A very British love story
Thursday, 14 June 2012

A very British love story

Through the nation’s many ups and downs, the Queen and Prince Philip have been a constant. As they prepare to celebrate 65 years of marriage, Thomas Blaikie reveals the secret of their relationship

Written by Thomas Blaikie

When, during the Jubilee celebrations, Her Majesty the Queen entered St Paul’s Cathedral for the National Service of Thanksgiving for her 60 years on the throne, she was, poignantly, alone. For once, there was no emblazoned, bemedalled Duke of Edinburgh at her side. He was in hospital.

He has since been discharged, celebrating his 91st birthday last week at home in Windsor Castle. With characteristic wit, he even quipped to journalists asking if he was better, ‘Well, I wouldn’t be coming out if I wasn’t.’

But for a while, we were all very worried. For it has been much emphasised, not least by the Queen herself in her address to the Houses of Parliament in March and by Prince Harry, in Andrew Marr’s BBC documentary, The Diamond Queen, how vital Prince Philip is to the monarch.

Now, in advanced old age, this regal couple, one half of which has had his fair share of controversy, have reached a calm upland of tenderness that has touched all our hearts. Suddenly, during a walkabout, in public view, the Duke presents his wife with a bunch of Ž owers. She beams with girlish delight. They exchange looks across a crowded room, a Ž ash of humour, some deep, private alliance. Indeed, as they approach 65 years of marriage (their anniversary is on 20 November) their relationship has become one of the nation’s great love stories.

So what is the secret of this remarkable relationship? And how does it work? Well, it certainly isn’t straightforward. According to her nanny, Marion Crawford (Craw—fie), the Queen determined to marry Philip from the age of 13. She never wanted another man.

But it was, by some measures, an odd choice. Although royal by birth – he was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark – Philip was in fact a penniless junior naval o›fficer. He was also opinionated, argumentative and leftleaning. Effectively homeless, he also had had very little contact with his parents, who were estranged, for years.

After a meeting at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in 1939 when she was 13, Elizabeth and Philip began writing to one another. He did not immediately fall in love. In the famous photograph of the pair arriving at Romsey Abbey for Patricia Mountbatten’s wedding in October 1946, which gave the —first hint of their romance to the world, Elizabeth is looking at him in a steady, frankly alluring, almost reprimanding fashion, while he appears to be delighted, but uncertain.

And he had his critics in court. According to Craw—fie, ‘Some of the King’s advisors did not think him good enough for her. He was a prince without a home or kingdom. Some of the papers played long and loud tunes on the string of Philip’s foreign origin.’

But they married a year later – and it was a love match. He wasn’t after her money or position. He remained in the Navy as a serving o›ffcer without special privileges.

But the King’s declining health and eventual death put paid to any idea of normal life. As his wife was crowned Queen, Prince Philip was left without a role. He gave up the Navy and became grumpy. The Establishment disliked him. He ordered innovative means of transport, a helicopter, in which to visit troops but didn’t go through the proper channels. There was a fuss.

In 1956, he disappeared altogether, on a four-month Commonwealth tour. Rumblings began in the Press. The Palace issued a denial that there was any rift between him and the Queen. But unfounded rumours persist to this day of the Duke’s fondness for comely ladies. Later, the lightest glance at the Court Circular would reveal that the Duke was frequently absent from home.

More of a hindrance than a help, then, you might think. Well, it pays to look more deeply. For what has been forged over the years, at times painfully, is a robust and outstandingly modern partnership of two powerful people with very diœfferent and strong personalities.

Prince Philip has built up over 800 patronages of his own, which he supports with phenomenal energy. even now, at 91. This work is largely unseen and unheard, but his knowledge and dedication are greatly admired by the organisations he is involved with. Yet, when he is with the Queen, he is the perfect consort, never in the way, always two steps behind. All this despite the gaœffes, which we hear a lot less about these days. They are an excellent double act; the Queen is digni—fied, moves very little, says little; while he, coming on behind, makes jokes and outrageous remarks. Once at the Royal Academy, he joshed a well-known musician for the inadequacy of his beard: ‘Why don’t you go the whole hog?’ he boomed.

Privately, his advice to the Queen will have been from the perspective of someone who mixed with ordinary people at boarding school and in the Navy and had no private family money. He is a moderniser and a rationalist. He doesn’t believe in courting popularity for its own sake. He will have bolstered the Queen’s own instinct to keep going steadily on through thick and thin.

Most refreshingly for the Queen, he treats her as an ordinary person, as no one else does. Lord Mountbatten told a story of Elizabeth tutting in the passenger seat as Philip drove dangerously through Windsor Great Park. ‘If you do that one more time, I’ll put you out of the car,’ her husband said. ‘Why didn’t you protest?’ Lord Mountbatten asked at the journey’s end. ‘He meant it. He would have done it,’ the Queen replied.

‘The Queen possesses the quality of tolerance in abundance,’ the Duke has said. Yet his liveliness and freedom must be attractive, especially to one in the Queen’s position.

The Duke, in turn, depends on her patience and unwavering endurance. So they are Elizabeth and Darcy after all… but in reverse.

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