Harry Mount

The secret brilliance of Prince Philip’s ‘gaffes’

Having just been on the receiving end of one, I can now see them for the clever conversational gambit that they are

Prince Philip has died at the age of 99. Writing in 2015, Harry Mount reflected on the Duke of Edinburgh’s personable style and sense of public service.

I’ve just been on the receiving end of a Prince Philip gaffe, of sorts, and I loved it. It was at a lunch last week at the Cavalry and Guards Club for the Gallipoli Association — the charity that commemorates victims and veterans of that tragic, doomed campaign.

For 40 years, the Duke of Edinburgh has been the association’s patron. And so, in Gallipoli’s centenary year, he came to the association’s lunch. Before lunch, he roamed at will around the cavernous drawing room, chatting to association members.

As he approached me, he held his drink in his right hand, meaning I couldn’t shake it, and launched straight into conversation. It meant I had little opportunity to bow and call him ‘Your Royal Highness’ — as I would have done in an instant. I got the distinct impression he didn’t want much bowing and scraping.

‘Who roped you into this?’ the prince said. It was the first intimation of his supposedly brusque manner. In fact, it was conspiratorial, teasing and jokey. He knew I hadn’t been roped into lunch; I knew he knew. That faint blast of humour made it much easier to explain how I had in fact roped myself into the Gallipoli Association.

I told him how my great-grandfather, Thomas Longford, had been killed at Gallipoli on 21 August 1915. His last words to his second-in-command, crouching down to avoid the hail of shells overhead, were, ‘Please don’t duck, Fred. It won’t help you and it’s no good for the men’s morale.’

Moments later, marching at the head of his Yeomanry Brigade troops, with a map in one hand and his walking stick in the other, Longford was cut down by heavy rifle fire.

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