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Entertainment The man who wouldn't be king

16:11  09 april  2021
16:11  09 april  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Banished from his home, Philip gave up his crown, country and career to be with Elizabeth.

The groom barely stole a glance as they walked up the aisle.

An audience of 200 million people across the world gathered for the broadcast as the bride, a future monarch, made her way to the altar of Westminster Abbey.

Not much attention was paid to Philip, dressed in his naval uniform and decorated with medals from his military career as well as his new title, Duke of Edinburgh.

He and Elizabeth came to a halt in front of the archbishops of Canterbury and York for what was the first great celebration of the post-war era.

They listened patiently to the ways in which their union would entangle them forever, more so than a regular marriage.

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While Elizabeth would gain a husband, Philip's "I will" was a vow to not only love his wife, but also a pledge to spend a lifetime in service of the Crown.

The blond Greek Apollo and the princess

They had met in 1934 at his cousin's wedding.

Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark was marrying Prince George, the Duke of Kent — Elizabeth's uncle.

Elizabeth was eight years old. At 13, Philip was already a teenager.

Princess Elizabeth was third in line to the British throne but at that time not seriously expected to inherit the Crown; her uncle King Edward VIII would reign for two more years before abdicating.

Philip of Greece and Denmark was just as connected to royalty.

But despite his gilded lineage, he was a prince without a home or a kingdom, and his family were living in relative poverty after their banishment from Greece.

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Philip and Elizabeth's paths would eventually cross again, but in the years before they became an iconic couple, the blue-eyed, ash-blond boy earned a reputation as a ladies' man.

At 17, after finishing school, Philip stayed with his "auntie" Aspasia, Princess of Greece and Denmark, in Venice.

Mindful of his son's upcoming entrance exams into the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, Philip's father warned his cousin's wife to "keep [Philip] out of girl trouble".

Aspasia's daughter, Alexandra, described Philip at that point in his life as "very amusing, gay, "full of life and energy and a tease".

"Blondes, brunettes and redhead charmers, Philip gallantly and, I think, quite impartially squired them all," she recalled.

Distractions granted, Philip still secured his place at Dartmouth, and would later be named the best cadet of his class.

One day at the college in July 1939, he was called to chaperone two young girls while their parents attended a special service — Elizabeth, then-heir to the throne, and her sister Margaret.

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"Philip rather resented it, I believe — a youth of 18, called to help entertain a girl of 13 and a child of nine," Alexandra wrote in The Australia's Women's Weekly in 1960.

The shy princess Elizabeth barely said a word as together they ate ginger crackers, drank lemonade and played a game of croquet.

But after Philip had left, Elizabeth admired: "How good he is."

The pair began exchanging letters after this second meeting, and it was well known that Philip had by this point become the object of the young princess's affection (she was rumoured to have a photo of the handsome naval cadet on display in her bedroom).

Despite Elizabeth's growing infatuation, Philip came with various strings attached.

He and his family were poor compared to other members of the European aristocracy.

And as a young prince of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, Philip was also too German for the liking of a Britain which had recently fought one world war against Germany, and was on the brink of a second.

While Philip had been taken in by his British relatives, the Mountbattens, when he was seven years old, his four sisters were married to Germans, three of whom had links to the Nazi party.

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Philip was also related to Elizabeth — although most European royals were at the time.

He was her second cousin once removed through King Christian IX of Denmark, they were third cousins as great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, and among his uncles was King George V of England, also Elizabeth's grandfather.

But none of it mattered to Elizabeth, who had come to see not an impoverished distant relation, but a man who towered above her, boasting a head full of blond hair and a promising naval career.

Years passed. Elizabeth stepped into the role of future queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms.

World War II was the backdrop to her teenage years. She made radio broadcasts to children, and inspected the Grenadier Guards of the British Army on her 16th birthday.

By the end of the war in 1945, she had trained as a driver and mechanic, and was given the rank of honorary junior commander, the female equivalent of a captain at the time.

