BY FRANK HAVILAND
I don’t consider myself a royalist, at least not in the traditional sense. I don’t know the names of the minor ones. I wouldn’t enter a Starbuck’s queue to watch Trooping of the Colour. Meghan who? However, I do admire the Queen enormously for her dedicated service to the nation. I believe Princess Margaret’s morning routine is the standard to live by. And I’m confident I could have spent many hours happily ensconced with the Queen Mother (though Jack Daniels rather than gin would have been my tipple). I’m definitely a fan of Prince Philip too.
In an age of ephemera, Philip’s Bond-like service to Queen and country is truly remarkable. From 1952-2017, he conducted 22,219 solo engagements, famously dubbing himself ‘the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler’. HRH also boasts a distinguished naval career encompassing WWII, and is the longest-serving consort to a British monarch in history. Though he remains respectfully two steps behind the Queen, he is always by her side. As #MeToo feminists bemoan ‘toxic masculinity’, Philip’s devotion is seamless. It’s no surprise Her Majesty refers to him as her ‘strength and stay’.
It is in his unofficial capacity however, as Britain’s greatest stand-up comedian, where I feel Prince Philip really delivers. While his gags would be unlikely to find a home on the BBC, his timing is second-to-none. Here are a few of his best one-liners:
- (On the Duke of York’s house) ‘It looks like a tart’s bedroom.’
- (To the matron of a Caribbean hospital) ‘You have mosquitoes, I have the Press.’
- (On a vist to Canada) ‘I declare this thing open, whatever it is.’
- Or my personal favourite, when kept waiting by a photographer at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain ‘Just take the f***ing picture!’
So it was sad to hear on Thursday that HRH had been involved in a car crash near the Sandringham Estate. Before I read the details, I conjured up images of the 97-year-old Prince venting some boyracer exuberance. Unfortunately the crash was rather serious, with the passengers of the second car suffering cuts and bruises, and a broken wrist. Most thankfully, the 9-month-old baby in their car was unharmed.
Although the Duke’s car flipped over in the crash, he walked away unscathed. And this is not the first time his life has been in danger either. Wars notwithstanding, Prince Phillip has survived an assassination attempt, and repeated false reports of his death without batting an eyelid. He comes from that stoic, older generation which neither got triggered, nor required safe spaces. As the Duke once observed regards stress-counselling for soldiers, ‘We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun. You just got on with it.’
In the aftermath of the crash there appear to be conflicting accounts as to precisely what transpired. Emma Fairweather whose wrist was broken in the crash, claims she’s had no contact from the palace. Selling her story to the Mirror, she simultaneously states ‘I thought I’d at least have got a note and maybe some flowers but I’ve heard nothing’, and ‘I got a call from a police family liaison officer. The message he passed on didn’t even make sense. He said, ‘The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would like to be remembered to you.’
It is unclear what irks Fairweather the most, the fact that the Queen did not pick up the blower personally, or that she has not instantly been accorded a damehood.
Moreover, despite claims that the Prince did not apologise (while acknowledging that others advised him not to), it was clear according to witness Roy Warne (who pulled HRH from the wreckage), that the Duke’s first concern was the health of the other passengers.
Driving aside, the Duke is no stranger to criticism. He has previously faced censure for his controversial statements, and had allegations of infidelity levied at him. Now, despite passing an eye-test, some feel that getting back behind the wheel just 48 hours after the crash is premature. The Duke has apparently been ‘advised’ by police after photos emerged of him not wearing a seatbelt, and fellow comedian Kathy Burke couldn’t resist publicly offering him a few kind words of support.
While of course seatbelt etiquette is important (having to police it restricts the time officers can spend monitoring our Twitter feeds after all), I feel HRH is underappreciated. He came an uninspiring 5th in a recent YouGov poll of royal popularity. I fear too that history will treat him unkindly, as the younger generation seems wont to vilify any public figure not measuring up to the Gillette standards of wokeness.
The crash may be a random episode, or it may be an indication that he is finally slowing down. As he famously remarked at his 90th birthday, ‘Bits are starting to fall off!’ Either way, we’re going to miss him when’s he’s gone. I’d love to see him make his century. I’d also love to see our emasculated young men take his example and stiffen their backbones just a notch or two.
In an age where honesty is a scant commodity, the no-nonsense nonagenarian soldiers on regardless. He has no spin doctor, no filter, and appears unconcerned about whom he offends – precisely the tonic our politically correct, perpetually-offended zeitgeist so desperately needs.
Ageism may currently be ones of the only ‘isms’ worth taking seriously. As we speak, Poly Toynbee is busy chalking up dead Brexit voters with thinly-disguised glee. We may need less of Prince Philip on the roads, but we certainly need more of him in the public domain. Who is going to be left saying the unsayable when he is gone? Unlike most Greek gifts, Prince Philip is a treasure we should hold on to while we still can.