Belfast Telegraph

Rough diamond Philip deserves a chance to shine

By Mary Kenny

It will not have escaped general notice that London will be hosting the Olympic Games this summer. But even before that much-hyped - and sometimes overpriced - event, another London jamboree will occur: the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

To be head of state for 60 years is certainly an achievement. But perhaps just as much an achievement is to have been 65 years successfully married to the same partner.

Which is why some people think that Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as much as Elizabeth, deserves a pat on the back for being the diamond spouse.

Philip has been through many cycles of popularity and unpopularity through these six decades, and there were times when his somewhat unorthodox humour was deplored.

But time brings perspective and, when a man gets to be 90, a certain indulgence is allowed and a robust sense of humour may go with the territory.

People tend to forget that Philip really did have an extraordinary, fascinating and what would now be considered dysfunctional childhood. His father, Andrew of Greece, was a well-meaning philanderer and his mother, Alice of Battenberg, was deaf, spent time in a psychiatric asylum, devoted herself to refugees and the sick, and ended her life as a nun.

One aunt was murdered by the Bolsheviks, another aunt frequented lesbian bars in France and two of his sisters married Nazis.

Philip was the last of a family of five, and he was born on a dining-room table in a villa in Corfu.

His father had a claim to the Greek throne, but in the 1920s Greece was just as much in turmoil as it seems to be today.

Philip's first childhood language was French, since the family migrated to a Paris suburb and, of course, he visited his German relations as well. To his credit, every time he saw the Hitler salute as a boy, he burst out laughing and so had to be dispatched to England.

He was always being dispatched to relations all over the place.

Children who are separated from their birth family at an early age develop a certain detachment.

Prince Philip is described by his biographer Philip Eade as "a highly defended personality", because of this peripatetic life he led as a youngster. He was unable, as a teenager, to define the meaning of 'home'.

By the standards of European royals, the family were penniless, and when he came to holiday at Buckingham Palace, courtiers noticed how basic and threadbare his possessions were.

However, Elizabeth fell for him at the age of 13 and there was never anyone else.

There have always been rumours that Philip had an eye for other ladies but, if so, they certainly were ladies, since none has ever kissed and told.

One of the most interesting aspects of Philip's personality - and the most under-reported - is his religion.

When he married, he did so as an Anglican (rather hurriedly brought into the Church of England for the event).

But his family faith was Greek Orthodox and it is said that now, in his very senior years - he will be 91 in June - he has quietly returned to Greek Orthodox practice. Yes, he's a fascinating old boy, and deserves his measure of praise for staying the course - gaffes sometimes, but many good works, too.

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