Despite her accomplishments, and all that she was to be, Philip insisted the actual thought of marrying Elizabeth didn't cross his mind until 1946, when he stayed at the royal family's Balmoral estate in Scotland.

"I suppose one thing led to another," he conceded to his official biographer Basil Boothroyd.

"It was sort of fixed up. That's really what happened."

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Philip proposed to Elizabeth by the side of a loch on the family's Balmoral estate, with a ring encrusted with diamonds from his mother's tiara.

King George VI granted them permission to marry, though he insisted they keep their engagement private until Elizabeth was older.

It was publicly announced in July 1947, a few months after Elizabeth turned 21, and they were married before the year was out.

And so it was that after years of waiting, Elizabeth finally got her prince.

In a letter to the Queen Mother, Philip revealed the extent to which he had fallen for his bride as the pair finally embraced their union.

"To have fallen in love completely and unreservedly makes all one's personal troubles and even the world's seem small and petty," he wrote.

Once wed, they divided their time between Surrey and London, where Elizabeth was committed to royal duties as Princess, and Malta, where Philip was stationed and quickly promoted to lieutenant-commander in charge of the frigate HMS Magpie.

Just six days shy of their first anniversary, the couple became parents, with the birth of an heir to the throne, Charles.

Charles, the first of the couple's three sons, told his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby that it was nursery staff who witnessed his first steps and raised him, as his parents were often away in the early years of his life.

Regardless, with the birth of his and Elizabeth's only daughter, Anne, in 1950, Philip achieved his purpose of aiding in the provision of an "heir and a spare".

Centuries ago, when minor illnesses had the potential to end in death, a monarch would be desperate for a second child that assured the royal line would continue.

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Soon after, he would see the life he had envisioned for himself fall victim to a change to the monarchy that had been forecast to take place in the distant future.

It was not the first time he had experienced such an abrupt development.

The baby in the orange crate

For the first 18 months of his life, Philip was destined to rule the kingdoms of Greece and Denmark.

The last child and only son of Princess Alice of Battenberg and Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, Philip was born on June 10, 1921 at the Greek royal family's summer retreat, Mon Repos, on Corfu.

Life on the island paradise was anything but idyllic.

In the days after Philip's birth, his father was summoned to Athens to give evidence at the trial of Greek military officials held responsible for a defeat in Asia Minor which led to the Catastrophe of Smyrna — a fire that killed up to an estimated 100,000 people, and destroyed much of the Turkish port city.

But instead, Prince Andrew was taken into custody, charged with desertion and forced to stand trial for his life.

Princess Alice remained with Philip at Mon Repos under police surveillance as her husband was sentenced to banishment.

The following year, Philip's uncle and King of Greece, Constantine, was forced to abdicate, and the Greek royal family fled their home.

It was Philip's future father-in-law, King George VI, who ordered a British Royal Navy ship to rescue them.

The infant prince was carried to safety in an orange crate on the vessel, where it is said he took his first steps on the deck.

Philip would spend the first few years of his childhood with his family in exile in France.

As a student at a prestigious American-run school, The Elms, Philip, or the "boy with no last name" as he was called by his classmates, was described by his teachers as keen, intelligent and a natural leader.

From the age of six to nine, Philip befriended the children of ambassadors and princes while his mother sold Greek heirlooms to keep them out of poverty.

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"He knew that he had not been sent to school to be pampered, to be singled out for favours," his teacher Dorothy Huckle wrote in a letter.

"He was there as Philip, or Philip of Greece, if a last name was demanded …

"… a little boy whose mother had impressed upon him the necessity of working hard, harder even than the other children."

While Philip was thriving at school, cracks began to show elsewhere in his life that would, in time, irrevocably tear his first royal family apart.

In 1930, when Philip was nine, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown.

She was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in Berlin, where Sigmund Freud was consulted about her case, and sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland for two years.

With Alice's confinement also came the end of her marriage to Andrew, who moved to the south of France.

