Scottish Daily Mail
Philip was aghast when a royal maid even joined them on honeymoon
FOR a sailor used to travelling light and looking after himself, many aspects of life as a royal came as an unpleasant shock to Prince Philip. The first problem surfaced on his otherwise blissful honeymoon in Scotland — and her name was Bobo MacDonald. As Princess Elizabeth’s devoted maid of many years, she’d automatically accompanied them.
What Philip hadn’t expected, though, was to find her at his bride’s side at all times of the day and night — even when the Princess used the bathroom. Not surprisingly, this irritated him: he resented not being able to be alone with his wife whenever he wanted.
The Princess, however, genuinely couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. She was used to being constantly surrounded by staff and often ignored their presence.
The battle over Bobo would never be quite resolved. Like many female retainers who have devoted their lives to royal service, she always faintly resented the presence of her mistress’s husband. Philip, in turn, would try to keep her firmly in her place. He believed Bobo’s role was to open the curtains each morning and let the dogs in — nothing more.
Eventually, Prince and maid came to an amicable, non-verbal agreement to keep out of each other’s way. As for the Queen, she viewed Bobo — who served her for 67 years — as a friend and a crucial link with her childhood, as Bobo had been her nanny.
Not only was Philip unable to escape the maid on his honeymoon, but he was forced to live with his in-laws at Buckingham Palace for the first year of his marriage, while Clarence House was being refurbished at a cost of £50,000 for him and his bride.
Princess Elizabeth was already well aware that it would be difficult for a man so used to doing what he wanted to be tied to a suite of rooms in a huge, old-fashioned palace, where everything was subject to endless protocol. She also knew that he found many of the courtiers pompous and ridiculously stuck in their ways.
‘Life at court was very frustrating for him at first,’ said Lord Brabourne, whose wife, Patricia Mountbatten, was Philip’s cousin. ‘It was very stuffy. Tommy Lascelles (private secretary to the King) was impossible. They were bloody to him. They patronised him. They treated him as an outsider. It wasn’t much fun.
‘He laughed it off, of course, but it must have hurt. I’m not sure Princess Elizabeth noticed it. She probably didn’t see it.
‘ In a way, marriage hardly changed her life… She was able to carry on much as before. In getting married, she didn’t sacrifice anything. His life changed completely. He gave up everything.’
BACK in 1947, courtiers and senior members of the household wielded great influence, often making important decisions over a few large whiskies or a rubber of bridge. Unobtrusively powerful, they never admitted to mistakes, never complained about one another, never resigned and were never proved wrong.
The straight-talking Prince — who once described himself as a cosmopolitan European — didn’t fit into this world one little bit. And the palace old guard found him abrasive and rude.
His cousin, Pamela Mountbatten, recalled: ‘ He knew he was going into the lions’ den. He was very conscious of the way he’d been treated and how hard he would have to fight for his positi on and his i ndependence [against the Establishment]. What he didn’t know was just how fearsome it was going to be.’
For the first few months of married life, Philip was given a desk job at the Admiralty, which did little to improve his mood. ‘I was just a dogsbody, shuffling ships around,’ is how he described it.
Later, he was posted to a residential staff course at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich — a welcome respite from the palace, if not his wife. He also became patron to several organisations, and joined Princess Elizabeth on official visits and tours.
No matter how busy he was, Philip found time to have fun with his old friend Mike Parker as part of the Thursday Club — a group of men who had weekly meetings in a private room at Wheeler’s fish restaurant in Soho.
The club was started by photographer Baron Nahum, and there was usually ten to 15 people at each gathering. Members included actors David Niven, James Robertson Justice and Peter Ustinov; the poet John Betjeman; and Iain MacLeod (later Chancellor of the Exchequer).
Princess Elizabeth referred to this motley crew as ‘Philip’s funny friends’. There were rumours of wild parties, even of orgies — all denied by Parker — but exactly what went on at the club has never been substantiated.
Whatever the truth, marriage had not mellowed Philip. He was a man of his time and background, just as his wife was a woman of hers — and he didn’t see why he shouldn’t continue to enjoy jesting with cronies.
The palace old guard didn’t approve: there was great concern about Philip’s apparent desire to continue bachelor friendships with people of somewhat dubi- ous reputation. But rather than reining him back, their attitude seemed only to spur him on.
The move to Clarence House was a welcome reprieve. Under Philip’s supervision, it had been kitted out with the latest household gadgets including an intercom system, washing machines and an electric trouser press.
In 1949, the Prince became first lieutenant to HMS Chequers, the lead ship of the Mediterranean destroyer fleet, based in Malta. Princess Elizabeth frequently flew out for lengthy stays.
Her time in Malta has often been described as the only time she could live like an ordinary naval wife, driving herself, going to the hairdresser and shopping. In truth, it was a life less ordinary: their villa had a staff of 19 and the Princess also had her lady-in-waiting and detective in tow.
