Re­mark­able mile­stone for royal cou­ple

Queen El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip spend more time apart as they set­tle into a new rhythm of mar­ried life

Sunday Tribune - - GARDENING -

HOW hard it must have been for Queen El­iz­a­beth to tear her­self away. With the work­men fi­nally gone, there was the shiny new kitchen – the first for 30 years – in the house where she and Prince Philip feel, and be­have, like nor­mal peo­ple.

They had spent a few days to­gether last week at Wood Farm, the cot­tage on the San­dring­ham es­tate that for years has been their bolt-hole from palace for­mal­ity.

But the queen – at 91 – had to re­turn to her du­ties in Lon­don. The Duke of Ed­in­burgh, 96, went with her on the he­li­copter flight. But then he flew on to Wind­sor Cas­tle where he is stay­ing un­til af­ter the week­end.

Then it is back to Wood Farm. Now re­tired from his of­fi­cial life, it was he who or­gan­ised the new kitchen, one of the sub­tle changes their lives have un­der­gone lately. He loves it there and has made it his re­tire­ment base: read­ing, paint­ing wa­ter­colours, writ­ing let­ters and hav­ing friends to stay.

An old friend says: “He is en­joy­ing read­ing things he’s al­ways wanted to read and gets up to what he wants with­out an equerry telling him he has to be else­where, or a cam­era fol­low­ing him.”

This is all with his wife’s bless­ing. For more than ever as they ap­proach their 70th wed­ding an­niver­sary on Novem­ber 20, does the queen feel a need to show her love and grat­i­tude to the man that she emo­tion­ally de­scribed on their 50th an­niver­sary as her “strength and stay”.

One has to say it is sur­pris­ing for a cou­ple who have been to­gether for so long to be spend­ing more time apart as they reach such a re­mark­able land­mark in their lives.

But as a courtier ex­plains: “The queen feels the duke has earned a proper re­tire­ment. Be­ing at Wood Farm means he’s not too far away, but far enough to be able to re­lax.”

Their week­end to­gether was the first for sev­eral weeks. And they still know how to have fun. A few weeks ago at Bal­moral, they judged the staff fancy dress com­pe­ti­tion.

It is al­ways a jolly evening when foot­men, house­maids, cooks and game­keep­ers com­pete to wear the most orig­i­nal cos­tume. They still chuckle over the time that Philip had to ex­plain to the queen that Oompa-loom­pas were char­ac­ters in a Roald Dahl story.

This time, the choice came down to two fi­nal­ists, one dressed as Won­der Woman, the other as a win­ner’s en­ve­lope from the Os­cars awards cer­e­mony. Won­der Woman won.

What is plain to those who sur­round this el­derly cou­ple is that the queen and Philip have set­tled com­fort­ably into a new rhythm of mar­ried life.

She does miss him, though, es­pe­cially at the break­fast table. Now, she sits alone and is rarely seen be­fore the daily 11am meet­ing with her pri­vate sec­re­tary.

The younger roy­als, par­tic­u­larly Princess Anne and the Count­ess of Wes­sex, have been spend­ing more time with the queen since Philip’s re­tire­ment. There is also a “granny rota” for the grand­chil­dren.

Of course, this mar­riage has had ups and downs like any other.

Long ago, when still Princess El­iz­a­beth and giv­ing a talk to a lo­cal Women’s In­sti­tute, the queen de­scribed di­vorce as “aw­ful”, lit­tle know­ing it would strike at all but one of her own four chil­dren.

Yet here they are now, at the head of a fam­ily whose mem­bers, for once, seem at peace with one an­other. And, hav­ing wel­comed the great-grand­daugh­ter of a Ge­ordie coalminer into the fam­ily, they are on the brink of em­brac­ing a young lady born in Los An­ge­les whose ma­ter­nal great­great-great-great grand­fa­ther was a slave.

Who would have ex­pected El­iz­a­beth and Philip, when they mar­ried at West­min­ster Abbey in 1947 in a glit­ter of post-war ex­cite­ment and ex­trav­a­gance, to pre­side so ef­fort­lessly over such an ex­tra­or­di­nary pe­riod of so­cial change?

No one re­ally knew how well this mar­riage would work. Navy man Philip was an odd mix of Greek royal fam­ily priv­i­lege (al­beit pen­ni­less) and the com­mon touch, blunt-speak­ing with spiky opin­ions. He was also so rak­ishly good-looking that fears were ex­pressed that he could not pos­si­bly be faith­ful.

This al­le­ga­tion has al­ways dogged the mar­riage and is the theme of the next se­ries of The Crown, the Net­flix block­buster that re­turns next month.

