Everybody Loves Phil

The Grand Old Duke of Edinburgh: Why Everybody Loves Phil

The year was looking distinctly dicey for Prince Philip after he was twice admitted to hospital this summer – but the old goat pulled through, and now, as he and his wife celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary, he has become the Royal family’s most surprising star, with soaring popularity ratings.

11.23.12 8:39 AM ET

Maybe it was nearly losing him that made us finally realize how cool he is.

But one of the big surprises of a wide ranging Mori poll undertaken this week to gauge attitudes to the Royal family was the surge in Prince Philip’s popularity – a decade ago just 5% of the population named him as one of their favorite members of the Firm, today, it’s 11%.

Every other royal except William and Harry and new entry Kate has seen their popularity decrease over the period.

Undoubtedly, it is Philip’s famously outspoken remarks that endear him to his fanbase, but veteran Philip watchers detect a mellowing of the grand old Greek prince, who was famously smuggled out of his country of birth in an empty fruit crate, in recent years.

For example, on Thursday, Prince Philip was touring an RV factory in the West of England when, during a chat with the managing director, he questioned whether RVs were really necessary.

In the old days he might have plainly stated said that the décor in the RV was hideous, but this time, he simply pointed out that in his career as a competitive carriage driver, he and many of his pals simply bedded down in their horseboxes.

Nick Howard, managing director of Bailey's of Bristol, said: "The Duke had some advice for us on layout. He said he made a bed arrangement for one of his horseboxes. He said the beds should be longitudinal rather than across the motorhome for ease of access."

Philip’s latest remarks were splashed across the UK papers this morning (Friday) – but with genuine affection rather than the despairing intake of breath that used to accompany his observations.

It helps, of course, that he no longer makes racist comments about dodgy Indian electricians and Chinese people with ‘slitty eyes’.  The Duke told a one-legged man he could 'smuggle a bottle of gin out of the country in that artificial foot'; asked a Samaritans volunteer if he had ever attempted suicide; and said an exhibition of Ethiopian art looked like 'the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from school art lessons''.

Earlier in the week, while touring a jewelery factory, he went on a rant about how impossible it is to open the clasps on your wife’s necklaces. A nation of men sighed in sympathy. Earlier in the year he laid into the owner of a firm of wind farm generators, telling him wind power was a ‘fairytale’. Eco-sceptic Brits weary of seeing their green and pleasant land despoiled with wind turbines, nodded their heads in agreement.

It seems even his grandson William is entertained by his outspoken remarks – photographs released by the palace showed a picture of Philip and the Queen on a noticeboard in the background with a (sadly illegible) speech bubble coming out of Philips mouth. 

SAC Faye Storer, MOD

And this week, Philip and the Queen celebrated 65 years of marriage. There have been rumours of affairs throughout his life, but whatever the truth of those stories, it is undeniable that Philip and the Queen are utterly dependent on each other.

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Philip overcame an extraordinary childhood to become the longest serving British Royal consort.

He born Prince Philippos Prince of Greece and Denmark on the Greek Island of Corfu in 1921. Philip was mocked at prep school for having no surname, and only ever known as “Philip of Greece.” (He took the last name Mountbatten when he became a naturalized British citizen before marrying

Philip’s father, Andrew, was the brother of the King of Greece, and his mother, Alice Battenberg, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

In December 1922, Philip’s parents were compelled to leave Greece in a hurry after his uncle was deposed as king, and Philip, then only one year old, was smuggled out of the country in a crib made out of an orange crate.

Philip’s father subsequently spent most of the rest of his life living a playboy lifestyle in the south of France, but his mother was committed to a mental institution in Germany in 1930. Alice was
“diagnosed” with a “neurotic-pre-psychotic libidinous condition” and on the recommendation of Sigmund Freud, was subjected to an exposure of the gonads to X-rays, in order to accelerate menopause.

Philip’s parents rarely saw him, and he spent most of his childhood at boarding schools or with his maternal uncle Dickie Mountbatten. Philip went to school in England, Germany and then Gordonstoun in Scotland where he was head of the school cricket and hockey teams and became head boy.

Princess Elizabeth and Philip first met when they attended the wedding of Philip's cousin, Princess Marina of Greece to The Duke of Kent, who was an uncle of Princess Elizabeth, in 1934. Things stepped up a gear when he made a visit to Buckingham Palace in 1939. He was 18 and Elizabeth was 13. The future Queen’s governess described how, while they were playing with a clockwork railway, Philip came into the room—and everything changed.

“For a while they knelt side by side playing with the trains. He soon got bored with that,” Pricness Elizabeth’s governess said. “We had ginger crackers and lemonade in which he joined and then he said, ‘Let’s go to the tennis courts and have some real fun jumping over the nets!’ At the tennis courts I thought he showed off a little too much. Lilibet said, ‘How good he is! How high he can jump!’ He spent a lot of time teasing plump little Margaret.”

Later that evening, when Philip went for dinner with the King, Elizabeth had already been sent to bed, according to the nursery schedule.

Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and attended Dartmouth College as a cadet. Philip was not protected by any royal patronage and was active in the Second World War. As a member of the Royal Navy, he was in charge of operating the searchlights on a battleship called Valiant. In the battle of Cape Matapan, where the British wiped out a large part of the Italian fleet in a nocturnal attack, Philip was awarded a medal and mentioned in dispatches for his skill with the searchlights, which “contributed to the devastating results.”

When asked about the action later by his cousin Alexandra, Philip told her, “It was as near murder as anything could be in wartime. The cruisers just burst into tremendous sheets of flame.” Immediately after the attack, Philip used his searchlights to scour the ocean for survivors to rescue.

In 1947, to pave the way for marriage to Elizabeth, he became a naturalized British subject, and adopted the surname Mountbatten, the Anglicized version of his mother’s name, Battenberg. He
converted from Greek Orthodox to the Anglican religion, and renounced his allegiance to the Greek crown.

The engagement between Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN was announced on the July 9, 1947 and they were married in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. The day before his wedding, King George VI titled his future son-in-law Philip Duke of Edinburgh,

Despite being compelled to walk ‘two steps behind’ his wife, he is reputed to be a tyrannical head of the family. Prince Charles complained on camera to the film maker Jonathan Dimbleby about  his father’s fierceness and lack of love. he blamed Philip for forcing him to marry Diana.

There is still tension between father and son - but for the rest of the nation, at least, it seems that we have learned to apreciate the great, outspoken, eccentric Duke at the heart of public life before it was too late.