“A lasting symbol of selfless duty”, I replied. The same goes for the Duke of Edinburgh – and in spades.
That is not to detract from the Queen’s remarkable example. Both were born to rule and the Queen came to do so early.
Prince Philip never did. His father, the King of Greece, was condemned to death when he was still in rompers. The Royal Navy rescued him and his family from Greece after a coup and landed them in Italy.
They then wandered over Europe before he was sent to the bracing rigours of Gordonstoun where he distinguished himself at sport and leadership.
I think we know where the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards originated to bring out the gold in my grandchildren.
At Dartmouth naval college he was selected to entertain Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret during a Royal visit. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, not quite. During the Second World War (with his four sisters married to Germans), he served with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and off Japan. He was by all accounts a tough, down-to-earth commander with a salty tongue.
In the two years after his marriage to the Queen they lived in Malta where he enjoyed his own ship. And then, on a visit to Kenya, he had to tell his wife of her father’s death and her accession to the throne.
A life of supporting service beckoned. Just imagine the transition overnight for the young officer wedded to a man’s world and its seas: consort for life to a Queen.
Your every word, thought and especially deed will be chronicled, pored over and criticised. Welcome to the goldfish bowl in which he swam for 78 years.
If that is not an example of selfless duty (and denial) I do not know what is.
His job was to support the Queen. It was a job well done indeed to the last.
Despite his retirement from public life in 2017, I think we can safely say he gave his counsel through the traumas of his son, the Duke of York, and grandson, the Duke of Sussex.
All this from a man of his generation who probably found his early years in Buckingham Palace a stuffy affair and occasionally, like Denis Thatcher, let rip.
Neither was made for the snowflake era in which every word has to be measured for the slightest offence.
Denis Thatcher, frustrated in getting ready for dinner by the intermittent blackouts of life in Goa in 1983, addressed the Fort Aguada hotel complex from his verandah in the following terms: “This bloody place is high on the buggeration factor.” The Foreign Office had kittens.
So Prince Philip warned British students in China: “If you stay here much longer you’ll get slitty eyes”. And to a Scottish driving examiner: “How do you keep the natives out of the booze long enough to get them through?”
Both added to the gaiety of the nation – apart from the woke element.
I can recall only three encounters with Prince Philip: observing him at work at Buckingham Palace garden parties; shaking hands with him and the Queen on the Royal yacht, Britannia, in Nassau for the 1985 Commonwealth Conference; and at a dinner in Buckingham Palace for Fleet Street editors.
On the last occasion I got so involved in the argument that I forgot where I was and, when the Duke said we must move on, I said “Hang on a minute”. (I rather thought the editors were underplaying their commercial job of selling newspapers and how the Royal family sold them like hot cakes).
My untimely intervention sparked a knowing smile from Prince Philip which I interpreted as him saying to himself ‘So that’s why she has him as her press secretary. She likes an argument’.
He gave me the floor. I hope he enjoyed my making the editors look a bit sheepish.
He was a man of his time, born into a rough man’s world who became the longest living consort.
He is an example of what the world used to be – and, I fervently pray, will, by following his example, become again.
We can safely say they don’t make them like him any more.
But, in terms of seriousness, application and duty to serve, Prince Charles and Prince William are chips off the old block.
The future is safe.
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