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100 things you never knew about Prince Philip on the eve of his century

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Prince Philip (pictured at the Epsom Derby in 2009) has, with characteristic self-deprecation, invented a word for his famous habit of ¿putting one¿s foot into one¿s mouth¿

Prince Philip (pictured at the Epsom Derby in 2009) has, with characteristic self-deprecation, invented a word for his famous habit of ‘putting one’s foot into one’s mouth’

Millions of words may have been written about his jam-packed life, but a new book by veteran Royal-watcher IAN LLOYD unearths nuggets about the man who, with characteristic self-deprecation, has even invented a word for his famous habit of ‘putting one’s foot into one’s mouth’… 

1 Mon Repos was the Corfu villa where, on June 10, 1921, Princess Alice, 36, had her fifth child. Her doctor thought it more expedient for her to give birth on the dining room table rather than in her bed.

2 His mother’s childhood nickname for him was ‘Bubbikins’.

3 He’s Queen Victoria’s oldest surviving great-great-grandchild.

4 Thirty years ago, he said: ‘I’m not really interested in what goes on my tombstone.’

5 Watching the Queen Mother in her centenary year, he declared: ‘God, I don’t want to live to be 100. I can’t imagine anything worse.’

6 He has described his ‘dontopedalogy’ as ‘the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it’.

7 Once asked which country he’d still like to visit, he replied: ‘Russia – although the bastards murdered half my family.’

8 His paternal grandmother was Tsar Nicholas I’s granddaughter. In 1993, a blood sample from Philip allowed scientists to compare the DNA of bones thought to be from the imperial family murdered in Yekaterinburg in 1918 with living relatives. They confirmed their fate at the hands of a Bolshevik firing squad.

9 An aunt, Princess George of Greece, documented a list of her willing extramarital sexual partners in unpublished memoirs, The Men I Have Loved. She believed the closer the clitoris to the vagina, the more chance a woman has of achieving an orgasm – and had her own clitoris surgically shifted in that direction. It didn’t work.

10 Philip’s mother converted to the Greek Orthodox Church but suffered delusions, thinking she was in a sexual relationship with Jesus and that she had a signed photo from him.

11 The first time Elizabeth, then eight, and Philip, 13, saw each other was at the wedding of her uncle, the Duke of Kent, to Philip’s cousin Princess Marina of Greece, on November 29, 1934.

12 In a production of Macbeth at his school, Gordonstoun, Philip played Donalbain, son of the about-to-be-murdered King Duncan. 

13 His sister Cecile, her husband and their two sons were killed in an air crash in 1937. She was eight months pregnant and rescuers found remains of a stillborn child in the wreckage. For years afterwards, Philip carried a small piece of the damaged aircraft.

14 At Cecile’s funeral in Germany, Philip’s three brothers-in-law, all German aristocrats, walked alongside him – one was in his full SS uniform while another was dressed as a Nazi stormtrooper.

Elizabeth and Philip talking in the Royal Box at Olympia in London in 1952, the year before she was crowned

Elizabeth and Philip talking in the Royal Box at Olympia in London in 1952, the year before she was crowned

15 Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, sent messages of sympathy while Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering marched in the funeral procession.

16 Philip signs himself with the Greek ‘P’.

17 He joined the battleship HMS Valiant in January 1941, helping convoy troops to bolster the British Expeditionary Force in Greece.

18 He manned the searchlights, identifying enemy targets. He later recalled one dramatic battle, saying: ‘All hell broke loose.’

19 His war service was rewarded with the 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Burma Star; Italy Star with Mention in Dispatches; Cross of Valour; Croix de Guerre.

20 In her account of his life, his cousin Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia wrote: ‘Blondes, brunettes, and redhead charmers, Philip gallantly and I think quite impartially squired them all.’

21 As a 22-year-old naval hero, he almost missed a watershed moment – being confined to bed with flu – but rallied to cheer as Elizabeth, 17, performed in a family pantomime of Aladdin at Windsor Castle on December 18, 1943. She played the role of Aladdin, dressed in a revealing costume.

