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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Princess Michael of Kent (main picture), with Abu Hamza, Nasser Hussain, Billie Piper and Gerard Houllier.


Princess Michael of Kent appears to have done it again. Annoyed by a party of noisy black diners at a New York restaurant, she's said to have told them they needed "to go back to the colonies."

Another public relations disaster not without irony, since it happened in a former British colony. And the princess herself, apparently descended from four European monarchs, rarely refers to the 16 formative years she spent in another former British possession, Australia.

Born Marie-Christine von Reibnitz in 1945 at Carlsbad in Bohemia, she was the youngest child of a Silesian nobleman and his wife, a Hungarian countess.

With husband and son
Princess Michael keeps up appearances with her husband and son, Freddie
But within a few months of her birth, the lives of her family were turned upside down.

They lost their Silesian estates as they fled from the advancing Red Army. In Vienna, the baron, later revealed as a member of the SS, parted from his wife, who took Marie-Christine and her brother, Freddie, to Sydney in 1949.

Their lifestyle was modest, Marie-Christine's stepfather working as a clerk, while her mother was a hairdresser.

Nevertheless, the future princess steadily climbed the social ladder and soon moved to the UK, and a bigger stage. Her marriage to an Old Etonian banker lasted only a few years, but introduced her to a circle in Britain that included Prince Michael of Kent.

But the Catholic divorcee didn't feel she enjoyed the warmest welcome from the Royal Family. She recalled Lord Mountbatten telling the Queen about her ancestry and "how I was descended from Charlemagne, this king, that queen. He laid it on a bit thick".

"Princess Pushy"

Princess Michael, now 59, has never forgotten the Queen's response: "Well Dickie, she sounds a bit too grand for us."

And since the Kents married in 1978, the princess has apparently proved excessively grand for several of the Royals.

Allegedly, she described Princess Diana as "that silly girl next door", branded the Duchess of York "common", described the décor at Windsor Castle as "awful" and said the Queen's corgis "should be shot".

It seems that Prince Philip and Prince Charles avoid speaking to "Princess Pushy", a term reportedly coined by Princess Anne and mercilessly trotted out by the press whenever the opportunity arises.

Princess Michael in 1990
"Too grand" to be one of the family?
The royal couple's habit of living beyond their means, with their children, Freddie, 25, and Ella, 23, has been the tabloids' favourite target.

Prince and Princess Michael may be excluded from the Civil List, but they have a mansion near Stroud in Gloucestershire worth £4m and a seven-room apartment at Kensington Palace which would fetch £15m or more on the open market.

They pay modest maintenance charges but no rent for the "grace and favour" apartment, where they have seven servants, three office staff and round-the-clock police protection.

Friends admire the princess's intelligence and her seeming reluctance to seek public sympathy over her treatment for skin cancer. Many will agree with her that no one should be barred from the throne, as Prince Michael is, because he married a Catholic.

As for verbal gaffes, well, she's probably still not in the same league as Prince Philip. But it's unlikely that she nurtures any real hope of repairing her public reputation.

It was in the 1980s that she said in an interview: "I will never become British even if I live here the rest of my life. The English distrust foreigners."

It's a view she probably hasn't revised.

Abu Hamza

The radical Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza, was remanded in custody by a court in London, facing possible extradition to the United States, where he's accused of playing a key role in the al-Qaeda terror network. The hook-handed London-based preacher was arrested in a pre-dawn raid at his home and is alleged to have been involved in an incident in Yemen in which four hostages, three of them Britons, were killed.

Nasser Hussein

Former England cricket captain Nasser Hussain bowed out in style as he announced his retirement from Test and first-class cricket. Nasser, 36, stepped down shortly after scoring a match-winning century in the first Test against New Zealand. An emotional Hussain said he'd been willing to fight against people writing him off, but not against youth in the form of new star Andrew Strauss.

Gerard Houllier

Gerard Houllier finally paid the price for failing to revive the glory days of Liverpool when the club dispensed with his services. Sympathy and affection for Houllier after he fought back from a life-threatening heart condition wasn't enough to keep his job. Too many of his signings flopped and while Liverpool qualified for the Champions' League, the 30 point gap to Arsenal's lofty perch was too much for Liverpool's proud history to bear.

Billie Piper

Billie Piper landed the travel opportunity of a lifetime in being chosen to play Doctor Who's sidekick when the Timelord resumes his Tardis tour of the galaxy next year after an absence of nearly 14 years. She was the only female to score three chart-toppers before her 18th birthday, but then caused concern at her lifestyle with husband Chris Evans. Now 21-year-old Billie has been rewarded for her impressive performances as an actress in television dramas.


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