In 1950, much to Philip’s delight, he was appointed to his first command: the frigate HMS Magpie. Back home, however, the news was grim: the King was ailing with a bug he couldn’t shake off.
The following year, Philip took leave and came home to share his wife’s duties as she stood in for her father at official functions.
An operation to remove one of the King’s lungs seemed to go well, so the next year the royal couple flew to Nairobi on the first leg of a Commonwealth tour.
It was Mike Parker who picked up news of the King’s death on a shortwave radio after speaking to Martin Charteris, Princess Elizabeth’s private secretary, and woke Philip at a Kenyan lodge.
According to Parker, his private secretary, the Prince looked as though the whole world had dropped on his shoulders.
Pamela Mountbatten, who was also there, recalled that Philip’s first reaction was to put a newspaper over his face and remain motionless for five minutes.
PAMELA said: ‘And then he pull e d hi mself together and said he must go and find the Princess… She was having a rest in her bedroom… And so they went for a walk in the garden and you could tell, walking up and down, up and down, that he was telling her.
‘She came back to the lodge — and one just thought, this poor girl who really adored her father; they were very close. I think I gave her a hug and said how sorry I was. And then suddenly I thought, my God, but she’s Queen!’
The ‘awful thing’, added Pamela, was that the couple hadn’t expected her to take on the job until they were in their 50s.
Elizabeth requested that no pictures be taken as she left the
lodge, but there were a couple of photographers already outside.
‘We stood silently outside the lodge,’ one of them recalled, ‘as the cars drove away in a cloud of dust, not one of us taking a shot at that historic moment.
‘Seeing the young girl as Queen of Great Britain as she drove away, I felt her sadness as she just raised her hand to us as we stood there silent, cameras on the ground.’
When the Queen arrived back at Heathrow on February 7, 1952, Winston Churchill and the rest of the Privy Council lined up to greet her. At that moment, Philip knew that his life had changed for ever.
Years later, he recalled: ‘People used to come to me and ask me what to do. In 1952, the whole thing changed, very, very considerably.’
CHURCHILL insisted he and the new Queen move to the palace — an enormous wrench for Philip, for whom Clarence House had been the only home he’d ever been able to call his own.
For the Queen, however, it was simply a matter of going to the place where she’d l i ved very happily for much of her life.
For the Prince, problems soon multiplied. ‘Philip was constantly being squashed, snubbed, ticked off, rapped over the knuckles,’ said Mike Parker. ‘It was intolerable. The problem was simply that Philip had energy, ideas, get-upand-go, and that didn’t suit the Establishment, not one bit.’
In his new role, Philip sought the guidance of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands who, as the husband of Queen Juliana, had 15 years’ experience as consort.
Bernhard told him: ‘ Practically everything you do will be a subject of criticism. You can’t ignore it because some of it may be justified. And even if it isn’t, it may be politic to heed it. But don’t let it get you down. In this job, you need a skin like an elephant.’
For Philip at this point, frustration, irritation and disappointment were daily occurrences. But, with Parker’s help, he set about modernising the palace, much to the consternation of the old guard.
Among other things, he started a footman training programme, set in hand redecoration of the gloomy private apartments and installed a nearby kitchen so that food didn’t have to be traipsed along miles of draughty corridors.
And as chairman of the Coronation Commission, he oversaw every detail of the ceremony.
Leaving nothing to chance, he even stood on the palace balcony to find the best angle from which the Queen — still wearing her heavy crown — could watch the fly-past after the ceremony without getting a crick in her neck.
But losing his career and being relegated to backroom status couldn’t help but occasionally grate on him.
His chief role in the Coronation on June 2, 1953, was to kneel before his wife, taking the ancient oath of fealty: ‘I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship…’ He then had to stand, kiss her cheek and back away.
But at the rehearsal, possibly feeling a bit emasculated, he mumbled the words quickly, missed the Queen’s cheek and retired backwards fast. The Queen told him off: ‘Don’t be silly, Philip. Come back here and do it properly.’
Half a million people turned up in the rain to line the Coronation route. Inside Westminster Abbey, photographer Cecil Beaton noted the Queen’s ‘sugar pink cheeks and tightly curled hair and her demeanour of simplicity and humility’.
As she walked, he said, she allowed ‘her heavy skirt to swing backwards and forwards in a beautiful rhythmic effect’.
‘The Coronation was a deeply moving spiritual experience for her,’ said the Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes, ‘especially the part which wasn’t filmed — when she stood bareheaded, wearing only a white linen shift as the Archbishop of Canterbury marked the sign of the cross on her with the words: “As Solomon was anointed by Zadok the priest, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated as Queen over the people thy God hath given thee to govern.”’
When it came to Philip’s part, he performed well, but his touch on the crown was a bit heavy-handed and his wife had to adjust it. Over the years, he never forgot his pledge to be her ‘liege man of life and limb’. At times, he’d be irascible, laddish and difficult — but he would always give the Queen his whole-hearted support.