22 Their first memorable meeting had been at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in 1939 when the visiting 13-year-old princess couldn’t take her eyes off the blond, athletic cadet.

23 A year later, the captain of his ship, HMS Ramillies, noted that Philip told him: ‘My Uncle Dickie [Mountbatten] has ideas for me; he thinks I could marry Princess Elizabeth.’

24 That Christmas, Philip sent Elizabeth a Christmas card from Athens.

25 Their engagement was announced on July 9, 1947. He’d asked her ten months earlier at Balmoral. According to his cousin, Elizabeth said it happened ‘beside some well-loved loch, the white clouds sailing overhead and a curlew crying out of sight’.

26 ‘They were bloody to him,’ recalled Earl Mountbatten’s son-in-law John Brabourne. ‘They didn’t like him, they didn’t trust him and it showed.’ The ‘him’ was Philip. The ‘them’ were senior courtiers and the Royals’ aristocratic friends.

27 Three critical lords – Salisbury, Eldon and Stanley – ‘professed to see in him a Teutonic strain’, and one called him ‘Charlie Kraut’.

28 The King’s assistant private secretary, Sir Edward Ford, said some wondered if ‘this rough diamond would treat the Princess with the sensitivity she deserves?’ In truth, the fact that Philip didn’t treat her with ‘the sensitivity she deserves’ was a trait that attracted her to him.

Prince Philip (left) in costume for a production of 'Macbeth' at his school Gordonstoun in Scotland in July 1935

Prince Philip (left) in costume for a production of ‘Macbeth’ at his school Gordonstoun in Scotland in July 1935

29 The King’s private secretary, Tommy Lascelles, said both the King and Queen ‘felt he was rough, ill-tempered, uneducated and would probably not be faithful’.

30 Elizabeth’s mother wrote letters to friends waxing lyrical about her daughter’s intended, but to Lascelles she said: ‘One can only pray that she has made the right decision. I think she has – but he is untried as yet.’

31 Vehemently anti-German, having lost a brother during the First World War, the Queen Mother was said, years later, in private, to have dubbed her son-in-law ‘the Hun’ and believed he ran the Royal estates ‘like a Junker’ – members of the landed nobility in Prussia.

32 Elizabeth’s cousin Margaret Elphinstone noted that many of Philip’s critics in Royal circles thought he was ‘a foreign interloper out for the goodies’.

33 However, George VI grew to admire his future son- in-law. ‘I like Philip,’ he wrote to his mother Queen Mary in 1944. ‘He is intelligent, has a good sense of humour and thinks about things in the right way.’

34 Philip designed the couple’s platinum engagement ring, featuring 11 diamonds from his mother’s tiara which had to be collected from a bank in Paris where they had been stored after her mental collapse.

35 He gave up smoking at his wife’s request and never relapsed.

36 Philip’s official stag night was at London’s Dorchester Hotel, made up of officers from HMS Whelp. A relatively sober bridegroom left at 12.15am, saying: ‘Sorry I must go. I have an early morning date!’

37 Churchill called the wedding, on November 20, 1947, ‘a flash of colour on the hard road we have to travel’. Mindful of the post-war austerity, George VI agreed there would be no souvenirs or stands and decorations along the procession route.

38 However, the Tory politician ‘Chips’ Channon wrote in his diary: ‘Someone in the Government apparently advised simplicity, misjudging the English love of pageantry and show. Now it is too late and an opportunity missed.’

39 Philip wore his naval uniform with the stars of the Order of the Garter and the Greek Order of the Redeemer.

Each state banquet place setting has three glasses ¿ for red and white wines and champagne. Philip also has a tumbler for his Double Diamond beer (pictured)

Each state banquet place setting has three glasses – for red and white wines and champagne. Philip also has a tumbler for his Double Diamond beer (pictured)

40 Breakfast was coffee and toast – topped up with a gin and tonic to steady his nerves.

41 Absent were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, 11 years after his abdication, and Philip’s three sisters – cold-shouldered by the Palace because of their German connections.

