09 April 2021

Duke of Edinburgh ‘quite a presence’

09 April 2021

The Duke of Edinburgh was a “brilliant character” who approached things with “all guns firing”, according to one royal historian.

Hugo Vickers said there was more to Philip than the cantankerous nature and gaffes he became famous for and that he sought to challenge those he encountered.

The author suggested that, although the duke will be remembered chiefly for his support of the Queen, like Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert, the full scope of his influence and legacy would emerge over time.

The Queen and Philip

Mr Vickers told the PA news agency that Philip was “quite a presence” in the royal household and said the duke and Queen were “very in tune” as a couple.

“They were married for more than 70 years and he was quite a presence around the house. He was cantankerous, opinionated – you knew he was around,” the writer said.

“The Queen will miss him as a figure to keep her going.

“But she’s very strong. When he was ill (in 2013), she carried on and went to the BBC (to open new BBC Broadcasting House).

“They got on together well and they were very in tune together. They didn’t spend all their time together.

“He would go carriage driving or to official dinners, or she would go to dinner and he would stay home, but they were content in each other’s company.

“He didn’t suffer fools gladly and he didn’t mind telling the Queen what he was thinking. It could be a bit embarrassing sometimes – the way he spoke to her when other people were around.”

The royal couple

The writer added: “He was an interesting figure. It’s only now we will discover the full extent of what he did. People will be surprised at all the things. He will be remembered for his vigorous support of the Queen.

“After Prince Albert died, information came out about all the things he’d got started and got moving.”

Philip was known for setting up The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme but he was also a prolific writer on environmental, technological, equestrian and animal subjects.

Mr Vickers said the duke would expressly seek to challenge the people he met.

“People think he was a cantankerous figure, making gaffes, but what I think he was doing was trying to get a rise out of people.

“What he hated most of all was the ‘chairman’ figure who would show him round and who didn’t know his stuff.

“If the chairman wasn’t good at his job, he’d soon be found out.”

Mr Vickers, in his role as chairman of the Outdoor Trust, was once quizzed himself by Philip on whether he had walked the 60km of the Jubilee Greenway walk, which was set up by the Trust.

“I told him I’d walked every inch and a huge grin crossed his face. He’d got what he wanted out of me. If you went to see him in his office, you could have a very good talk with him. He was a very intelligent man, logical thinking.

“When in public, he was a bit of a nightmare because he could upset people, but what he was doing was trying to use his time as best he could.

“If you painted a picture, the Queen would probably say ‘That’s a nice picture’. The duke would probably say ‘Why is it green when it should be blue?’

“It would mean you would have to explain that you painted it that way because the light made it look green at a certain time of day.

“The Queen can’t do that. She has to be more cautious. But the duke could come in all guns firing. He was a brilliant character.”

Mr Vickers described how the duke was stoical despite a difficult and turbulent childhood.

After being exiled from Greece when he was just 18 months old, he was shunted between relatives after being abandoned by his father, who went to live in the south of France, while his mother, who was confined to an asylum following a breakdown, was out of contact with him for many years.

“He once said ‘My mother was ill and my father had gone away, I just had to get on with it’,” Mr Vickers said.

“He didn’t like talking about it, but you wouldn’t if you had a life like that.”

He described Philip as a fast-paced, lean man, who at the age of 91 scaled the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral with no problem at all.

Mr Vickers divulged that the duke even used to use dumbbell weights to keep himself in shape, adding: “He was incredibly fit.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox