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16 April 2021

Letter from Prince Philip to President Richard Nixon unearthed, where Duke apologises for faux pas at White House dinner

16 April 2021

A newly-unearthed handwritten note has revealed that a faux pas by the Duke of Edinburgh at a White House dinner with former US president Richard Nixon in 1969 caused Philip to lose sleep.

In a handwritten note to the president uncovered by archivists at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California, Philip wrote to “humbly apologise” for failing to toast the president’s health, as dictated by protocol during a “stag” dinner in his honour.

Writing from Greenland on November 7 of that year after his solo trip to the US had concluded, the duke wrote: “After the brilliance of the other speakers and yourself, I am afraid my contribution was very lame.”

He added: “That night I woke up in a cold sweat when I realised I had forgotten to propose your health!”

Richard Nixon (PA Archive)

Philip died last week aged 99, with his funeral due to take place on Saturday. He was married to the Queen for 73 years.

Jim Byron, executive vice president of the Nixon Foundation, said: “I think the letter itself shows the character of Prince Philip that so much of the public in the UK and across the Commonwealth, and really across the world, have come to admire.”

He said the letter was discovered before the coronavirus pandemic but made public this week, as a way of marking Philip’s death.

“It expresses some private feelings of a moment in time that the public really doesn’t always get a chance to see,” Mr Byron added.

During White House dinners, honoured guests usually offer a toast to the president’s health and success. Philip wrote to Mr Nixon that he could not “begin to tell you how much I appreciated your very great kindness and hospitality at the White House. I was quite overwhelmed by the guests but delighted to meet such a distinguished company.”

The duke mentioned travelling to New York, where he was interviewed by Barbara Walters for NBC’s Today show.

The Queen and Richard Nixon (PA Archive)

“The weather in New York was horrible but otherwise all went well,” Philip wrote, “and I found Miss Walters particularly charming and intelligent. I hope we did a good piece.”

The long guest list for the dinner was all-male. It included vice president Spiro Agnew, most of the members of Nixon’s cabinet and non-governmental notables such as business magnate Ross Perot and British-born comedian Bob Hope.

Mr Byron said Mr Nixon almost certainly replied to Philip’s letter, but, with the library archives remaining closed because of the pandemic, what he might have said is unknown.

What Philip said in his remarks – other than omitting wishing Mr Nixon good health – is unknown for the same reason.

The dinner came a day after Mr Nixon delivered his famous “silent majority” speech in which he implored a US national audience to unite behind the continuing war in Vietnam until his administration could achieve “peace with honour”.

Richard Nixon visit to the UK (PA Archive)

Mr Byron said top aide, HR Haldeman, who later went to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, noted in his diary how absolutely joyful the president was that night, given that his address had been positively received.

Mr Nixon, who died aged 81 in 1994, was a bit older than Philip, but the two had known each other for years by then.

As vice president, Mr Nixon and his wife met the Queen and Philip in London.

The Nixons gave the royal couple a tour of Washington’s sites when they made a state visit to the US in 1959.

“Philip, by all measures, he was being kind,” Mr Byron said of the letter. “And really expressing so much of his character.”

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