He is prob­a­bly the only per­son on Earth who treats her as a nor­mal hu­man be­ing. More than once he has been over­heard call­ing her “a bloody fool”.

How re­veal­ing of the young queen, al­ready a mother of three chil­dren (Charles, Anne and An­drew) to be squeal­ing and shriek­ing, “Stop it, Philip, stop it”, as he hur­ried her up the stairs pinch­ing her bot­tom on a week­end at Broad­lands, home of “Un­cle Dickie” Earl Mount­bat­ten.

Gig­gling could still be heard as they reached their room and the door closed. Then si­lence. At the time, they had been mar­ried for 15 years.

For his part, walk­ing one pace be­hind his wife on of­fi­cial oc­ca­sions has never re­ally both­ered Philip.

“He’s seen it as a con­sid­er­a­tion for those who want an un­ob­structed view of the queen with­out him get­ting in the way,” says a friend.

But while the queen is head of state, Philip is the ac­knowl­edged head of the fam­ily.

It was his hand, not hers, who penned those warm let­ters to Princess Diana dur­ing the most tur­bu­lent months in the cri­sis of her mar­riage to Charles, ask­ing her to recog­nise there were faults on both sides while re­as­sur­ing her of how fond he and the queen were of her.

Those fa­mil­iar words: “I can­not imag­ine any­one in their right mind leav­ing you for Camilla”, in a let­ter which he signed “Fond­est, Pa”, were a com­fort to Diana.

He and the queen wanted the mar­riage to sur­vive, but she left it to Philip to write the let­ters be­cause he, just like Diana, had been an out­sider mar­ry­ing into the royal fam­ily.

As for an­other who mar­ried into “the Firm”, Sarah, the Duchess of York, here was some­one over whom Philip and the queen have never seen eye to eye.

In­fu­ri­ated at the em­bar­rass­ment heaped on Prince An­drew and the House of Wind­sor by Fergie’s toe-suck­ing ad­ven­tures with Amer­i­can John Bryan, Philip re­fused to have any­thing more to do with her. When she walked into a room, he would walk out. All these years later the queen still takes a dif­fer­ent line from Philip, firmly main­tain­ing a wifely in­de­pen­dence in see­ing her for­mer daugh­ter-in-law fairly Who would have ex­pected Queen El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip, when they mar­ried at West­min­ster Abbey in 1947 in a glit­ter of post-war ex­cite­ment and ex­trav­a­gance, to pre­side so ef­fort­lessly over such an ex­tra­or­di­nary pe­riod of so­cial change? reg­u­larly. She does it be­cause she dotes on An­drew, her favourite son, who – 21 years af­ter their di­vorce – still shares his home, Royal Lodge, with his ex-wife.

And, of course, she does it for her grand­daugh­ters, the princesses Beatrice and Eu­ge­nie, who of­ten pop in to see her.

Philip did get on with life, too much so, in the eyes of some. They saw in his trav­els – on one oc­ca­sion with friends sail­ing the world aboard the Royal Yacht Bri­tan­nia, he was away for four months – a con­sort near to be­ing “off the rails”.

One cleric close to the royal fam­ily be­lieves none of this would have hap­pened had Ge­orge VI lived a few years more. His death at the age of 56, cat­a­pult­ing the queen on to the throne at 25, ended the bliss­ful, vir­tu­ally pri­vate fam­ily life she and Philip hoped to en­joy for longer.

“Prince Philip needed more time to get used to what was ahead,” says the cleric. “Sud­denly job­less by hav­ing to give up his life at sea, then to be bound by all the royal con­ven­tions, he found it hard to cope and sim­ply had to get away.”

It does seem hardly cred­i­ble to­day that Philip’s wan­der­ings were seen as such a po­ten­tial cri­sis back in the 1950s that the palace had to is­sue its one and only state­ment about the state of the mar­riage.

It de­clared that it was “quite un­true there is any rift be­tween the queen and the duke”.

The queen al­ways viewed the gos­sip about her hus­band and women – none of it ac­com­pa­nied by hard ev­i­dence – with a so­phis­ti­ca­tion sur­pris­ing for a woman who, as one friend puts it plainly, “has only ever her­self had an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with one man”.

Al­though wounded by the talk, the queen had long ac­cepted she had mar­ried a man who “takes a lot of amus­ing”, and re­signed her­self to the fact that women sim­ply found him very at­trac­tive.

As for the “af­fairs”, an­other friend has re­called ad­vice given to the queen in the early days by Lord Mount­bat­ten: “Some men have cer­tain needs, which doesn’t mean they love their wives any less”.

Philip’s free spirit has al­ways been at the fore­front of the queen’s mind. In the early days of her reign, he found him­self with­out a proper role.

