RIP Prince Philip. A closet Aussie?

lieutenant-philip-mountbatten-november-1947

A few Royal musings…

Conservationist, controversialist, champion of young people, ladies’ man, larrikin – as the world mourns Prince Philip, Monarchists and Republicans alike can agree that the Duke was a bit of a dude. We really should rename him – the Dude of Edinburgh.

Good humoured and gruff in equal measure, the only problem was never knowing which Prince you were going to encounter. At a Buck House event a few years back, I rocked up wearing a little suit decorated in corgis adorned in diamante encrusted tiaras. (As you do!)

“I hope you like my suit,” I said, impishly, to the Queen. “I wore it just for you, although I’m slightly worried that one of your corgis might mate with my leg.”

The Queen burst out laughing. “Oh Philip. Do come and look,” she cried gayly.

Queen Elizabeth II is impressed by the Corgi in a Crown outfit worn by Kathy Lette in the white drawing room at Buckingham Palace before a Royal reception for members of the Australian community living in the UK on October 13, 2011.

But the glowering Prince growled, “Get along with you, girlie.” I thought for a moment he was going to give me a quick kick in the backside hard enough to propel me straight into the Tower – but then he winked; a big, juicy, rascally wink. And I lived to cause mischief another day.

Prince Philip liked Aussies. Whenever I rubbed shoulder pads with him at functions, I’d point out that he was really a closet Aussie, or a Cloz Oz. He didn’t disagree. The man’s earthy humour, forthrightness, irreverence, ironic scepticism and allergy to pomposity are all traits we Aussies hold dear. Not only did he visit our shores 22 times but also sent Prince Charles to school here at Timbertops.

His best buddy, John Parker was also Australian. In 1956, when the Duke bunked off on a 5 month escapade on the Royal Yacht Britannia, Parker was his partner in crime. When off carousing they used the code names “Murgatroyd and Winterbottom” according to Parker’s wife, who divorced him soon after the trip. Did the Prince put the Phil into Philandering? There are many rumours, one including actress Merle Oberon, but (entendre alert) no hard evidence.

It’s also revealing that our only glimpse behind the Monarch’s marital mask occurred on a trip Down Under, perhaps because they felt relaxed enough to let down their guard. In 1954 an Aussie documentary crew waiting to film the Queen watched in astonishment as the door of the couple’s chalet flew open and out stomped the duke, followed closely by a pair of tennis shoes and a racket. Next came the Queen, rebuking the duke to stop running. She eventually dragged him back into the chalet. After a bit of door slamming, an unruffled Queen emerged and said to the gobsmacked crew: “Sorry for that little interlude, but, as you know, it happens in every marriage.” Verbal volley – Advantage Queen, wouldn’t you say?

Surrounded by oleaginous courtiers and sycophantic suckers up, it’s not hard to understand what Lilibet saw in this tall, strapping, no-nonsense naval captain. The Queen voiced her gratitude by describing Philip as her “strength and stay” but he was also her court jester. At the Coronation, as palace flunkies fawned and flattered, The Queen’s husband eyed her crown and remarked flippantly: “Where did you get that hat?”

Philip’s sense of humour is legendry – although the jury’s out on whether he suffered from chronic foot-in-mouth disease or was actually the world’s most politically incorrect stand-up comedian. Racist and sexist gaffes meant he often came across as The Royal Borat.

Chatting to British students in China, during the 1986 state visit, he infamously said, “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” In 1988 he suggested to a student who’d been trekking in Papua New Guinea that tribes there were still cannibals, with the line “You managed not to get eaten, then?” And his views on marriage? “When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.”

Speaking to singer Tom Jones after the 1969 Royal Variety Performance, he commented, “What do you gargle with – pebbles?” On sticking to his musical musings – “Deaf?” PP asked a group of young, deaf people in Cardiff in 1999. He then pointed to the school’s steel band. “If you are near them, no wonder you are deaf!”

Upon meeting disabled David Miller, who drives a mobility scooter, at the Valentine Mansion in Redbridge in March 2012 the Duke asked, “How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?” At a papal reception in Edinburgh in September 2010, within hearing of the Pope, he pointed to some tartan and then asked the Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie, “Do you have a pair of knickers made out of this?” Nor did he endear himself to Australia’s indigenous community when he asked a successful Aboriginal entrepreneur, in 2002, “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

He liked to say he could make people laugh within 15 seconds. Even at formal dinners at Buck House his breezy insouciance was on display, when he’d look at a menu written in elaborate French and remark cheerily to guests: “Ah, good. Fish and chips again.”

Perhaps he liked Aussies because our humour proved as dry as his martinis. On an Australian tour the duke met a woman with 14 children. “Good God!” he spluttered. “Where’s your husband? I’ll have to get the Queen to give him a knighthood.” “That wouldn’t do any good,” the Aussie Mum laughed, “He’ll never wear one.”

I’m not sure how PP’s faux pas’ went down with Her Maj, but their love story has passed the test of time. Philip gave up his career to become the ‘consort’ when house husbands were not fashionable – let alone Palace Husbands. It must have been difficult for an alpha male who was top of his class at Royal Naval college to become a human handbag draped over his wife’s arm. But there’s no doubt that the success of Elizabeth’s reign is due to this double act. Liz and Phil were the Torville and Dean, Fred and Ginger, Lennon and McCartney of royalty.

This earthy, salty sea dog was allergic to pomp and pageantry, sycophancy and fuss. Due to Covid, he got the quiet funeral he wanted. And, as an epitaph he’d probably like best this simple description in pidgin by the people of Vanuatu – “Fella belong’m Mrs. Quin.”

p.s. Check out the courtiers behind me. One is in on the joke, but the bloke on the far left is ready to have me hanged, drawn and quartered!

p.s.s The corgi suit was made by my school pal, Toni Moon, a fabulous seamstress from The Shire. I asked her to screen print corgis onto some material and add little tiaras. She sewed on all their diamantes by hand. What a pal! I wish I could give her a Damehood. Arise Dame Toni! For services to sequins, I anoint you. x

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