Books

Nothing could dampen Prince Philip's zest for life

The Duke of energy: Racism victim. Establishment outsider. Yet nothing could dampen Prince Philip’s zest for life — nor his unwavering service to his Queen

  • Ian Lloyd has penned 100 chapters to mark Prince Philip’s 100th birthday in June
  • The Duke of Edinburgh was born into the Greek royal family in Corfu in 1921
  • He was engaged to the Queen four years after being invited to Windsor for a play

BIOGRAPHY

THE DUKE: 100 CHAPTERS IN THE LIFE OF PRINCE PHILIP   

by Ian Lloyd (The History Press £15.99, 320 pp)

Which member of the Royal family fits the following description?

He reads poetry, and is especially fond of T.S. Eliot. He is interested in spiritual matters, religion and the environment. He can design jewellery.

He has suffered racial abuse and been criticised for Left-wing views. He ran into fierce opposition for trying to shake up the Palace ‘old guard’. He suffered a lonely, difficult childhood, and is spoken of as ‘kind’ and ‘sensitive’.

In case you need a clue, the nation breathed a great sigh of relief earlier this week when he was released from hospital.

Ian Lloyd who is a former member of the Royal press corps, has penned 100 chapters to mark Prince Philip’s 100th birthday in June. Pictured: Prince Philip during his time in the Navy

Can this really be bluff, outspoken, short-tempered Prince Philip? Yet this is the picture that emerges from this book by a former member of the Royal press corps who was once ordered to ‘get off the f*****g grass’ by Philip in Windsor Great Park.

The Duke gave a speech to journalists in 1973 — when he and the Press were still on speaking terms — in which he considered his public image. ‘The trouble with reputations is that they cling much more tenaciously than the truth,’ he said. ‘If anyone can offer me any advice about how I can improve this reputation, or even offer any reason why I have it, I shall be more than grateful.’

Even then he realised that his reputation for rudeness and saying the wrong thing would overshadow everything he has ever done. He once told a friend, rather poignantly: ‘I don’t seem able to say nice things to people, though I’d like to. Why is that?’

What a good question. Other members of his family are occasionally a bit tetchy, but Philip is a repeat offender. This very readable book — set out in 100 chapters to mark the Duke’s 100th birthday in June — contains a list of 100 so-called gaffes, and 12 times that he has sworn at people.

The famous remark about ‘slitty eyes’ and China is there — of course it is — and one of his remarks was apparently so jaw-droppingly awful that nobody has felt able to reproduce it in print. Yet, as the author Ian Lloyd notes: ‘The majority are actually very funny, said with a twinkle in the royal eye and, more importantly, well received by those he’s talking to.’

The book doesn’t gloss over any criticism of its subject, but reminds us that Philip has lived an extraordinary life that, in many ways, has been far from easy.

He was born into the Greek royal family in Corfu in 1921, on a dining room table. His family — who were Danish and German — were driven into exile after the Greco-Turkish war and went to live in Paris.

At the age of nine, Philip was sent on a picnic to get him out of the way while his mother Princess Alice — who suffered from religious mania and schizophrenia — was removed from the house by men in white coats and taken to a Swiss sanatorium. There she was visited by Sigmund Freud, who recommended that her ovaries be X-rayed to cure an excessive libido. He would, wouldn’t he.

Philip became engaged to the Queen four years after being invited to Windsor to see Princess Elizabeth play the principal boy in a production of Aladdin in 1943. Pictured: The Queen and Prince Philip on a visit to Tuvalu in the South Pacific

Philip’s father reacted to these events by leaving almost immediately for the south of France with his mistress. From that moment on, Philip was pretty much homeless until his marriage.

When he wasn’t at school or, later, in the Navy, he lived with a series of aristocratic relatives, one of whom remarked: ‘He gave the impression of a huge, hungry dog — perhaps a friendly collie who had never had a basket of his own and responded to every overture with eager tail-wagging.’

The Queen had her eye on Philip from an early age, but they began to take more interest in one another when, in 1943, he was invited to Windsor to see Princess Elizabeth play the principal boy in a production of Aladdin. Four years later, they were engaged.

Even then, the Palace didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet. He was referred to by friends of the King as ‘Charlie Kraut’ and the Queen Mother called him ‘The Hun’. Tommy Lascelles, the King’s private secretary and star turn of The Crown, said Philip was ‘rough, ill-tempered, uneducated and would probably not be faithful’.

Despite all that, the King took to Philip. He taught his future son-in-law how to shoot, and — noticing that his clothes were rather worn — arranged a visit to the Royal tailor.

Author names 11 likely candidates Philip (pictured) could’ve had an affair with, but concludes that there is no substance to the rumours

Philip was no stranger to grand houses, but this was definitely a step up. When he stayed at Windsor, he would get up in the night and wander down the corridors with a torch, gazing at the Gainsboroughs and Van Dycks of the Royal art collection.

He is occasionally accused of being a distant father, yet he made sure to read bedtime stories to his children.

And as the new Prince Consort, he tried to modernise life at the Palace. He introduced a training programme for footmen, abolished their powdered wigs, started a review of working practices and even introduced automatic dishwashers. He was the first member of the Royal family to give a television interview. Oh, and he preferred Double Diamond brown ale to wine. ‘The old boys here hadn’t had anything quite like it before,’ he once noted.

THE DUKE: 100 CHAPTERS IN THE LIFE OF PRINCE PHILIP by Ian Lloyd (The History Press £15.99, 320 pp)

They’d certainly seen nothing like the incident at Broadlands when the Duke chased the Queen up the stairs, pinching her bottom as she shouted ‘Stop it, Philip! Stop it!’ He has a romantic streak where the Queen is concerned, and once wore a tie covered in love hearts to mark a reunion after a long foreign trip. Who’d have thought the Iron Duke would be such an old softie?

Does he also have a wandering eye? It’s occasionally suggested that Philip has enjoyed affairs during his long marriage. The book names 11 likely candidates, but concludes that there is no substance to the rumours.

Other members of his family haven’t been so steadfast.

As a child, Philip spent time living with his aunt, Princess George of Greece, who was such an enthusiastic collector of sexual partners that, in 1918, she wrote an unpublished memoir called The Men I Have Loved.

Perhaps it was Philip’s unusual family background that has made him so — how can we put this politely? — robust. He was sailing off the Isle of Wight one year during Cowes Week when the skipper of another boat hailed him as ‘Stavros’ and asked him to move out of the way.

‘It’s not Stavros,’ retorted Philip, ‘and it’s my wife’s f*****g water, so I’ll do what I f*****g well please.’ Sometimes it’s very handy to be married to the Queen.

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