The wit and wisdom of Prince Philip

The wit and wisdom of Prince Philip
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After 74 years of marriage to the Queen, Prince Philip has today died at the age of 99. During his many decades in the public eye, the Duke of Edinburgh earned the respect and admiration of many for his selfless dedication to duty. Attending quite literally thousands of events besides his wife he developed a reputation for off the cuff gems and blunt speaking. Steerpike has gathered up 74 of the Duke’s best quotes from 74 years by the Queen’s side.

On his role and family

  1. 'I’d much rather have stayed in the Navy, frankly' he said of his role in 1992.

  2. 'If it doesn't fart or doesn't eat hay, she isn't interested' on his daughter Princess Anne.
  3. 'I would like to go to Russia very much – although the bastards murdered half my family' when asked in 1967 if he would like to visit the USSR.
  4. 'It looks like a tart’s bedroom' on plans for Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's house at Sunninghill Park.
  5. 'My son…er…owns them' on being asked whether he knew the Scilly Isles.
  6. 'Where did you get that hat?' he supposedly said to Queen at her Coronation.
  7. 'It looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from her school art lessons' he said of 'primitive' Ethiopian art in 1965.  
  8. 'Any bloody fool can lay a wreath at the thingamy' on his his role in an interview with Jeremy Paxman.
  9. 'I never see any home cooking – all I get is fancy stuff' in 1962.
  10. 'Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practiced for a good many years' to the General Dental Council, quoted in Time in 1960.
  11. 'I have never been noticeably reticent about talking on subjects about which I know nothing' to a group of industrialists in 1961.

On domestic royal engagements

  1. 'They’re not mating are they?' on two robots bumping in to one another at the Science Museum in 2000.
  2. 'People usually say that after a fire it is water damage that is the worst. We are still drying out Windsor Castle' to survivors of the Lockerbie bombings in 1993.
  3. 'It looks as though it was put in by an Indian' on a fuse box during a tour of a Scottish factory in August 1999
  4. 'I meant to say cowboys. I just got my cowboys and Indians mixed up' on clarifying his previous comment about a fuse box.

  5. 'You bloody silly fool!' to a car park attendant who made the mistake of not recognising him at Cambridge University in 1997. 
  6. 'Oh! You are the people ruining the rivers and the environment' to three young employees of a Scottish fish farm at Holyrood Palace in 1999. 
  7. 'You could do with losing a little bit of weight' to hopeful astronaut, 13-year-old Andrew Adams.
  8. 'There’s a lot of your family in tonight' to business chief Atul Patel during a 2009 Buckingham Palace reception for 400 influential British Indians.
  9. 'Were you here in the bad old days? ... That's why you can't read and write then!' To parents during a visit to Fir Vale Comprehensive School in Sheffield, which had suffered poor academic reputation.
  10. 'No, I would probably end up spitting it out over everybody' declining the offer of some fish from Rick Stein's seafood deli in 2000. 
  11. 'Holidays are curious things, aren't they? You send children to school to get them out of your hair. Then they come back and make life difficult for parents. That is why holidays are set so they are just about the limit of your endurance' on a 2000 school visit.
  12. 'People think there's a rigid class system here, but dukes have even been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans' in 2000.
  13. 'Do you know they have eating dogs for the anorexic now?' to wheelchair-bound Susan Edwards with her guide dog Natalie in 2002.
  14. 'Do people trip over you?' to a wheelchair-bound nursing-home resident in 2002.
  15. 'How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?' to a mobility scooter user in 2012
  16. 'That's a nice tie... Do you have any knickers in that material?' on the tartan designed for the Papal visit with then-Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie.
  17. 'It makes you all look like Dracula's daughters!' to pupils at Queen Anne's School in Reading who wear blood-red uniforms in 1998.
  18. 'This could only happen in a technical college' on getting stuck in a lift between two floors at the Heriot Watt University, 1958.
  19. 'Who do you sponge off?' to the volunteers for an Asian women's group at an east London community centre.
  20. 'Are you all one family?' to mixed-race street-dance troupe Diversity who performed at the Royal Variety Performance in 2009.
  21. 'Ghastly' on Stoke-on-Trent, as told to the city's Labour MP Joan Walley at Buckingham Palace in 1997.
  22. 'Deaf? If you’re near there, no wonder you are deaf' to a group of deaf children standing near a Caribbean steel drum band in 2000.
  23. 'Is it a strip club?' he asked a female Sea Cadet who told him she worked in a nightclub during a visit to the Wyvern Barracks in Exeter in 2010.
  24. 'Why don’t you go and live in a hostel to save cash?' he asked a penniless student in 1998.
  25. 'The Philippines must be half empty, you’re all here running the NHS' to a Filipino nurse at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital in February 2016.
  26. 'Bugger the table plan, give me my dinner!' Showing his impatience to be fed at a dinner party in 2004.
  27. '[Wind farms] are absolutely useless and an absolute disgrace' to the managing director of a wind farm in 2011.

