Roger Lewis

Even the Queen wasn’t spared Prince Philip’s bad temper

Gyles Brandreth portrays the Prince as a defensive, agitated man, who could appear charming but was permanently on the brink of anger

Prince Philip on a visit to Essex in 2004. Credit: Getty Images

Though the indefatigable Gyles Brandreth met and interviewed Prince Philip over a 40-year period, His Royal Highness managed to give very little away. ‘He would just look at me balefully and say nothing,’ Brandreth writes. Wondering what Prince Philip’s philosophy of life might be, ‘I didn’t get very far’. When asked about his childhood,‘he brushed away the subject’. Prince Philip’s attitude to parenthood was a flat: ‘We did our best.’ His opinion of the Queen Mother: ‘He would not be drawn.’ His summing up of the consort’s existence: ‘I tried to find useful things to do. I did my best’ — e.g. by introducing a footman training programme or building a log cabin at Sandringham.

The encounters often seemed to splutter to an inconsequential halt, with the Prince shrugging his shoulders and muttering: ‘You can’t argue with the inevitable… I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’ Brandreth, compelled to retreat, finds himself, like Shakespeare’s Polonius, babbling a series of arch, ironic clichés:‘He guarded his privacy. He kept his own counsel. He did not wear his heart on his sleeve. He hid his light under a bushel.’

We are shown enough, however, to form a picture of Prince Philip as a defensive man who’d never risk looking inadequate, and was seldom calm. He could appear charming and easy-going, and suddenly he’d be formal and distant, ‘sullen and crabby’ for no apparent reason. When you said something, his response might be ‘a snort, a snub or a merry laugh’, as what he wanted mostly to do was disconcert. When Brandreth made speeches at charity functions, he good-humouredly endured the Prince’s heckling — ‘Get on with it!’, ‘We’ve heard this story before!’, ‘What on earth’s he going on about now?’ But this is the banter of a bully who’d sit you in an ice-bucket and who had ‘perfected the art of saying hello and goodbye in the same handshake’.

‘Remember when pets just went missing?’

Impervious to his own rudeness and ‘cantankerous and tetchy’, he didn’t even spare the Queen.

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