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Death of Prince Philip: 7-page commemoration special
As the world mourns the loss of Prince Philip, we look back on his extraordinary love for the queen, whom he supported faithfully until the very end
Prince Philip, husband to Queen Elizabeth, led a rich and varied life.
NOT even Hollywood’s finest writers could’ve dreamt up a love story of such epic proportions. No way could they have captured the tale of a dashing young naval cadet stealing the heart of a princess so absolutely that she never again looked at another man the way she looked at him.
Nor could they have conjured up the breadth and depth of the romance that spanned more than seven decades, surviving pretty much everything that could be thrown at it. But now the final scene of the love story of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip comes to an end. At the age of 99 – just two months shy of his 100th birthday – the Duke of Edinburgh died, his devoted wife at his side.
The 94-year-old monarch announced the passing of her husband of 73 years with “deep sorrow”. Flags were lowered to half-mast and gun salutes from the military rang out across the country. The queen’s social media pages shared a portrait of her and Philip along with a moving quote she made in a speech at their golden wedding anniversary in 1997. “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
THE queen will be bereft at losing her soulmate but insiders say she was prepared for it. “She would’ve thought about this moment several times and her way would be to remain as steady and calm as possible,” Charles Anson, a former press secretary to the monarch, told People magazine. “In my years of working with her she was always calm . . . But for any human being, this is a very cathartic moment.”
She’s gone into eight days of public mourning, which will be followed by another 30 days of private mourning. She takes solace in the fact she and Philip were together in the past few months, insiders say.
The couple spent most of lockdown at Windsor Castle, which is also where he passed away peacefully on 9 April. After his retirement in 2017, he’d lived mostly in the Norfolk countryside while his wife carried out royal duties from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Lockdown was the first time in years they had uninterrupted time together with practically no public duties to attend to.
THE Duke of Edinburgh held the twin honours of being the longest-serving royal consort in British history and its oldest. But to his four children, he was just Papa. Prince Charles (72) described his him as a “very special person”. Speaking to ITV in a pre-recorded message, the heir to the throne said he’d miss his father.
Philip was a man who didn’t “suffer fools gladly”, Charles said. “He was very good at showing you how to do things and would instruct you in various things.”
They reportedly had an emotional conversation while Philip was in hospital. The duke advised Charles to take care of the queen and to lead the royal family.
Princess Anne ( 70) praised Philip for “being able to keep pace with the kind of technological changes that have had such an impact on society” over the course of his life. “My father has been my teacher, my supporter and my critic, but mostly it is his example of a life well lived and service freely given that I most wanted to emulate.”
Prince Edward (57) thanked his dad for being a “great source of encouragement and guidance”. The Earl of Wessex spoke about his parents’ relationship and his childhood memories like reading together on the sofa. “My parents have been such a fantastic support to each other during all those years and all those events and all those tours overseas. To have someone that you confide in and smile about things that you perhaps could not in public. To be able to share that is immensely important.”
Prince Andrew (61) says his father’s death was a terrible loss. “We’ve lost the grandfather of the nation.
“The queen, as you would expect, is an incredibly stoic person. She described it as having left a huge void in her life,” the Duke of York told the BBC.
Tributes from world leaders poured in but one well-wisher perhaps summed it up best in an online tribute, describing Her Majesty as having “lost the brightest jewel in her crown”.
‘HE HAS, QUITE SIMPLY, BEEN MY STRENGTH AND STAY ALL THESE YEARS’
When a 13-year-old Elizabeth saw Philip she was intrigued. A teenage Elizabeth wrote Philip several letters and even kept a framed photograph of him by her bed.
Philip didn’t take it seriously until 1943, when he went with a cousin to stay at Windsor Castle for Christmas.
Over that weekend they partied, played games, danced and watched films. It was a turning point for Philip.
Elizabeth, then 17, was animated in a way “none of us had ever seen before”, her former governess Marion Crawford says.
Philip loved her deeply. In one letter to her he wrote, “I am afraid I am not capable of putting all this into the right words and I am certainly incapable of showing you the gratitude that I feel.”
In a different letter he writes, “To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty.”
In 1946 Philip asked King George VI for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The king agreed but asked them to withhold the announcement until she turned 21. Their engagement was officially announced on 9 July 1947.
Courtiers had advised the future queen not to marry him, biographer AN Wilson revealed in a 2016 interview. “They said it for lots of reasons but the fact is he was wrong [ for her]. The queen is a very reserved, diligent person. He isn’t. He was
a naval officer and he was also quite funny. Many of his jokes are extremely funny. The fact that he makes all these so-called gaffes. Well, I don’t think they are gaffes. They are the kind of jokes a naval officer of a certain age might make.”
The wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey was attended by more than 2 000 guests and was broadcast by BBC Radio to 200 million people.
The event didn’t go without incident. On the day of the rehearsal dinner, which took place a day before the wedding, Philip was stopped for speeding through central London.
His reply to the police officer was characteristically cheeky: “I’m sorry, officer, but I’ve got an appointment with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
Only 150 guests attended the wedding reception, a lunch held at Buckingham Palace. The only extravagance was when the bride and groom cut their four-tier, 113kg wedding cake with Philip’s sword.
Philip’s speech was short and sincere and he mentioned being “proud of my country and my wife”.
As consort to the queen, Philip had to get used to walking two steps behind her. This caused tension early in their marriage, but the duke sucked it up.
“My job first, second and last is never to let the queen down,” he famously said.
She would never have been able to carry out her duties without him, those close to her say. As granddaughter Princess Eugenie once put it: “I think he is her rock, really, and she is his.”
Prince Harry echoed this sentiment. “I don’t think she could have done her job without him.”
Philip is the only one who could make the queen laugh and often teased his Lilibet, as he called her. He also lovingly called her Cabbage.
In 1997 he revealed what he believed to be behind the success of their marriage: “Tolerance is the one essential ingredient in any happy marriage. The queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance.”
In a letter to her mother he once wrote, “Cherish Lilibet? I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me.
A ROYAL RUMOUR
Philip visited 143 countries in his official capacity. They include China, Canada, Sri Lanka and most popularly Australia. His trips were seen as a brief escape from his royal duties.
The former cadet who took up service in the navy as an 18-year-old and went on to become a captain with a promising future abroad, longed to break away from stifling palace protocol.
Nine years into his marriage to the queen, Philip took a five-month solo trip that started in Australia. It was called a diplomatic mission but the trip put immense strain on their relationship.
It was also the source of salacious rumours, including claims of infidelity.
“Even a devout monarchist like Barbara Cartland who reveres the royal family, talks about a secret love affair that she learnt of from Philip’s uncle Lord Mountbatten,” author Kitty Kelley recalls in her 1997 book The Royals, referring to the well-known English novelist.
“The stories of Philip’s women and his trysts were as many and varied as his ports of call,” revealed Brian Hoey, another royal author.
The rumours were often squashed. “As the queen’s husband he carried a certain immunity,” Kitty says.
A TRAGIC START
Prince Philip had a traumatic start to life. He was born on the Greek Island of Corfu on 10 June 1921 to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg.
When Philip was one his father, who was working in the army, was accused of treason and exiled. The family sought refuge in Paris, where they stayed for the following decade. Philip, then a baby, was famously smuggled out in an orange crate.
“Though his parents both adored him, Philip saw little of them in his nomadic early years,” Philip Eade, author of Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life, writes. “His mother’s nerves had been badly strained by the family’s exile from Greece and because of this the children were regularly packed off to friends and relations.”
When Philip was 10, Alice, who was born deaf, suffered a nervous breakdown and was confined to a sanatorium in Switzerland. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.
He was stoic about his life. “It’s simply what happened,” the duke later said. “The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.”
Alice’s family – the Milford Havens and Mountbattens – stepped in to care for Philip. Because of their ties to the British royal family – Alice was a great- granddaughter of Queen Victoria – Philip went to school in England.
He briefly left to attend a school in Germany but returned to Britain less than a year later, where he was enrolled at a boarding school in Scotland called Gordonstoun.
His family never reunited. His sisters married Hitler- supporting Nazis, his mother became a nun and his father drifted in and out of his life until there was no contact.
Gordonstoun headmaster Kurt Hahn became one of the father figures in Philip’s life. He was the one who broke the news to him that his sister, Cecile, her husband and their two children had died in a plane crash.
A FORMIDABLE FATHER
Although they appeared to have made peace in the end, Philip always had a strained relationship with his eldest son, Prince Charles. Charles once labelled the relationship as “cold” and said he felt bullied by his father.
“He’s a romantic and I’m a pragmatist,” Philip told royal biographer Gyles Brandreth in 2016. “That means we do see things differently. And because I don’t see things as a romantic would, I’m unfeeling.”
Philip insisted Charles attend Scottish all- boys school Gordonstoun. He hoped Charles would have the same positive experience he did – instead the young prince was bullied and struggled to make friends.
Diana Spencer also became a sticking point. Philip wrote his son a letter before the couple became engaged, which Charles has always interpreted as an ultimatum.
