Harry Mount

The truth about Prince Philip’s ‘gaffes’

(Getty images)

However impressive Prince Philip was in photographs, it didn’t compare to his imposing bearing in the flesh. 

When I met him in 2015 – at a lunch at the Cavalry and Guards Club for the Gallipoli Association to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign – he was 93. He looked 20 years younger in his immaculate, navy-blue suit, with not an ounce of fat on his lean figure. At the pre-lunch drinks, he’d shaken off his assistants, and was roaming the drawing room at will, hands tucked behind his back, hawk-like visage searching the room for – not quite prey, but some kind of interesting diversion.

I was there because my great-grandfather, Lord Longford, father of the prison reformer, had been killed at Gallipoli. I was chatting to a more robust friend, whose ancestor had also served in the campaign. My friend suggested we approach the roaming Duke – something I wouldn’t have dared on my own.

His whole body language was aimed at not producing any deference. He kept his drink in his right hand – so we couldn’t shake hands – and there was no expectation that we should bow, as I’d have been delighted to do.

I realised afterwards that all his so-called ‘gaffes’ were quite the reverse. They were masterclasses in putting people at their ease

‘Who roped you into this?’ Prince Philip asked us. His tone wasn’t aggressive or rude. Quite the opposite – it was conspiratorial and friendly; another way to break the ice.

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

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