Philip adored his father and the two were said to closely resemble each other in both looks and personality.

"Andrew flatly refused to speak anything but Greek, displaying precisely the same stubbornness with which his son years later flatly refused to learn Greek at all," Alexandra wrote.

Despite their closeness, Andrew was absent for much of Philip's teenage years, as the young prince was sent to attend a boarding school in England, followed by an institution in Germany before, finally, he settled at the Gordonstoun School in Scotland.

There, on Scotland's bracing north-east coast, far from his Mediterranean roots, the displaced prince found a home away from his family.

Two years before his graduation in 1939, Philip's pregnant sister Cecile, her husband and two young sons were killed in a plane crash en route to a funeral in London.

The young prince was reunited with his mother at his sister's funeral, but it wasn't to last and Princess Alice returned to Athens to help the poor.

Philip's father died in Monaco of a sudden heart attack in 1944.

He would keep his three surviving sisters at a public arms' length for the rest of their lives, as it became clear his chance at a new, whole, family in England depended on severing the last link to his immediate family's unconscionable Nazi associations.

Long live the Queen

In January 1952, Philip farewelled his father-in-law on the eve of his and Princess Elizabeth's first royal tour of the Commonwealth.

They were standing in for the King, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was still recovering from surgery the previous year.

It was set to include visits to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

They didn't make it that far.

The young royals embarked on a five-day safari in Nairobi and spent the night in a lodge perched high in a fig tree deep in the Aberdare National Park.

A porter described them as a happy couple, much like any other, enthusiastically starting a trip of a lifetime.

That night King George VI died of a blood clot in his sleep, aged 56.

The next day, the royal party travelled to the nearby town of Sagana, where a telegram arrived for the new Queen.

Philip broke the news to Elizabeth. She was 25.

The 31-year-old decorated naval officer would never again walk into a room before his wife.

Fight to modernise the monarchy

Elizabeth's sudden ascent to the throne effectively ended Philip's naval career.

In an ITV interview to mark his 90th birthday, he admitted he was disappointed to have given it all up.

"I had just been promoted to commander, and the fact was that the most interesting part of my naval career was just starting."

With active service a mere memory, the duke engaged in a different sort of combat; modernising the public view of the monarchy so that it could be seen as an institution fitting of the era rather than an out-of-touch and equally out-of-reach institution.

It was not the best century for royalty; dotted with the collapse of several monarchies across Europe as it was.

Before the crown was even placed on Elizabeth's head, marking the formal investiture of a monarch with legal power, Philip played a role in dictating what the ceremony would entail by chairing the coronation committee.

The group would make the decision to televise the 1953 ceremony at Westminster Abbey so millions across the world could watch the event, which had previously been seen as inherently religious and spiritual happening unbefitting of the eyes of the public.

In 1937, for the coronation of Elizabeth's father, BBC cameras had only been allowed to film outside Westminster Abbey.

Prime minister Winston Churchill was reportedly horrified at the prospect of cameras intruding any further than that for the next coronation, two decades later.

"It would be unfitting that the whole ceremony, not only in its secular but also in its religious and spiritual aspects, should be presented as if it were a theatrical performance," he told the House of Commons.

It was because of Philip that the television audience saw the ritual swords, the trumpets, the jewel-encrusted orb; that millions of people heard the choir singing "Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire"; witnessed the moment an entire Commonwealth's Queen became just that: Queen.

It was an empathy-building tactic he would employ again.

In 1961, Philip became the first member of the royal family to be interviewed on television, appearing in an episode of BBC current affairs program Panorama.

That same show would air the infamous 1995 interview with Princes Diana, and in 2019, skewer his third child Prince Andrew over his relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Unlike Andrew's interview, Philip's appearance was considered a great success, and it helped cement a growing acceptance of him.

The interview focused on the Commonwealth Technical Training Week, of which the duke was a patron.

While the topic was humdrum, it was the first time a member of the royal family had been questioned on camera, and the conversation revealed details of Philip's working life.

