Belfast Telegraph

Why Prince Philip is not figure of fun but a true diamond

By Gail Walker

As the nation prepares for a huge street party - polls show ever increasing support for the monarchy and the 'annus horribilus' era seems more and more like a bizarre dream - spare a thought for Prince Philip.

It's his Diamond Jubilee, too.

The poor old Duke of Edinburgh normally gets a bum rap. A conductor rod for anti-royalist sentiment that would be difficult to attach to the Queen, his image is largely that of a non-PC dinosaur slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan. He is cast as a blunt-spoken bore, certain of the rightness of whatever pops into his head; a man who, undoubtedly, would not be adverse to the odd snifter or two once the sun had set over the yardarm.

A beribboned Denis Thatcher in fact. Yet what is remarkable about Philip (and also about Denis) is that, looked at from a certain perspective, he was among the very first modern men.

While it may be a bit much to talk about Philip as a 'metrosexual' (he'd probably flog anybody to within an inch of their life for daring to suggest such a thing), he has brilliantly occupied roles normally associated with the woman. Supporter. Adviser. Comforter. Emotional Protector.

Brand him an old throwback if you will, but here was a man who must have known that he was going to spend his life walking both metaphorically and literally behind his wife - a position that must have been difficult for someone with a good war record behind him and a solid naval future in front of him.

And for what exactly? Sneers of 'Phil the Greek' from the old establishment and a caricature that would shame a Footlights undergraduate from the new establishment.

Of course, he is capable of verbal, ahem, infelicities where he speaks exactly like what he is - a man from a older generation.

Most recently, he got a withering blast of criticism for making a joke during a walkabout to a pretty girl in a zip-up red dress. And yet, really, c'mon ... it was the kind of banter that you get in many offices and workplaces, the sort of fun carry-on that helps the world manage to drag itself through another weary day.

Anyhow, apart from that, Philip has been brilliant at fulfilling his constitutional duties. Unlike his more 'enlightened' elder son, he has astutely avoided any public controversy. No comments on architecture, sustainable energy, no desperately casting around for a 'role'. Instead, Philip has just got on with it. He has the good sense to know that the nation can easily survive without his 'contribution' to whatever facile debate time throws up.

In striking contrast to his three sons, he has never made an utter fool of himself. No shady freebies, no risible film companies. I'm pretty sure that It's A Royal Knockout (an incident that should have led to the tumbrils for the Windors) wasn't his idea.

And it is this self-assuredness that makes him an ideal husband for the Queen. Not only do they seem a genuinely happy couple, easy in each other's presence, but he knows what he is: the Queen's consort. He understands his roles, both public and private.

Few would doubt that behind closed palace doors he is his own man, capable of giving his own opinion, but he knows his public role is largely silence. The ability to adopt two almost contradictory roles requires a man of rare self-possession - to be at ease both with his supposed importance and his essential inconsequence.

Philip represents rare common sense. For a supposed reactionary, it has long been widely reported that he thinks that Anne would make a better monarch than Charles - which shows a keen eye at the very least.

It's a tired old cliché that behind every great man, there is a great woman, though it is a belief which we - both men and women - eat up greedily.

Yet we are more reticent when it is the other way round, when it is the man who is outside the public spotlight.

Still, few could deny that the Queen is a remarkable woman who almost single-handedly has kept the monarchy viable in an increasingly hostile world.

And who has been right beside her for all of those 60 years? Not Prime Ministers, not royal advisers, not here-today-gone-tomorrow commentators. None of those. Just a ramrod straight, rather crusty 91-year-old man.

Half of a successful team.

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