Around the world

  1. ‘We don't come to Canada for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves’ on a trip to Canada in 1976.

  2. ‘I declare this thing open, whatever it is' while opening a site on a visit to Canada in 1969.
  3. ‘You are a woman, aren’t you?’ to a woman in Kenya in 1984 after accepting a small gift.
  4. ‘Your country is one of the most notorious centres of trading in endangered species in the world’ while accepting a conservation award in Thailand in 1991.
  5. ‘Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease’ when asked to stroke a Koala bear in Australia in 1992.
  6. ‘Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?’ to a resident in the Cayman Islands in 1994.
  7. 'Yak, yak, yak; come on, get a move on’ yelled from the royal yacht Britannia to the Queen in Belize in 1994 while she chattered to her hosts on the quayside.
  8. ‘It's a pleasant change to be in a country that isn't ruled by its people' to Paraguyan dictator Alfredo Stroessner:

  9. 'Ghastly' Prince Philip’s opinion of Beijing, during a 1986 tour of China.
  10. 'If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes' to British student Simon Kerby during the same visit to China in 1986.
  11. 'You managed not to get eaten then?' to another British student who trekked in Papua New Guinea during a visit in 1998.
  12. 'You can't have been here that long – you haven't got a pot belly' to a British tourist during a tour of Budapest in Hungary 1993.
  13. 'It's a vast waste of space' at the 2000 reception of a new £18m British Embassy in Berlin, which the Queen had just opened.
  14. 'Get me a beer. I don't care what kind it is, just get me a beer!' when he was offered the finest Italian wines by the country's Prime Minister Giuliano Amato at a dinner in Rome in 2000.
  15. 'Don't feed your rabbits pawpaw fruit – it acts as a contraceptive. Then again, it might not work on rabbits' while talking to a Caribbean rabbit breeder in Anguilla in 1994.
  16. 'You must be out of your minds' to Solomon Islanders, when he was told that their population growth was 5 per cent a year, in 1982.
  17. 'Do you still throw spears at each other?' to Aboriginal leader William Brin in Queensland, Australia in 2002.
  18. 'You have mosquitoes. I have the Press' to a hospital matron in the Caribbean in 1966.
  19. 'The man who invented the red carpet needed his head examined' on a state visit to Brazil, 1968.
  20. 'Reichskanzler' when he used Hitler's title to address German chancellor Helmut Kohl during a speech in Hanover in 1997.
  21. 'Damn fool question!' to BBC journalist Caroline Wyatt at a banquet at the Elysée Palace after she asked the Queen if she was enjoying her stay in Paris in 2006.

On popular culture

  1. 'Oh, it’s you that owns that ghastly car is it? We often see it when driving to Windsor Castle' to neighbour Elton John after hearing he had sold his Watford FC-themed Aston Martin in 2001.
  2. 'I wish he’d turn the microphone off!' during Elton John’s performance at the 73rd Royal Variety Show in 2001.
  3. 'Are we going to need ear plugs?' on told that Madonna was singing the James Bond theme tune in 2002.
  4. 'Can you fix my DVD player?' he asked actress Cate Blanchett because she worked 'in the film industry' in 2008.
  5. 'What do you gargle with – pebbles?' he asked Tom Jones after the Royal Variety Performance in 1969.
  6. 'What about Tom Jones? He's made a million and he's a bloody awful singer' at a small-business lunch when asked about how difficult it is in Britain to get rich.
  7. 'Well, that's more than you know about anything else then' his reply to Michael Buerk, after being told by the BBC newsreader that he did know about the Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Awards in 2004.

On politics

  1. 'If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?' after the Dunblane shootings in 1996.
  2. 'That's about the right number. We have 650 and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time' when he discovered Ghana had 200 MPs.

  3. 'You’re just a silly little Whitehall twit: you don’t trust me and I don’t trust you' he said to Sir Rennie Maudslay, Keeper of the Privy Purse, in the 1970s.
  4. 'He’s the money man – except we haven’t got any money' when introducing George Osborne at an event

  5. 'British women can’t cook' to the Scottish Women’s Institute in 1961.
  6. 'Ah, so this is feminist corner then' to a group of female Labour MPs whose name badges read 'Ms' at a Buckingham Palace drinks party in 2000.
  7. 'Can you tell the difference between them?' to President Obama who had explained that he’d had breakfast with the leaders of the UK, China and Russia in 2009.
  8. 'Fashion is not restricted to clothes and when ideas become fashionable they are just as resistant to objective criticism as the length of skirts. That is why all economic ideas need to be freely discussed and judged against the facts of real life' to the IEA in 1983.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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