COUNTDOWN TO THE 90th BIRTHDAY OF PRINCE PHILIP, DUKE OF EDINBURGH, Part 2

There is little doubt that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh has been a fascinating public figure.  It’s a pity that his intelligence and sense of duty and service has not been as widely known and appreciated as they should be.

Here is an excerpt from an article published in London’s Daily Mail from May 27th which gives some insight into Prince Philip’s character:

“…Women have always been drawn to him as the Queen was, and not just for his flirtatious nature but also for hi wit, intelligence and alpha-male attitude to life…”

As a child, Prince Philip had a difficult and peripatetic childhood and so the question came up as to, “Where was home?  ‘Wherever I happened to be,’ he says, ‘It was no great deal.  I just lived my life.’  ‘But some people might…’ says [Fiona] Bruce [his interviewer], trying to get him to reveal the effect such traumas might have had on him.  ‘Well, some people might,’ he interjects, tersely.  ‘I’m telling you what I felt.’  The Duke’s biographer, Gyles Brandreth, however, is convinced he’s covering up.  ‘As a boy,’ he tells Bruce, ‘Prince Philip lost everybody, and he became very self-reliant.  But he won’t talk about it and has spent a lifetime blocking it out.   He simply says, “What’s there to complain about? These things happen.”’

Among other ‘things’ that happened to him was serving as a young Royal Navy midshipman on the battleship HMS Valiant in World War II and performing heroically in a running battle with enemy cruisers in 1941.  He typically underplays the incident and his part in it, just as, later, he skates over his role in the hugely influential Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme which, since 1956, has encouraged a spirit of adventure and service in millions of young people.

He demurs when asked if he is ‘proud’ of it, shrugging off such an egocentric word. ‘I’ve no reason to be proud.  It’s satisfying that we’ve set up a formula that works but I don’t run it.  It’s all fairly second-hand.’  He didn’t even want his name to be attached to it.  ‘That was against my better judgement.  I tried to avoid it but I was overridden.’  His youngest son Edward, the Earl of Wessex, thinks this is typical of the man.  ‘He is very modest about himself.’  But the scheme has proved to be a beacon and a benchmark for young people for more than half a century.

To actress Joanna Lumley, a friend of the Duke, it is nothing less than his ‘gift to the nation’. Others may feel an even greater gift he made was sacrificing his promising naval career and control of his own life to be the loyal consort of his wife when she came to the throne on the sudden death of her father, George VI.

The Duke’s cousin, Lady Mountbatten, remembers the ‘appalling shock’ felt by the young couple with two small children as their lives changed overnight. ‘It must have been very difficult for both of them,’ she tells Bruce.  The Duke was the first of the new queen’s subjects to kneel before her at her coronation in 1953 and pledge himself her ‘liege man of life and limb’ who would ‘live and die for her against all manner of folks’.

For the six decades since he has been her most ardent protector and supporter, keeping that quaintly worded promise to the letter.  She, in turn, awarded him ‘place, pre-eminence and precedence’ next to her.  But his life was inevitably curtailed as he gave up the job he adored to be a full-time prince.  He won’t say how much that hurt at the time and perhaps still does.  He bats away the questions, hinting only that it might have been of great value to the Queen to have had somebody by her side who was ‘professionally qualified in something and not just traipsing around’.

Traipsing, though, was what he had to settle for.  His wife had duties to perform, but there is no specified role in our constitution for a consort, so he had none.  ‘It’s all been trial and error,’ he says. Moreover, fearing a reprise of the last consort, Prince Albert, who had wielded considerable and possibly undue influence over Queen Victoria, politicians insisted that Philip should be kept out of the loop when it came to matters of government.

He was denied access to the red boxes of state papers that the Queen deals with every day. He was, though, master in his own household, the head of the family. And a very good father too, according to Lady Mountbatten, an ‘instinctive’ one who loved playing with his children. But there was a cloud over that role too when the government decided, with the Queen’s consent, that their children were not to take his family name of Mountbatten but to be designated Windsors.

The Duke is said to have been incandescent with rage, famously fulminating that ‘I am nothing but a bloody amoeba, the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.’ But he devoted himself to good works, presiding over a charity to promote and protect playing fields for sport and recreation. Requests for his support rolled in. Over time there would be 800 organisations he was attached to, most notably the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

He was rarely content to be a figurehead, and woe betide anyone he worked with who hadn’t done their homework. ‘He’s formidable and daunting, partly because of his position but also because he is a very considerable intellect,’ says broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. ‘If you turned up and you hadn’t mastered the papers, he would detect it very quickly and you would be in trouble.’

That razor-sharp edge had Joanna Lumley on her toes too. ‘It’s rather like meeting a hawk or an eagle. There’s something absolutely penetrating about the eyes. You feel you’re being scanned. You raise your game. You hope he’ll like you.’ …..”

Prince Philip in his younger days. Photo courtesty of The Daily Mail/Getty Images

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