Welsh factory girl who became a Swedish princess
“If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about love,” Princess Lilian of Sweden once said. In what Swedes consider a Cinderella story, Lilian Craig, who has died aged 97, lived for a third of a century as the lover of Sweden’s Prince Bertil, unable to marry because there was a chance he could become king, and Swedish kings were forbidden to wed commoners.
Pretty much the whole country knew about their relationship, but they were still barred from appearing in public together.
Three years after King Gustaf V I died, in 1973 – to be succeeded by his grandson Carl Gustaf – Prince Bertil, a son of the older king, finally married Craig. He was 64 and she was 61 and both called it the happiest day of their lives. Craig became a princess and duchess with the nuptials.
“I was nervous as a kitten,” Craig told the Boston Globe in 1985. “I had butterflies in my tummy. When we exchanged vows, I was afraid I wouldn’t even remember my husband’s name.”
The wedding signalled the formal end of an already bygone era. Prince Bertil had agreed to refrain from marrying a commoner because of fears it could jeopardise the royal line: he was next in line to the throne until Carl Gustaf, his nephew – and now the king – came of age. Today, many members of European royalty, including Sweden’s, routinely and without penalty marry commoners, and female prospects have the same succession rights as male. Carl Gustaf himself married a commoner.
Princess Lilian paid a price for her loyalty, including whispers early on about living in sin. She said she regretted not having children. “But now the queen’s children are like my children,” she told the Globe . “It makes up. Well, not quite.”
As for not being allowed to be seen in public for many years, she said: “Sometimes I felt it wasn’t nice. But it was nice that we were together anyway.”
Lillian May Davies was born in Swansea, Wales, in 1915, and left school at 14 to seek work as a maid in London. She ended up working as a fashion model, dancer and singer, and marrying Ivan Craig, an actor. She dropped an l from her first name, she said, because she thought it seemed more fashionable that way.
During the second World War, while Ivan Craig served in the British army in Africa, Lilian worked at a factory making radios for the Royal Navy and at a hospital for wounded soldiers.
There are several versions of how she met Prince Bertil, in 1943, when he was naval attache in the Swedish embassy.
‘Oh, how we laughed’
She wrote in her memoir,
My Life with Prince Bertil (2000), that she was captivated: “He was so handsome, my prince. Especially in uniform. So charming and thoughtful. And so funny.”
During their wartime separation, her husband had also developed another romantic tie. They divorced amicably.
Once wed and royal, Princess Lilian, who left no immediate survivors, participated in Nobel Prize events in Stockholm. After Prince Bertil died in 1997, she helped lead sports organisations in which he had been active. She said laughter was the key to her longevity, and also to her great romance. “Oh, how we laughed together!” she said.