'I'm thanking you as a mother': Londoners who tackled gunmen for the Queen recall her gratitude

Ronnie Russell recalls the Queen's gratitude after he punched gunman Ian Ball to save her daughter, Princess Anne

Strict security measures are in place for the royal family today but on two occasions when the Queen and her family were exposed to serious threats to their lives, it was ordinary Londoners who put themselves at risk to save them.

A former heavyweight boxer and a St John Ambulance volunteer have both stepped in front of gunmen for the royal family.

John Heasman grabbed Marcus Sarjeant while he was shooting at the Queen outside Buckingham Palace in 1981, while Ronnie Russell tackled gunman Ian Ball when he was trying to kidnap her daughter, Princess Anne in 1974.

Mr Russell, 74, told ITV News how he punched Ball twice in the head as he tried to kidnap Anne at gunpoint on The Mall outside Buckingham Palace.

It led to the Queen thanking him personally "as a mother" for his bravery.

"He’s got Princess Anne by the arm, pointing a gun at her head," Mr Russell recalled. "I can see that the door's open and I can see that she’s slipped his grip, so I’ve gone round, come up the inside, leant in and said to her, 'come this way Anne, you’ll be safe.'

"I turned and he’s just stood there, gun like that, glaring and I thought, 'now it is me or you' and I hit him, hard as I could hit him.

"Down on the floor he went. That was him done."

The Queen being greeted by crowds in 1974, the year her daughter Anne was almost kidnapped at gunpoint Credit: PA/Archive

"I always thought if it kills me it just kills me, that’s all it does. Their life was worth more than mine."

He was awarded a George Medal for helping to thwart the kidnap attempt.

"When she was presenting me with the medal she went 'this medal thanks you as the Queen, but I want to thank you as Anne’s mother,'" Mr Russell said.

"It was very moving. I didn’t expect anything by way of reward."

Ronald Russell in 1974

Mr Russell was an area manager for Exclusive Office Cleaning in the capital at the time of the kidnap attempt and was on his way home to Strood, Kent, at about 8pm.

Ball had blocked the princess’s car with his own as it drove along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace, and fired a series of shots through the rear window.

Mr Russell, who is 6ft 2in and weighed 17 stone, at first thought it was a road rage incident but rushed to Anne’s assistance when he realised what was happening.

He later recalled how the princess told Ball “Just go away and don’t be such a silly man” as he tried to drag her from the car.

Ronnie Russell pictured with his George Medal in 2020 Credit: PA

Anne and her then husband, Captain Mark Phillips, were unhurt during the ambush.

But the princess’s personal detective, chauffeur, a police constable and a journalist were all shot by Ball, who was armed with two revolvers.

Ball was later sent to a psychiatric hospital by an Old Bailey judge.

'You know you’ve done a brave thing,' the Queen tells John Heasman, who tackled gunman

  • Ronke Phillips speaks to John Heasman the day after the Queen's funeral

Retired forklift and delivery driver John Heasman, 78, of Bermondsey, south-east London, was volunteering for St John Ambulance when he stopped a young man shooting the Queen in 1981.

Mr Heasman grabbed 17-year-old Marcus Sarjeant when he fired six shots at the Queen while she was riding down The Mall in London during the Trooping the Colour parade.

The youngster's gun was firing blank cartridges, but that wasn't something Mr Heasman knew when he risked his life to save the monarch.

Later, while he was volunteering at a royal garden party in 1982, Mr Heasman was invited to a surprise meeting with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the then Prince and Princess of Wales and the Princess Royal.

He said he was left “dumbstruck” when he was thanked by the monarch and her family.

"The Queen said to me ‘this is an informal discussion just to say thank-you for what you done for me on the day of last year’s Trooping’.

"I was dumbstruck, I looked at her and said ‘thank-you, Your Majesty, Ma’am’, and she was just talking away.

"She invited me to sit down and she sat opposite and offered me a cup of tea or a biscuit or cake, but I told her ‘no thank-you, we just had one of your lovely sandwiches before we came up’.

"We were chatting for 15 minutes, she asked about the incident and how I noticed the young man with the gun.

"She told me ‘you know you’ve done a brave thing’, I said ‘not really Ma’am I just turned around and held on to the gun in a certain position’, but obviously at the time no-one knew it was a blank gun."

Marcus Sarjeant was charged under the Treason Act after blank shots were fired at the Queen and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Credit: PA

He added: "Diana just said ‘hello’ I think. The Duke of Edinburgh shook my hand and said ‘well done young man, thank-you for what you’ve done,’ type of thing. Charles was in his 30s, like me.

"I think they were just there together relaxing and having tea and wanted to thank me."

Mr Heasman, who has volunteered for St John Ambulance since 1959, also works at Millwall Football Club.

He applied to provide support at ceremonial events, including the Queen’s state funeral, and her lying in state.

Mr Heasman added: "I was very upset to hear the Queen had died, but I’m so glad I have this memory, being thanked by her is something I’ll never forget."

Sarjeant was handed a prison sentence under the Treason Act and jailed for five years.

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