It was pioneering, given he was up to that point usually only seen at ceremonial occasions, and even then always as the Queen's consort.

A behind-the-palace-doors BBC documentary released in 1969 was a less successful brush with the media.

The duke again chaired the advisory committee which approved all scenes in the film.

The aim was to soften the royal image, with 43 hours of footage shot in palaces and castles, and aboard the royal yacht and train.

But in revealing the minutiae of their lives, it became clear how extraordinary the family's everyday life was, compared to the general public. It was later pulled from public view.

Father figure

Philip and Elizabeth would have two more sons: Andrew, in 1960; and Edward, in 1964. Like Charles and Anne, they were largely raised by nannies.

After the death of her father, Elizabeth and Philip often only saw Charles and Anne after breakfast and at dinner, moments described by a long-serving adviser of the Queen as "lacking in warmth".

In 1954, upon returning from a six-month-tour of Commonwealth nations, the royal parents greeted five-year-old Charles and three-year-old Anne with handshakes.

As the children grew, Charles told his biographer Jonathan Dimbleby that Philip's "forceful personality" bled through in his parenting style, causing particular friction between them.

In an interview at age 20, Charles admitted that his father had been a "tough disciplinarian" who told him "to sit down and shut up".

In Dimbleby's book, friends of the prince also described Philip as "belittling" and even "bullying" towards his eldest son.

The comments prompted family members, including daughter Anne, to come to Philip's defence.

"Philip is very good with children," Philip's cousin Patricia Mountbatten said. "It was quite untrue that he didn't care. He was trying to help Charles develop character in his life, knowing the life he was going to have to lead."

Later, Philip would send Charles and his other two sons to his former school Gordonstoun. Charles recounted his time there as "hell".

Over time, Philip and Charles's relationship would soften, and the prince often relied on his father's guidance as the patriarch gradually pushed his son to the fore as he stepped back.

A 1979 article in The Australian Women's Weekly questioned why the duke had been out of the headlines for some time.

"Why? The answer is that Prince Charles, now 30, has taken over his duties as heir to the throne, and his father has no intention of stealing the scene."

As heir to the throne, one of Charles's duties was to marry. Philip reminded his 31-year-old son of this obligation in 1981.

In a series of letters, Philip urged Charles to take action over his wavering feelings for Diana Spencer, 12 years his junior.

They married six months later.

By this point, Anne had already married. Andrew would follow in 1986, and finally Edward in 1999. Only Edward's marriage would last.

Philip famously intervened when Charles and Diana began experiencing trouble with their relationship, but not in the way that was first reported.

Letters between Philip and Diana from 1992 were presented to the inquest jury investigating the princess's death in a Paris car crash in August 1997.

The inquest heard that media reports alleging Philip had written "unpleasant, nasty and insulting" letters to his daughter-in-law were far from the truth.

One letter from the duke read: "If invited, I will always do my utmost to help you and Charles to the best of my ability, but I am quite ready to concede that I have no talents as a marriage counsellor!!!"

"Dearest Pa," Diana replied. "I was particularly touched by your most recent letter which proved to me, if I didn't already know it, that you really do care.

"You are very modest about your marriage guidance skills and I disagree with you."

Following Diana's death, Philip acted swiftly to shield his grandsons William and Harry from the spotlight.

When Downing Street suggested the princes, then 15 and 12 respectively, should walk behind their mother's coffin, a report in The Age claimed Philip's rebuke was a direct: "F*** off".

The young princes would go on to be part of the funeral procession after Philip offered to be with them.

Duty and passion

At the age of 70 Philip was named the second busiest member of the royal family, having carried out more than 300 official engagements the previous year.

But by the late 90s he was far from the limelight, in a family that courts it in abundance.

He continued to work on his personal causes and projects. His namesake charity, The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, became his most famous legacy, helping young people all over the world. He also had a long-running role with the World Wide Fund for Nature, beginning when he became its first president in 1961.

