The name Pat Kirkwood is famous in Britain because the London singer, a legend in forties London, was rumoured to have had an affair with Prince Philip.
The rumours went back to an incident in October 1948, when Philip and Kirkwood – whose legs were described by the waspish theatre critic Kenneth Tynan as ‘the eight wonder of the world’ – dined together in public in London and then danced till dawn at a London nightclub, while the then Princess Elizabeth was eight months pregnant with Prince Charles.
Royal gossip-mongers circulated stories that Kirkwood had become the Duke’s mistress. Kirkwood always insisted the rumours were false, but was aggrieved that the duke himself never stepped in to clear her name.
Now, Pat Kirkwood’s story is being retold on stage, in a musical production entitled, ‘Pat Kirkwood is Angry,’ and, at the core of the new production are a series of letters written by Philip to Kirkwood. These have now passed into the posession of her friend, the writer Michael Thornton, who has been instructed to pass them to Philip’s official biographer after his death.
Thornton, who writes a fascinating piece about the Kirkwood saga in today’s Daily Telegraph, indicates that the letters do not, as some may have hoped, give any credence to the rumours that the two had an affair.
He writes: “The letters between the star and the Queen’s husband, written in terms of concerned friendship by two people caught up in a media maelstrom, are now in my possession, following the death of Peter Knight in 2010. My instructions, in accordance with Kirkwood’s will, are to show them to no one except the Duke’s official biographer, when one is appointed after his death. Jessica Walker [the author of the new play] therefore, has not seen them, although I advised her of significant passages.”
Walker is quoted as saying: “The inescapable fact is that Kirkwood’s first encounter with the Duke of Edinburgh, and six other meetings with him that followed, ruined her life and robbed her of official recognition in the Honours list, so they are crucial to any proper understanding of her character.”
Thornton adds: “Kirkwood wanted a Palace denial to protect her reputation, and wrote to Philip: “… if there had been some support from your direction, the matter could have been squashed years ago, instead of (my) having to battle a sea of sharks single-handed”.
“But Philip replied: “Short of starting libel proceedings, there is absolutely nothing to be done. Invasion of privacy, invention and false quotations are the bane of our existence.”
“Kirkwood did not agree, telling one journalist: 'A lady is not normally expected to defend her honour. It is the gentleman who should do that. I would have had a happier and easier life if Prince Philip, instead of coming uninvited to my dressing room, had gone home to his pregnant wife on the night in question.'"