42 ‘They minded terribly,’ recalled their cousin Lady Pamela Hicks. ‘It’s not as if they were stormtroopers!’

43 The ‘austerity’ wedding breakfast consisted of fish, partridges shot on Royal estates and ice cream.

44 The cake was four-tiered, 9ft tall and weighed 500 lb.

45 Among 2,583 presents were 16 pairs of silk stockings and more than 100 nylons, a cylinder vacuum cleaner from Hoover Ltd, an automatic potato-peeler and a Siamese kitten.

46 For their honeymoon night at Broadlands (Mountbatten’s Hampshire mansion), the housekeeper, Mrs Monks, ‘smoothed the pale pink crepe-de-chine sheets and two pillow cases appliqued with a white satin leaf motif’ at least 20 times.

47 In 1946, a 25-year-old Philip met his late father’s mistress, the French actress Comtesse Andree de la Bigne, at a cafe in Monte Carlo. Although she was not mentioned in his will, Philip’s mother kindly gave her his car and any possessions she wanted, which Philip arranged over cocktails.

48 Prince Charles was asked in a 1969 BBC interview whether his disciplinarian father had told him ‘to sit down and shut up’. Charles replied: ‘The whole time, yes,’ before adding: ‘I think he has had quite a strong influence on me, particularly in my younger days.’

49 When asked by Gyles Brandreth about his similarities with his eldest son, Philip interjected: ‘Yes, but with one great difference. He’s a romantic and I’m a pragmatist. That means we do see things differently…’

50 After comments that both stood with their hands behind their backs, as if it were some genetic trait, Charles joked: ‘We both have the same tailor… He makes the sleeves so tight, we can’t get our hands out in front.’

51 The Duke has been a lifelong jazz fan, and is particularly fond of Duke Ellington.

52 The Thursday Club was an all-male weekly lunch group founded by Philip and others at Wheeler’s restaurant in London’s Soho. Famous guests included actor David Niven, and Kim Philby before he was outed as a Soviet spy. One member, Philip’s cousin David Milford Haven, sold his story of the Royal Wedding to a newspaper, and clubbers named him ‘C*** of the Week’.

53 The club held a black-tie stag do five days before the official one. They dined on foie gras, turtle soup, mixed grill and crepes suzette.

54 The Queen seems to have indulged Philip’s need for a lads-only break, apparently referring to the Thursday crew as ‘Philip’s funny friends!’

55 Sunninghill Park, adjoining Ascot racecourse, was due to be the Royal couple’s first home, but it was destroyed by fire while being renovated in 1947. So they switched to Windlesham Moor in Surrey. The dog-loving pair donated the Siamese cat, given as a wedding present, to the cook.

The Duke of Edinburgh jumping off the water skis as he reaches the beach at Marmaris in Turkey during the Mediterranean Fleet's summer cruise - Prince Philip's last cruise in H.M.S. Magpie before he returned to the United Kingdom in 1951

The Duke of Edinburgh jumping off the water skis as he reaches the beach at Marmaris in Turkey during the Mediterranean Fleet’s summer cruise – Prince Philip’s last cruise in H.M.S. Magpie before he returned to the United Kingdom in 1951

56 Asked in 1971 by his biographer Basil Boothroyd if he saw his own heredity coming out in his children, Philip joked: ‘Yes, all the worst parts.’ He gave three examples of why Charles was similar to the Queen. Daughter Anne, he felt, had much of his own ‘abrupt directness and practicality’.

57 George VI’s death, in the words of one biographer, marked Philip’s ‘near-extinction as an individual under the grinding constitutional millstone’.

58 Whenever he met the Queen Mother during the 50 years of her widowhood, Philip always kissed her on both cheeks, kissed her hand and then bowed.

59 Philip devised his own colour scheme for Buckingham Palace – an official livery in dark green. ‘Edinburgh green’ was also his colour of choice for his cars. In 1954 he bought an Aston Martin Lagonda 3l drophead coupé with bodywork in Edinburgh green and dove-grey leather upholstery.