But a relative of Philip’s disagrees. “I’ve seen the letter and he simply pointed out that Charles needed to bear in mind this girl was only 19, very vulnerable, with a reputation to lose.
“If he wanted to go on seeing her, he had to think seriously about getting engaged because otherwise it wouldn’t be fair to Diana.
“Charles took this as being bullied into marriage.”
Philip had better relationships with his three other children.
He made no secret of his affection for Edward – the only portrait in his study was of the Earl of Wessex.
Edward took over many of his father’s duties when he retired in 2017 and will get Philip’s Duke of Edinburgh title after the queen dies.
Princess Anne also held a special place in her father’s heart.
“[Philip] always had more fun with Anne,” Eileen Parker, wife of Philip’s close friend Mike Parker, once said.
A DOTING GRANDDAD
Where he lacked as a father, Philip certainly made up for as a grandfather.
Following Princess Diana’s death in 1997, Philip helped William (then 15) and Harry (then 12) through their grief.
When an adviser to then prime minister Tony Blair suggested the princes walk behind Diana’s coffin at her funeral, an anguished Philip lost his temper, recalls Adam Boulton, husband of Anji Hunter who was Tony’s government relations director at the time.
“The queen relished the moment when Philip bellowed over the speakerphone from Balmoral, ‘F*** off! We are talking about two boys who have just lost their mother’.”
In the end the boys did walk in the procession.
Philip reportedly asked William, “If I walk, will you walk with me?” The duke believed his grandson would regret not joining the procession.
“I think Grandpa is incredible,”
Eugenie said in the 2016 ITV documentary Our Queen at Ninety.
“He really is strong and consistent. He’s been there for all these years and I think he’s the rock, you know, for all of us.”
He also supported Prince Harry when he decided to step away from royal life, even though he believed it was a mistake.
“The Duke of Edinburgh was not pleased, nor did he believe that Harry and Meghan were doing the right thing either for the country or for themselves,” Gyles Brandreth royal biographer and a close friend of Philip’s for the past 40 years, wrote for the Daily Mail. “He said to me: ‘People have got to lead their lives as they think best’.”
When it came to their name and being a royal, Philip had one rule: never do anything that bring shames to the family. As the head of the family he had the most say and sway when it came to family affairs.
Philip loved Diana as a daughter and helped her to adjust to the restrictions that came with being royal.
Philip’s genuine concern, affection and support for her during the time she and Charles separated in 1992 was shown in the letters they exchanged then. The heavily censored letters were made public during an inquest into her 1997 death.
Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, says Philip wrote “very supportive letters” to her.
“He said to her, ‘Mama and I do not condone Charles’ relationship with Camilla and we cannot understand for the life of us why he would choose Camilla over you’,” Burrell says. The letter was signed, “with fondest love, Pa”.
“Dearest Pa,” Diana replied, “You really do care . . .”
Things started to go awry when Philip told Diana her behaviour was reflecting badly on the monarchy. No amount of affection for her would change his stance about bringing shame to the family name.
It’s for the same reason that he went off Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson. At one point she was believed to be his favourite daughter-in-law.
They shared a raucous sense of humour and a love for flying.
“I think she will be a great asset,” the Duke of Edinburgh said when she and Andrew married in 1986.
Fergie’s fall from favour was swift and savage.
Pictures emerged of her tanned and topless with her toes being kissed on a holiday in France in August 1992 with her American lover at the time, John Bryan.
Fergie and Andrew, not yet divorced, were at Balmoral visiting her former inlaws when the news broke.
“The queen was furious – really cross,” she later shared.
As for Philip? “It was ridiculous – as soon as I came in through one door he’d be falling over the corgis to get out of the other,” she told author Gyles Brandreth.
‘I THINK HE’S THE ROCK, YOU KNOW FOR ALL OF US’
Prince Philip was a qualified pilot, a sailor and a car and carriage driver. He received his Royal Air Force wings, his helicopter wings and his private pilot’s licence all in the 1950s, raking up 6 000 hours of flying before retiring in 1997.
Yachting was another passion and he often took his ocean racing yacht, Bloodhound, on family holidays on the Royal Yacht Britannia (which was actually a massive ship). The prince also represented his country in carriage driving. It’s something he made popular in the UK and granddaughter Louise Windsor, daughter of Prince Edward and Sophie, inherited her love of it from him. He also wrote books
He also helped to design the custom Land Rover that will carry his body at his funeral.
Fitness and sports also played a big role in Philip’s life. At school he was captain of his cricket and hockey teams.