Monday, 30 November -0001

‘I know I am rude. But it is fun’

From his forthright speeches to his gentle teasing of Her Majesty, Nigel Cawthorne pays tribute to Prince Philip and his priceless gems

Written by Nigel Cawthorne
Although Prince Philip has published a number of books, he does not plan to write an autobiography. ‘I don’t spend a lot of time looking back,’ he said in an interview on his 90th birthday. Consequently, we must build a portrait of him from what he says about himself. ‘I know I am rude,’ he once said. ‘But it’s fun.’

When asked if this trait was due to his turbulent childhood being passed around family members, he drily replied: ‘Wherever I happened to be it was no great deal. I just lived my life. I haven’t been trying to psychoanalyse myself all the time.’ ‘But some people might…’ his interviewer interjected. ‘Well, some people might,’ Prince Philip countered. ‘I’m telling you what I felt.’ After all, he said later: ‘What’s there to complain about? These things happen.’

He dislikes intellectuals, bureaucrats, wafflers, wishy-washy lefties and romantics (yet years later he could open his heart to Princess Diana when she suffered her travail at the hands of the palace machine).

And he has never been much taken in by his opulent surroundings. ‘In the first years of the Queen’s reign, the level of adulation – you wouldn’t believe it,’ he said. ‘You really wouldn’t. It could have been corroding. It would have been very easy to play to the gallery, but I took a conscious decision not to do that. Safer not to be too popular. You can’t fall too far.’

It is this no-nonsense attitude that has endeared him to the nation, the man who speaks his mind and has, on more than one occasion, put his foot in it. Here are some of my favourite of his forthright moments…

Reunited with the Queen at the door of Westminster Abbey at the end of the coronation, Prince Philip observed her crown and asked:
‘Where did you get that hat?’ 

‘Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I’ve practised for a good many years.’

At a garden party for 8,000 guests in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, Prince Philip was told by a guest that she was expecting her second child:
‘I hope you can afford your hat,’ he replied.

On a visit to caves in Australia, he was told ‘beware of the drips’, to which he replied:
‘Oh I’ve run into plenty in my life’

‘I think a sense of humour is almost vital for anybody nowadays, if you don’t want to end up with ulcers.’

About the people who want to end the monarchy:
‘If people feel it has no further part to play, then for goodness sake, let’s end the thing on amicable terms without having a row about it.’

‘In that splendid language, pidgin English, I’m referred to as fella belong to Mrs Queen.’

When asked how the Queen’s annual Christmas message on television could be made more entertaining, Prince Philip said:
‘Short of hiring a line of chorus girls and calling it The Queen Show, what can you do?’ 

‘People think there’s a rigid class system here,’ he said in 2000. ‘But dukes have even been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.’

‘My favourite subject at school was avoiding unnecessary work.’ 

‘The best thing to do with a degree is to forget it.’ 

‘There is, quite rightly, a very lively argument about general education in schools and universities,’ he said. ‘The parties to the argument are legion – there are the vocationalists, the humanists, the specialists and the generalists and then, of course, there are a lot of people like me with little knowledge but a ready opinion on occasions such as this.’

When told that a member of staff was not a lecturer, he said:
‘That’s right, you do not have enough hair to be a lecturer.’ 

‘Holidays are curious things, aren’t they? You send children to school to get them out of your hair. Then they come back and make life difficult for parents. That is why holidays are set so they are just about the limit of your endurance. Then you send them back to school again.’

Presenting a Charter of Incorporation to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, he said:
‘In 500 years from now, you will be able to put the charter on display and say that it was presented 500 years ago. That, in my experience, is what usually happens and it is always most impressive because by that time the seal is usually missing and the writing is both illegible and unintelligible anyway.’ 


‘I can only imagine that he has taken Disraeli’s advice that “Everyone like flattery; and when you come to royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”’

Opening the Man-Made Fibres Building Exhibition in Leeds, he pointed to his own thinning locks and said:
‘I’m not very good at man-made fibres myself’

Under his breath, World Bank president Tom Clausen muttered:
‘Balls.’ ‘What did you say?’ asked the Prince. ‘I said it is difficult,’ replied Clausen, amending his comment. ‘No you didn’t,’ corrected Philip. ‘You said “balls”. And what’s more, sir, I say balls to you.’ They dissolved in giggling. 

During the Golden Jubilee tour in 2002, he spotted 55-year-old Susan Edwards waiting outside Exeter Cathedral with her guide dog and said:
‘I understand they now have eating dogs for the anorexic.’

On one occasion Prince Philip halted an erudite explanation by an esteemed scientist with the words:
‘That’s all very well, but you still haven’t found out what makes my bath water gurgle.’

In 1954, after watching a film about ultrasonics at London University, he said:
‘I was most interested to learn that the X-ray goes in one ear and out of the other.’

‘I am all for people travelling at other people’s expense.’

Prince Philip was stopped for speeding through Central London on 19 November 1947. ‘I’m sorry officer,’ he said, ‘but I’ve got an appointment with the Archbishop of Canterbury.’ He married Princess Elizabeth the next day and was on the way to a final rehearsal of the royal wedding.

‘I have had two books of speeches published, and one on birds. Needless to say, the one on birds was more successful.’

‘When a man opens the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.’

After being told that Madonna was singing the James Bond Die Another Day theme in 2002, Prince Philip said:
‘Are we going to need ear plugs?’ 

On being shown the Barbary apes on Gibraltar, he remarked:
‘Which are the press and which are the apes?

In 1974, two Irish nuns turned up with a party of schoolchildren making a special outing to the palace. ‘I hope you are not going to blow us up with your concealed bombs,’ said Prince Philip. 

At a Christmas party for royal staff in Buckingham Palace in 2003, Prince Philip pointed to the turban of Sikh policeman Sarinder Singh and wondered:
‘How on earth do you get that under your helmet?’

‘Opening and closing ceremonies ought to be banned. Absolute bloody nuisances.’

‘Are you Indian or Pakistani? I can never tell the difference with you chaps.’ 

In 1966, the matron of a hospital Prince Philip was visiting in the West Indies apologised for the pestering mosquitoes. The prince seemed to sympathise: ‘I know what you mean,’ he said. ‘You have mosquitoes. I have the press.’

‘To work out how to operate a TV you practically have to make love to the thing’

I Know I Am Rude But It Is Fun, by Nigel Cawthorne, is published by Gibson Square Books, priced £8.99. Illustration by Gary Brown.

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