For a time he thought of mak­ing him­self use­ful by in­volv­ing him­self in pub­lic mat­ters rather as the last con­sort, Queen Vic­to­ria’s hus­band Prince Al­bert, had done al­most a cen­tury ear­lier.

But when, just 20 days af­ter the death of Ge­orge VI, he watched a Com­mons de­bate from the Peers’ Gallery – just as Al­bert did – ob­ject ions were raised with the-then prime min­is­ter, Win­ston Churchill.

Churchill said he saw no harm in it, but Philip never went again.

As things turned out, he found much to do, from es­tab­lish­ing his Duke of Ed­in­burgh award scheme and co-found­ing the WWF (now the World Wide Fund for Na­ture), to in­volve­ment in hun­dreds of char­i­ties and the Armed Forces.

And he al­ways had one key role along­side the queen – as her “ice-breaker”. The smile she has taken into thou­sands of rooms full of peo­ple, all of whom are looking at her ex­pec­tantly, would not have been nearly so steady over the decades but for Philip. Even af­ter all these years, the queen still has to gather her­self on such oc­ca­sions.

As the dis­tin­guished artist Michael Noakes, who has painted her sev­eral times, says: “When Philip has seen that hap­pen­ing, he has taken over in a sub­tle way and made sure ev­ery­thing was okay. He says he can make peo­ple laugh within 15 sec­onds.”

Now, things have changed. The queen’s pub­lic en­gage­ments have been cut back; they are shorter and with line-ups, rather than her hav­ing to min­gle in rooms full of guests.

Life has be­come just that bit tougher for the queen than for Philip, but as a for­mer lady-in-wait­ing ex­plains: “I’m sure the queen doesn’t mind that in the least. She fell in love with him at 13 when they first met and she is still in love with him. She’s al­ways had a spe­cial look in her eyes when she looks at him, and still has it. She be­lieves he’s earned some peace and quiet.”

For the past 20 years she has been well aware of the chronic arthri­tis which made Philip’s pub­lic du­ties harder. But the duke is, ac­cord­ing to for­mer lady-in­wait­ing Jean Woodroffe, “much kin­der (to the queen) than he used to be. He was never un­kind, of course, but be­came more pro­tec­tive”.

This has ex­tended to jovially cas­ti­gat­ing fam­ily mem­bers fail­ing his punc­tu­al­ity test at in­for­mal gath­er­ings when the queen had al­ready ar­rived.

At a re­cent birth­day party, he grabbed one of the younger royal women by the wrist as she walked in, tapped her watch mean­ing­fully and, amid laugh­ter, rasped: “It seems to be bloody work­ing.”

Noth­ing il­lus­trates the queen’s de­vo­tion more than her mark­ing his 90th birth­day by be­stow­ing on him one of her own ti­tles, that of Lord High Ad­mi­ral. Friends de­scribe him as be­ing “al­most in tears” at the ges­ture.

On Re­mem­brance Sun­day, when Philip de­cided that he would not par­tic­i­pate in the Ceno­taph ser­vice, but watch from the side­lines – a For­eign Of­fice bal­cony – it didn’t take the queen long to de­cide that her place was with him there.

A courtier ex­plains: “Had she asked him to lay a wreath as usual, he would have done so. But she didn’t want to press him be­cause she knew he would say ‘Yes’, and she thought of his arthri­tis. She didn’t want to do it on her own. It’s a tes­ta­ment to their bond.”

Philip has mar­velled at his wife’s grit at the Ceno­taph. To ease the bur­den of stand­ing for close to half an hour in the Novem­ber chill and to make it less haz­ardous as she laid her wreath be­fore gin­gerly step­ping down back­wards, the heels on her shoes were low­ered and broad­ened.

Her wreath, now to be laid by Charles, was also made lighter.

At Wood Farm, with its sim­ple fur­nish­ings and open fires, Philip does have help. There is a page, house­keeper, chef and foot­man, but un­like the liv­er­ied palace staff, he prefers that they wear or­di­nary clothes.

As for their 70th an­niver­sary, once such a mile­stone would have her­alded a ma­jor gath­er­ing of friends and fam­ily. But with great age inevitably comes great loss, es­pe­cially of friends, which is one rea­son why the din­ner at Wind­sor Cas­tle will be rel­a­tively low key.

It’s hard to think now that in their courtship days when Philip be­gan to un­der­stand the re­stric­tions he would be ex­pected to live un­der as the queen’s hus­band, he briefly toyed with the idea of “throw­ing in the towel” and re­turn­ing to Greece. How of­ten since then has he – and his wife – been thank­ful that he didn’t. – Daily Mail

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