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Prince Philip at 77
by Brenda Ralph Lewis

Being consort to a reigning Queen of England is not normally classed among the world's most difficult jobs. Prince Philip, who turned 77 last June, knows only too well how untrue that is. He has lived his entire married life walking one step behind and taking a back seat. Fortunately, the royal couple long ago worked out a compromise. As her destiny requires , the Queen does the public royal business. Philip, meanwhile, rules the private royal roost.

Even so, royal role reversal is not a comfortable scenario for a strong leader type like Philip. When he married the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947, the deal was a sheaf of grand titles and an eminence he could not have achieved except by marriage into the Royal Family, in exchange for no proper role, no traditional powers, and no say in official royal business. This is a formula custom-made to frustrate a man like Philip and accounts for a lot of his tetchiness which ranges from tactless asides to astounding rudeness, his love of dangerous sports, his long trips abroad, his reputedly bullying attitude towards his sons and, some say, his dalliance with other women.

The fact remains just the same that Philip depends for all he is and all he has on the say-so of his late father- in- law, King George VI and after him his wife Queen Elizabeth II and her advisers . Only these monarchs could have made him HRH The Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, KG, KT, OM, CBE, AC, QSO, PC and officially a Prince of the United Kingdom and First Gentleman of the Realm. It is also true, though, that Philip who was plain Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN at the time of his engagement, had to be polished up royal if he was going to be a suitable husband for a future reigning Queen.

Even more irksome was the wariness with which the British regarded Philip when he first came on the royal scene. A poll taken in 1947 revealed widespread dismay at Philip's alien origins. Never mind that he was, like Elizabeth, a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. To the public he became 'Phil the Greek', an opprobrious nickname which still surfaces from time to time today. It was inaccurate. Philip was born a Prince of Greece, but his ancestry was actually Danish and German. The nickname was none the less wounding for that, though.

It was fortunate, then, that Philip was a realist and never expected life to be easy, nor his acceptance in Britain automatic. He was dealt a very poor royal hand from the start when he was born, on 10 June 1921, into the Greek royal family, which was originally an elective monarchy and borrowed a Danish prince as a its modern king. Greece, however, turned out to be the graveyard of royalty and holds the record for the number of its kings who have been forced into exile. Philip was part of this unsettling family experience at the age of 18 months. In 1922, his parents, Prince and Princess Andrew, were obliged to leave Greece in a hurry. On the ship that sailed them away, young Philip was put into a cot made from an orange box. After that, he was stateless until his distant cousin the King of Denmark provided him with a Danish passport. As a schoolboy, Philip's fees had to be paid by a rich aunt, but his uniform was often patched and darned.

Thanks to another rich relative, his uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, Philip later made his way through naval college. Afterwards, he served in several hotspots, such as the Far East, where the Royal Navy was in action during the Second World War. Despite his successful naval career, the childhood assaults on his self-esteem had their effects. Philip, 24, emerged at the war's end in 1945 unusually, some might say excessively, tough-minded, forthright, competitive. opinionated, and independent - in fact, precisely the sort of character most unlikely to succeed within the sedate and ceremonious royal family he was about to join.

Philip realised then, and nothing has changed his mind since, that he would have to create for himself the niche which the system failed to provide. Today, he heads more than forty organisations. He set up the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme for encouraging enterprise among young people. He streamlined the royal household and has interested himself in industry, agriculture and the penal system. He has always played a dignified part in royal ceremonial, and has given support and encouragement to his naturally shy wife which has undoubtedly softened the inbuilt strains of a long - so far 46-year - reign.

Yet Philip, always a believer in sticking his neck out , has upset many people, including courtiers whom he sought to shift from their out-of-date ways and politicians who have often felt he was skirting their own jealously- guarded preserves. Philip has alarmed the more complacent captains of industry by telling them they must make better use of scientific discoveries. Thirty years before environmentalism became fashionable, Philip was being rapped as an 'eco-nut' when he pointed out what we all know now: that modern industrial society is ruining Planet Earth.

More recently, Philip has taken a lot of public stick for his attitude towards his sons and their wives. There is a very good reason why Princess Anne, who is prickly, downright and workaholic just like her father, is Philip's favourite child. Charles, Andrew and Edward have all disappointed him, though it must be said that a father who expected as much of his sons as Philip could never have been easy to please. Philip wanted them to be tough, sportive, combative men's men and all of them have done their best. However, despite the Action Man image he assumed in his twenties, Charles proved happier within the ivory tower of his philosophical and intellectual interests. Andrew, a handsome and dashing naval officer, seemed a gung-ho character , but at heart he was mild-mannered and indecisive, with occasional outbursts of arrogance. Prince Edward at least had the courage to face up to Philip and resign from the Marines for the sake of a theatrical career, but his choice was hardly welcome to an aggressively macho father, who is still able to make Charles, soon to be fifty, burst into tears with the lash of his tongue.

Though it made fewer headlines, Philip's role in the royal divorces, when he played the heavy father bristling with exhortations to duty did not do much to endear him to his wife's subjects. While the public was in a lather of sympathy over Diana's marriage problems with Prince Charles and her accusations of coldness among her royal in-laws, Philip was telling both her and Andrew's wife the Duchess of York that it was an honour to belong to the Royal Family, so why not just shut up or get out' Philip got rough, too, when Charles proved completely unable to handle the rampant Diana and rather than tackle her, bolted in the direction of his mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles. Philip reportedly told him to 'bloody well take charge' but it hardly helped father-son relations that the soft-natured Charles was nowhere near equal to the task.

As an enemy, Philip was formidable. When she first came into the Royal Family in 1986, he liked the irrepressible, jokey Duchess of York. But when she brought shame and horrendous publicity about the royal ears, he turned immovably against her. Philip never forgave Diana, either, for the damage she did to the Royal Family. In a ferocious argument about the arrangements for her funeral last year, Philip insisted that Diana be quietly put away by her own, Spencer, family because she was no longer royal. It was only when Charles, for once, squared up to him and told him what was what - a public funeral with some of the royal trimmings - that Philip, for once, had to retire vanquished.

It was obvious then - and it was less than a year ago - that time has done nothing to change Prince Philip. Not for him a slide into supine old age and passing the buck to younger generations. His enthusiasm for hi-tech innovation is more typical of much more junior bucks. He is still capable of blowing away cobwebs from the fustier areas of British life. His current battle is resisting royal reforms which he feels would cheapen the status of monarchy and bow too low to the forces of the late Diana who want to modernise it in her image. He's still fighting campaigns, too. In early August, Philip stuck his neck out yet again when he called town-dwellers 'ignorant' about country pursuits like hunting and shooting which various animal rights organisations want to see banned. Philip has been sat on several times for saying things like that, but it hasn't put him off one bit. So, one way or the other, Prince Philip is still more thn capable of fighting his corner in the royal scheme of things and, despite his great age, his powerful will is going to be felt for a long time yet.




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