PRINCE PHILIP REVEALED
by Ingrid Seward (S&S £20, 384pp)
On the one hand, he has been steadfastly by the Queen’s side throughout her long reign. On the other, he appears not to give a damn about anyone else’s feelings and is prone to gaffes which are sometimes downright unpleasant.
As a friend of Prince Philip commented: ‘He is not a gentleman, because he doesn’t put people at their ease when he can’t be bothered.’
Like the Queen, Prince Philip is a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece, met his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, at Edward VII’s coronation.
Prince Philip, like the Queen, is a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. Pictured: Philip salutes the Course Officer at the Royal Naval Establishment on July 31, 1947
Even by aristocratic standards, Philip’s childhood was distinctly odd. The year after Philip was born, his soldier father was sentenced to death for disobeying orders. Although saved from the firing squad, he was banished from Greece.
From the time Philip was six, his mother suffered severe mental illness. At nine, he was packed off to school in England and barely saw his parents after that.
His uncle, Lord Mountbatten, had big plans for his dazzlingly handsome nephew. In 1939, when Philip was a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Mountbatten cannily suggested Philip entertain the young princesses while their parents inspected the fleet. Elizabeth was 13, Philip 18.
According to her nanny, Crawfie, Princess Elizabeth knew almost straight away that Philip was ‘the one’. Philip (pictured right), who had served with distinction in the war, proposed in 1946 and was joyfully accepted.
According to The Queen’s nannie, Her Majesty knew that Philip was ‘the one’ almost straight away. Pictured: Prince Philip at the Naval College in Greenwich
Although he was marrying the world’s most eligible heiress, Seward claims Philip was full of doubts about what he was getting into.
Shortly before the wedding, he went to stay in Cornwall with the beautiful novelist Daphne du Maurier. Their relationship was ‘emotionally intimate’ though not sexual but, at the end of the weekend, he told her: ‘I don’t want to go back, I want to stay with you.’ Du Maurier told him not to be silly: ‘Your country needs you.’
There were a few happy, carefree years for the young couple but, after King George VI died in 1952, Philip gave up his naval career to become full-time consort to the new queen. He fumed at the archaic way things were run at Buckingham Palace: ‘Philip was constantly being squashed, snubbed, ticked off,’ according to his friend Mike Parker.
Most woundingly of all, his children had to take the name Windsor, rather than Mountbatten.
Prince Philip was allegedly unhappy with the way Buckingham Palace was run when he first married the Queen. Pictured: Prince Philip visiting the Mediterranean fleet
When it comes to fatherhood, Philip’s record is decidedly patchy. The Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes told Seward that the Duke was wonderful with small children: ‘It was when they grew and developed their own personalities that Philip seemed to lose interest.’
The Duke was determined to toughen up his sensitive son and insisted he be sent to Gordonstoun, the hearty Scottish school that Philip had attended. Charles absolutely loathed it. By the time Charles left Gordonstoun, he had learned to put on a brave face but ‘the little boy who cowered when his father raised his voice still lurked under the surface’.
Father and son are now much closer and Philip thoroughly approves of Camilla.
He was a much better father to Princess Anne, his favourite, who is as tough and fearless as he is. No one could fault Prince Philip’s commitment to his role.
Prince Philip Revealed by Ingrid Seward (S&S £20, 384pp)
By the time he retired from royal duties in 2017, aged 96, he had undertaken more than 22,000 solo engagements and 637 overseas tours.
The Queen has called him ‘my strength and stay’ and Seward paints a picture of a largely happy marriage.
When her husband is in a rage about something, the Queen, like many wives, simply tunes out.
In the public mind, Prince Philip is characterised by his notorious gaffes. He appears to have a particular dislike of the Welsh singer Tom Jones. ‘What do you gargle with, pebbles?’ he asked, going on to call him ‘a bloody awful singer’.
Seward trots briskly through all the women Prince Philip is rumoured to have had an affair with, chiefly actresses or aristocrats.
While she concedes he has a roving eye, she asserts there isn’t ‘a shred of evidence of a physical relationship … but the stories will never go away’.
Seward tries to be scrupulously fair about the Duke of Edinburgh but concludes he is ultimately ‘unknowable’.
When asked by Fiona Bruce on his 90th birthday if he had been successful in his role, he replied: ‘I couldn’t care less.’