60 Biographer Graham Turner was told by a courtier that ‘all the girls in his office have to be 36-24-36’. Another household member recalled: ‘If an attractive girl comes into a room or there’s a particularly pretty girl wearing something striking in a line-up, he’ll say “Mm!” very appreciatively – though not in a way that makes you feel embarrassment for the Queen.’

61 ‘As far as I’m concerned,’ he told Jeremy Paxman in 2006, almost wailing, ‘every time I talk to a woman, they say I’ve been to bed with her – as if they had no say in the matter… I’m bloody flattered at my age that some girl is interested in me. It’s absolutely cuckoo!’

62 Throughout her first five years on the throne, the Queen tried to find a suitable title for Philip. In May 1954 she wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, wishing that her husband should have the title Prince of the Commonwealth. Churchill thought reviving Albert’s title of Prince Consort would be more impressive and sounded out all Commonwealth prime ministers. Every one but Canada’s PM supported the idea. However, Philip aborted it, telling the Queen he didn’t want to change his title.

63 Each state banquet place setting has three glasses – for red and white wines and champagne. Philip also has a tumbler for his Double Diamond beer. 

64 He also enjoys his own ‘Prince Philip Martini’. The recipe is: lace glass with vermouth by stirring a slice of lemon and a small amount of vermouth in ice, then discarding the liquid. Add a triple measure of gin to some ice. Leave for ten minutes to chill. Pour the liquid, not ice, into the glass.

65 During a small-business discussion about the difficulty of getting rich in Britain, Philip commented: ‘What about Tom Jones? He’s made a million and he’s a bloody awful singer.’

66 In 1969, at the end of a Royal Variety Performance, he told Tom Jones his songs were ‘hideous’, followed up with: ‘What do you gargle with? Pebbles?’

67 The London Palladium was the venue, in 1947, for his first, and Elizabeth’s third, Royal Variety Performance. Top of the bill were Laurel and Hardy making a rare UK appearance.

68 Since its inception, nearly seven million young people in the UK have taken part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. But Philip didn’t want it named after him. ‘That was strictly against my better judgment. I tried to avoid it but I was eventually overridden.’

69 He’s used Hawes & Curtis as his tailor, bought shirts from Harrods, shoes from Lobb of St James’s Street and hats from Lock & Co. His socks were a self-supporting design called ‘Tenover’ patented by a page to George VI.

70 Later, he added Johns & Pegg, makers of suits, blazers and sports coats, to his list, as well as another Savile Row tailor, John Kent.

71 North of the border, he used Kinloch Anderson for kilts and anything else tartan.

72 While many aristocrats wear handkerchiefs draped from their top pocket, his is ramrod-straight across.

73 He limits his perusal of newspapers to an ‘occasional glance’ at broadsheets, but has said: ‘The Queen reads every bloody paper she can lay her hands on.’

74 Having claimed his views on poetry are ‘conservative’, he once argued against inviting poet T. S. Eliot to speak at a conference because he was ‘deep, but narrow’.

75 Invited by the Oxford Union to take part in a debate on the monarchy, he jokily replied that ‘members of the Royal Family are expected to refrain from practising free speech on matters loosely termed political’.

76 The actor Matt Smith, who played him in The Crown, told how a friend was at a dinner party attended by Philip, who was asked if he’d watched the Netflix series. The typical ducal retort was: ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’

77 The Royals had a right of veto over the 1969 TV documentary Royal Family. It was passed in its entirety, though Philip was concerned about a scene where a string on Charles’s cello snapped and stung his younger brother Edward in the face, making him cry.

78 His first documented car crash occurred in March 1942. On shore leave, aged 20, he was heading home after a night out in London with his cousin David Milford Haven when their Vauxhall hit a traffic island at 4.30am and was written off.

79 Visiting Magdalen College, Oxford, the Queen and Duke were given a lunch of venison. Afterwards, shown the college’s famous deer park, Philip quipped: ‘How many of those buggers did you have to kill for lunch?’ On being told the meat was from Kent, he joked: ‘Well, don’t tell Charles. Because he likes to buy local.’

