Did rumours of affair with Philip cost star an OBE?
SHE was a stunning beauty and one of the most famous women of British stage and screen, enjoying a long and distinguished career.
So it is hardly a surprise that veteran showgirl Pat Kirkwood should have been deemed worthy of an honour.
Now The Mail on Sunday can reveal that she was indeed twice recommended for an OBE but also twice rejected, amid persistent ‘embarrassing’ rumours linking her to Prince Philip.
Allegations of an affair cast a shadow over the early years of the Royal marriage, after Philip visited Kirkwood in her dressing room and had supper with her.
The rumours dogged Kirkwood throughout her life and are now to be resurrected in the new series of television drama The Crown.
This newspaper can also reveal that much of the Government paperwork regarding the snub has been destroyed – fuelling speculation over why she missed out.
Dubbed Britain’s answer to the major US star Betty Grable, Kirkwood found fame as a musical theatre star at the beginning of the Second World War and continued to perform even as German bombs fell on London. After the war, she became the first woman to be given her own show by the BBC.
It was at the height of this success that Prince Philip entered her life.
During a performance at the Hippodrome in 1948 the Prince visited Kirkwood in her dressing room.
Later that evening the pair enjoyed supper at Les Ambassadeurs in Mayfair while a heavily pregnant Princess Elizabeth spent the night alone at Clarence House.
Kirkwood later recalled: ‘He was full of life and energy. I suspect he felt trapped and rarely got a chance to be himself. I got off on the right foot because I made him laugh.’
The meeting cause a sensation at the time and there were subsequent unfounded reports that the Prince had continued to see Kirkwood and had given her a white Rolls-Royce.
The star always denied they had an affair.
Cabinet Office papers obtained under freedom of information laws reveal that Kirkwood was recommended for an OBE first in the Birthday Honours List and then the New Year’s Honours List of 2000.
But despite the recommendation by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Ms Kirkwood, then aged 79, never received it.
The papers do not specify why, and the rest of the paperwork relating to her was destroyed by the Cabinet Office in 2002. The snub to Kirkwood, whose legs were once described by the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’, will raise eyebrows, not least because of her stellar success on stage and screen.
The upcoming second series of television drama The Crown will resurrect the rumours in scenes showing the Queen reacting jeal- ously to Prince Philip. Royal biographer Margaret Holder said yesterday: ‘I think giving Kirkwood an honour would have been embarrassing for the Queen regardless of whether or not the rumours are true.’
In a contribution to an obituary of the star, a confidante said: ‘In the normal course of events, she would have been a CBE or even a Dame, but she didn’t get so much as an MBE, not even for her war work when she performed with the bombs raining down. She was denied the recognition she deserved.’
It is unlikely that Kirkwood, who died on Christmas Day 2007, aged 86, turned down the honour.
TV presenter Gyles Brandreth, who knew four-times-married Kirkwood and is a friend of Philip, said: ‘There was absolutely nothing in the story about her and the Duke of Edinburgh.
‘Pat resented the damage that the stories caused her and the embarrassment it has caused the Duke.’
A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: ‘We can only comment on people who are on the honours list, not on names that don’t appear.’
‘An embarrassment for the Queen’
Paper rejecting Pat Kirkwood, left in 1944, for an OBE. Right: Meeting the Queen in 1953. Below: the new series of the Crown features marital tensions between the Queen and Philip (below), and his friendship with a dancer (inset)