I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
London's socialites of the 1920s and '30s were called the “Bright Young Things,” but they had a dark side. They counted among their ranks aristocrats and royals and their behaviour was free and wild.
The Man Who Would Never Be King
George was born in 1902, which, at the time, put him fifth in line for the British crown; as such, he was freed from the stifling burden of royal protocols.
He followed the regular routine of royals with an education at a private school and then on to naval college. This turned out to be a poor choice for a young man who suffered from sea sickness. Nevertheless, he remained on active service in the Royal Navy until 1929, even though he hated the seafaring life.
Then, he did something that no member of his family had ever done before, he got a regular job. He worked in the civil service at the Foreign Office and then the Home Office; in the latter post he was assigned to inspect factories. The work in London meant he had access to the bright lights and social whirl of the capital.
The Party Princes
George's older brother, Edward, the future King Edward VIII, had already acquired notoriety within the tight circle of royal secret keepers. His father, George V had warned that “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in twelve months.”
That was to come in the future, but by 1917 he had already become entangled with Marguerite Alibert, a Parisian prostitute. Although, once she had bedded a royal personage her job title changed to courtesan—so much more refined.
There were some highly compromising letters and the guardians of the royal reputation had to take heroic measures to ensure Edward's affair was hushed up. This was especially true after Marguerite Alibert shot and killed her husband. In a farce of a trial, Alibert was acquitted and the name of the Prince of Wales was kept out of the whole sordid business.
By the time, Prince George made his entrance into the social scene, his older brother, was already well established in the fashionable circles. The brothers became close friends with many a young lady making a play for a princely husband, or lover if marriage was definitely ruled out.
The Duke of Kent (George) and the Prince of Wales (Edward) gallivanted their evenings away in the best hotel ballrooms and sometimes in more tawdry venues. Any girl who scored a fox trot or waltz with His Royal Highness gathered instant, if fleeting, celebrity, as evidenced by this song.
The Darker Side of Prince George
The gossip soon started. In those days, the press had a deferential approach to royalty so none of the scandalous behaviour became publicly known.
Prince George was bisexual; this at a time when homosexual activity was a crime. He was even arrested for a homosexual act until his royal status was established, then he was quietly escorted out of custody and the story was buried.
Apparently, Prince George was also fond of dressing in drag. One story has him and the playwright Noël Coward dressed up as fashionable ladies out for a stroll in London's West End. They were spotted by members of the British secret service, but, once again, the royal genes proved to be a get-out-of-jail-free card.
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It was when he met the American Alice “Kiki” Preston that Prince George's life really went off the rails. Ms. Preston was a troubled American woman with drug addiction issues who was known as “the girl with the silver syringe.” She was a fixture in the high society of London and Paris and she became intimately entangled with George. It was through her that the prince developed a taste for cocaine and heroin.
The situation got so bad that something had to be done. Edward, Prince of Wales, used his influence to get Kiki Preston banned from Britain. He also had his younger brother locked up in a country house so he could shake his drug habit cold turkey. Did it work? Of course, anything that might be considered salacious behaviour among the royals was kept carefully out of the public view.
However, in 1934, Prince George, the Duke of Kent, performed his royal duty and married a cousin, as was the habit of most of his relatives. His bride was Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark who learned to tolerate George's philandering as many royal spouses had done before her.
The Wartime Prince
When the Second World War broke out, George rejoined the Royal Navy where he was given the exalted rank of rear admiral. But, he hated the navy and, already an accomplished pilot, switched to the Royal Air Force (RAF). Again, breeding determined that he had to have a grand title so he became a group captain with the RAF Training Command.
On August 25, 1942, the Duke of Kent was aboard an RAF Sunderland flying boat that was supposedly on a mission to Iceland. The plane crashed on the northern tip of Scotland, killing all aboard with the exception of the tail gunner, Sgt. Andrew Jack. The duke was just shy of his 40th birthday.
Was it simply one of those accidents of war or was it something else? The pilot's flight plan vanished and so did the records of a secret inquiry. This, of course, proved to be fodder for conspiracy theories, one being that Prince George was drunk at the controls of the plane.
The sole survivor of the crash, Andrew Jack, later told his niece that he dragged all 15 bodies out of the wrecked aircraft and that he had found Prince George in the pilot's seat. Additionally, there was an extra passenger aboard and says Jack's niece “Everything points to the person being the boyfriend of the Duke as earlier they had been seen wearing make-up while still at the RAF base.”
Writer Eric Musgrave notes that “The most outlandish suggestion was that British intelligence, on the orders of Winston Churchill, caused the crash, as the wartime Prime Minister believed that George was a German sympathiser.”
That seems very unlikely although the Duke of Kent's personal papers are still kept under lock and key and away from the eyes of would-be biographers.
- Prince George, Duke of Kent is believed to have fathered several illegitimate children, among them a boy called Michael Canfield. The mother may have been Kiki Preston or another socialite called Violet Evans. The child was adopted by Cass and Katsy Canfield, wealthy Americans. Baby Michael grew up to join his father's publishing business and married Caroline Lee Bouvier, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy's younger sister. Both Michael Canfield's alleged mothers committed suicide.
- The romantic novelist Barbara Cartland claimed to have born a child sired by Prince George. That child, Raine McCorquodale, went on to become stepmother to Diana, Princess of Wales.
- The current Duke of Kent, son of Prince George, has led an exemplary life in contrast to his father's licentious behaviour.
- “The Scandalous, Brief Life of Prince George, Duke of Kent.” Libby-Jane Charleston, MSN, November 28, 2020.
- “The Forgotten Prince.” Eric Musgrave, The Rake, May 2016.
- “Scandal of Forgotten Prince George, Duke of Kent and His Tormented Lovechild.” Adrian Lee, The Daily Express, July 15, 2013.
- “Scandal of a Royal Death.” North Wales Live, April 20, 2013.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on August 27, 2021:
I love reading about the royals and learning more about them.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 27, 2021:
Seems you can get away with anything if you have royalty in your blood. They do what they please with no regard to others, because they have the convenience of sweeping their dirt under the carpet.
It's refreshing to hear the current Duke of Kent is living the clean life.
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 27, 2021:
Interesting life he led, huh? He and a lot of other English royalty. Looks like Edward VIII had nothing on this brother except that he was king for a short while. The more I read of 20th Century European royalty, the more respect for them I lose. You did a great job writing this story, Rupert. And I agree with your comment that colorful is a euphemism for scoundrel, at least as viewed by history.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on August 27, 2021:
I don't like the institution of inherited privilege, especially when the so-called upper classes see themselves as superior. Surely, if they are superior they should be held to high standards, but all too often they behave atrociously.
Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on August 27, 2021:
"Colourful" in my experience is usually a euphemism for a scoundrel.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on August 27, 2021:
Very interesting to read, Rupert. He certainly led a colourful life didn't he?
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on August 27, 2021:
Well, thank You for the history lesson! I have a hard time trying to keep-up with royalties. Personal lives do not interest me much but in the context of history I like to learn about who did what when and why. They're all lessons and as such they are important.
I pray for a day without royalties, or without some people being born privileged and some not. I wish for social equality at birth. What a strange idea, huh? Haha!!
Alrighty, I gotta run out! Thank You once again for the article. Cheers!