80 In 1991 he was given control of a simulated space capsule at Nasa’s HQ in Houston. His verdict: ‘It was like a bloody great mechanical copulator.’

81 As president of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee from 1952 to 1999, he helped with the heptagonal 50p coin – and apparently had concerns about the sexlessness of Britannia, wanting a fuller-figured body ‘in the right proportions that fills the robes’.

82 Surprisingly for a stubborn man, he’s willing to apologise if in the wrong. Having let rip at the Keeper of the Privy Purse in 1970, calling him ‘a silly little Whitehall twit’, he then wrote him a two-page letter saying he didn’t know what had got into him.

83 In the aftermath of Mountbatten’s murder in 1979, he wrote a ‘long and lyrical’ letter to his cousin Patricia Brabourne, who was injured and had lost a 14-year-old twin son in the IRA atrocity and was unable to attend the funeral. Philip wrote her ‘a graphic description of the occasion and how everyone present had felt – exactly what a grieving mother needed to hear’.

84 Charles’s authorised biography, by Jonathan Dimbleby, suggested Philip more or less commandeered him into proposing to Diana Spencer. ‘An intervention from the Duke of Edinburgh had a powerful if not decisive impact on the Prince of Wales,’ he wrote. Charles ‘interpreted his father’s attitude as an ultimatum’. This was disputed by one of Philip’s relatives, who spoke of ‘a loving father giving very sensible advice’.

85 Philip wrote a series of letters to Diana over the summer months of 1992. It was suggested he used the words ‘harlot’ and ‘trollop’. In truth, Diana showed them to her friend Rosa Monckton, who said: ‘His letters were understanding, supportive and thoughtful. He certainly did not use the words harlot and trollop.’

86 Diana called the Duke ‘Dearest Pa’, signing her letters to him with ‘Fondest love’. Philip had said he was eager to ‘do my utmost to help you and Charles to the best of my ability’, adding: ‘I have no talents as a marriage counsellor!!!’ She responded: ‘You are very modest about your marriage guidance skills and I disagree with you! This last letter of yours showed great understanding and tact.’

87 As for the Duchess of York, the infamous toe-sucking photo, showing her topless with her ‘financial adviser’, led Philip to a two-decade avoidance tactic. She said: ‘As soon as I came in through one door he’d be falling over the corgis to get out of the other.’

88 His 11,000-plus books include kitchen classics by Elizabeth David, the Roux brothers and Antonio Carluccio’s book on mushrooms. 

89 He’s godfather to more than 20 people. Among them are Princess Margareta of Romania, who, in her 20s, had a five-year relationship with the future Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

90 Another godson, Philip Howard-Johnston, set up a used-car firm in Edinburgh.

91 His last godchild is his first cousin three times removed, three-year-old Inigo Hooper.

92 Among his support for an eclectic group of organisations and patronages, he’s a life member of Accrington Camera Club and an honorary member of the Concrete Society (qualifying him for a free copy of Concrete magazine).

93 His interest in the paranormal – in particular UFOs – dates from the beginning of the Queen’s reign. He was a regular subscriber to Flying Saucer Review.

94 One influence for his interest in UFOs was his equerry, Sir Peter Horsley, whom he asked to follow up any credible reports of sightings.

95 He has sat for a grand total of 220 portraits.

96 He gave 5,496 speeches between the Queen’s accession in 1952 and his retirement in 2017.

97 He gave up flying in 1997 aged 76, having completed 5,986 hours of flying time.

98 The Duke was not impressed with claims that those who slaughter meat have a greater moral authority than those who take part in blood sports, saying: ‘I don’t think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing.’

99 He carried out 22,219 solo engagements between 1952 and his retirement in 2017.

100 Philip revealed in 2016 that he hadn’t had flu for the past 40 years.

© Ian Lloyd, 2021

  • Extracted from The Duke: 100 Chapters In The Life Of Prince Philip, by Ian Lloyd, published by The History Press on February 18 at £15.99. To order a copy for £14.07, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193 before February 14. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Or go to uk.bookshop.org/a/185/9780750996082.

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