However, in the eyes of the public he became most known for a string of often racially insensitive gaffes.

A royal tour of China, two years in the making, was derailed by a racist remark the Prince made to British students in 1986.

He defended himself in an interview with the BBC in 2011, saying Chinese people were not offended by what he had said.

And the royal couple's 2002 tour of Australia was marked by Philip asking an Aboriginal leader during a visit to Cairns: "Do you still throw spears at each other?"

The duke himself described his remarks as "dontopedalogy".

"The science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years."

The duke also struggled to hide his contempt for the reporters and paparazzi who dogged his family's every move, and who had chased his former daughter-in-law to her death.

While the nature of his comments did not change over time, royal historian Jane Connors noted that the way people perceived them did.

"As the times have changed, his remarks have just stood out more and more," she said.

"Particularly when they've gone in a racist direction, people have just thought, 'This is so wrong.'

"In a strange way, as he's gotten older there has been more tolerance for it again, with the idea that's it's just his generation and he doesn't know what he's doing.

"Whether you like the institution or not, he has gotten up every day and fulfilled a pretty punishing round of engagements with dedication."

Philip's farewell

In 2017, Philip's royal duties finally came to an end.

The news broke as a rumour; Buckingham Palace staff had been called to a sudden meeting in the early hours of the morning, fuelling speculation the duke had died.

While he wasn't dead yet, his decision to step back was made after almost a decade of poor health and surgery.

In a show of his everlasting passion for all things military, his final engagement was a meeting with the Royal Marines.

He waved to the crowds outside Buckingham Palace, a smile across his face, as a spattering of rain seeped into his felt bowler hat and discoloured his mackintosh coat.

Two public appearances have stood out in the time since; neither quite so poignant.

In January 2019, the then-97-year-old crashed his Land Rover into a car near the royal family's Sandringham Estate, somehow escaping injury.

The following month, after much critical media coverage, he surrendered his driving licence.

And then, days before Christmas in 2019, he was admitted to hospital for treatment for a pre-existing condition.

Photographers were there waiting as Philip left hospital on Christmas Eve.

He was photographed walking to the waiting car unaided, and again as he stared out from the passenger seat, with dark red bags under his eyes.

Weeks later, Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they would be stepping down from their roles to seek an independent future, as the royals simultaneously faced the ongoing scandal presented by Prince Andrew.

There was never any question as to what would happen in the wake of the duke's death. The plan, dubbed Operation Forth Bridge, was said to have been finalised well in advance.

But now the man who played a major role in deciding which way the Windsors would turn for decades is gone, and the Queen is left to face life, and the rest of her reign, without her most enduring companion.

Amid the rise of republics, Queen Elizabeth II has defied expectations, becoming the world's longest-ruling monarch.

She has had 14 prime ministers, witnessed the demise of the British Empire, and watched as her country joined the European Union and then divisively voted to leave it.

Throughout it all, Philip — the longest-serving British consort — was by her side.

He was never one to easily take a compliment, as the Queen said on their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1997.

But still, he listened eagerly, resting his chin on his hand and looking softly at his wife as she offered an unprecedented glimpse into their love story.

"He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years," she said.

"I owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know."

Credits

This story is partly based on archived Australian newspaper and magazine articles, royal biographies, reports by ABC News journalists Fiona Sewell, Anna Hartley and Leigh Tonkin, and additional reporting by AP and Reuters.

  • Reporter: Yasmin Jeffery
  • Producer: Sarah Motherwell

RIP Prince Philip, remembering the Duke of Edinburgh .
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, passed away at the age of 99 on Friday, April 9. Philip married Queen Elizabeth II on November 20, 1947 at Westminster Abbey and he dedicated his life to supporting his wife in her duties from when she ascended to the throne in 1952. On their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, Elizabeth said these words to describe her husband "quite simply, he's been my strength all these years". In memory of Prince Philip here is a look back at his extraordinary life

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