a kick, but I did not register I had been wounded.
“I drew my Walther 9mm pistol, aimed at him and fired back.”
The shot missed. Mr Beaton is convinced being wounded spoiled his aim but he quickly prepared to shoot again.
He said: “I took a two-handed position to shoot at him but the gun jammed and would not fire.”
Mr Beaton retreated to the rear nearside of the car to try to clear his weapon. But he then saw Miss Brassey, the lady-in-waiting, slip out of the back passenger door, leaving it open.
He recalled: “The gunman looked at me and said something like, ‘Put your gun down or I’ll shoot her’.
“As the gun was already jammed, I laid it in the roadway. I then held my hands up towards him, to show him I had done as he asked, and gradually began to move towards him, into and through the car in an effort to get between him and Princess Anne.
“I heard the man saying something like, ‘Come with me’, to Princess Anne, pointing the gun at her.
“I moved further into the car and Captain Phillips managed to pull the car door shut.
“The man appeared at the offside passenger door window. I was partly on the floor and partly leaning against the Princess and could see him clearly.
“He shouted something to the effect, ‘Open the door or I’ll shoot’.
“I could see the muzzle of the gun pointed to the inside of the car. The window was shut. I immediately held my right hand up in its path and everything seemed to explode at once.
“I was shot in the hand but was not aware then of much pain.
“Captain Phillips was still holding the door shut, and I told him to release it as I intended knocking the man back into what I imagined was a crowd of people outside, hoping they would capture him.
“He let the door go, and I kicked it. I think the fragmented glass then flew out of the window frame, leaving it clear.
“It is very hazy but he shot me again. I think he opened the door to do it.
“Although I didn’t feel anything, I knew I’d been shot in the pelvis.”
With three serious wounds, Mr Beaton now felt so weak that he stumbled to the front of the car and lay down.
Passing civilians and arriving police officers managed to wrestle the gunman to the ground but not before he had used his two revolvers to shoot three more men, including Mr Callender the royal driver, journalist Brian McConnell and PC Michael Hills.
All survived. Princess Anne and Captain Phillips were uninjured.
After surgery, Mr Beaton received Princess Anne as a visitor in Westminster Hospital the following day. He spent two weeks in hospital and was off work for another five and a half months.
It emerged Ball had intended to hold Princess Anne hostage and had sent a £3million ranson demand to the Queen.
Ball, then 26, admitted kidnap and attempted murder and today is believed to be in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital.
Speaking at his home in Beverley, East Yorks, Mr Beaton was characteristically modest.
“I was just doing my job,” he said. “I think the adrenaline kept me going.”