She met Sweden’s Prince Bertil in 1943, but his obligations to the throne and Lilian’s status as a divorced commoner prevented them from making their love public. The couple’s sacrifices and lifelong dedication to each other gripped the hearts of Swedes.
“If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about my love,” the witty, petite princess said of her husband when she turned 80 in 1995. “He’s a great man, and I love him.”
Born Lilian Davies in Swansea, Wales, on Aug. 30, 1915, she moved to London at 16 to embark on a career as a model and an actress, showcasing hats and gloves in commercials and taking on small roles in movies. She met British actor Ivan Craig, whom she married in 1940.
After World War II broke out, Craig was drafted into the British army while Lilian stayed behind in London, working at a factory making radio sets for the British merchant fleet and serving at a hospital for wounded soldiers.
At the time, Bertil was stationed at the Swedish Embassy in the British capital as a naval attache. The couple first laid eyes on each other in the fancy nightclub Les Ambassadeurs shortly before Lilian’s 28th birthday in 1943. Lilian then invited him to a cocktail party in her London apartment. But it wasn’t until he fetched her with his car following an air raid in her neighborhood that the romance blossomed, Lilian recalled in her 2000 memoirs, “My Life With Prince Bertil.”
“He was so handsome my prince. Especially in uniform. So charming and thoughtful. And so funny. Oh how we laughed together,” Lilian wrote.
Lilian was still married at the time, but the situation resolved itself since Craig, too, had met someone else during his years abroad in the army, and the couple divorced on amicable terms.
Bertil became a possible heir to the throne when his eldest brother died in a plane crash, leaving behind an infant son — the current King Carl XVI Gustaf. Two other brothers had dropped out of the line of succession by marrying commoners.
Instead, the couple let their romance flourish in an unofficial manner, living together in a common-law marriage for decades.
They first lived in their house in Sainte-Maxime in France but later shared their time between the French village and Stockholm, where Lilian discreetly stayed in the background for years.