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Lesser-known facts about Philip

The Duke of Edinburgh was an enthusiastic ‘twitcher’ and a collector of contemporary cartoons.


The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Ascot Racecourse (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Ascot Racecourse (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Ascot Racecourse (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Duke of Edinburgh was a famous public figure, but some facts about the Queen’s husband were perhaps less well-documented:

1. He was worshipped as a god by the people of Tanna, one of the islands in Vanuatu in the South West Pacific.

2. He was a prolific writer and had 14 books published on environmental, technological, equestrian and other issues including The Environmental Revolution (1978); Men, Machines And Sacred Cows (1984); and 30 Years On And Off The Box Seat (2004).

3. He was the first member of the royal family to be interviewed on television – by Richard Dimbleby in 1961 – and presented several TV documentaries.

4. In 1985, he drove a coach and four across Morecombe Bay, Lancashire, as the tide was coming in, negotiating treacherous quicksands.

5. Philip made 5,496 speeches between 1952 and 2017.

6. He once received two pygmy hippopotamuses as a gift from Liberia’s President Tubman after his state visit to Britain in 1961 and a giant porcelain grasshopper, presented by the the French President in 1972.

7. His affectionate nickname for the Queen was “cabbage”.

8. Like the Queen, he was a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria. He was a direct descendant of Princess Alice, the third child of Queen Victoria, while the Queen is a direct descendant of Victoria’s eldest son, Prince Albert Edward, later Edward VII.

9. He was the youngest child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

10. His mother, Princess Alice, founded an order of nuns. In later years, she went to live at Buckingham Palace and was said to walk around the corridors in a nun’s habit, smoking Woodbines.

11. He had four older sisters – Princess Margarita, Princess Theodora, Princess Cecile and Princess Sophie.

12. His grandfather was a prince of Denmark who became King of Greece.

13. He was related to kings of Prussia and emperors of Russia.

14. He renounced his Greek royal title in 1947 and became a naturalised British subject, picking Mountbatten as his new surname – an Anglicised version of Battenberg, his mother’s family name.

15. The family name of the Danish royal house from which his father was descended was Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg.

16. The Duke of Edinburgh had two other titles – Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. All three were given to him in 1947 by George VI.

17. He was the longest-serving consort in British history – but had no interest in taking on the title Prince Consort like Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert.

18. As husband of the sovereign, he was not crowned or anointed at the Coronation ceremony in 1953.

19. He was the first layman to pay homage to the Queen, kneeling at her feet before kissing her left cheek.

20. Although he was a Privy Counsellor, the duke had no constitutional role.

21. He was a member of the House of Lords, but never spoke there due to his proximity to the politically-neutral Queen.

22. He fulfilled 22,219 solo official engagements between 1952 and August 2 2017 when he officially retired from public duties.

23. He made 637 solo overseas visits, including 229 visits to 67 Commonwealth countries, and 408 visits to 76 other countries.

24. He took a hands-on approach to the organisations he represented and chaired more than 1,500 meetings.

25. His official livery colour was dark green, known as “Edinburgh Green”.

26. He was a qualified pilot and gained his RAF wings in 1953, his helicopter wings in 1956 and his private pilot’s licence in 1959.

27. He notched up 5,986 hours in 59 types of aircraft. His final flight as a pilot was on August 11 1997, from Carlisle to Islay.

28. He made two round-the-world voyages in the Royal Yacht Britannia.

29. In deep Antarctica, he hosted a reception on board Britannia for the lonely scientists of Deception Island, which included a screening of the film Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.

30. In 1953, the duke had an early version of a mobile telephone, made by Pye Telecommunications of Cambridge, fitted to his car.

31. After Cambridge University students challenged him to a tiddlywinks match, he began awarding the annual “Silver Wink” to the winner of the University Tiddlywinks Championships in 1961.

32. He was previously Chancellor of the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Salford and of Wales, and was a Life Governor of King’s College, London.

33. He founded a bagpiping competition for the Pakistan Army in 1963.

34. He enjoyed paintings in oils.

35. He studied naval history.

36. He had been patron or president of 785 organisations – the longest-standing association, from 1947, was with the Federation of London Youth Clubs of which he was patron.

37. He was president of the Marylebone Cricket Club twice – in 1949-50 and 1974-75.

38. He was a Freeman of Acapulco, Belfast, Bridgetown, Barbados, Cardiff, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Guadalajara, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne and Nairobi.

39. He was a committed Christian with a particular interest in the relationship between faith and science.

40. He was involved in money-making, from 1952 to 1999, as president of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee.

41. At the Dartmouth Naval College during his military training, he won a £2 book token for being the best cadet.

42. A keen sailor, he competed regularly at Cowes Regatta.

43. Philip was an enthusiastic “twitcher” and became interested in birdwatching during his lengthy voyages on Britannia in the 1950s.

44. He helped design the interior of the Royal Yacht.

45. The duke played a key role in the restoration of Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire and served as chairman of the general Restoration Committee.

46. He collected contemporary cartoons, some featuring royal occasions. They are hung in Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral.

47. In 1976, he was immortalised as a waxwork at Madame Tussauds.

48. He was the Grand Master and First or Principal Knight of the Order of the British Empire, founded to reward the work and service of members of the general public.

49. The Queen’s Gallery, the public showcase for exhibitions from the Royal Collection, was built at his suggestion.

50. The duke was Ranger of Windsor Great Park.

51. He had his own standard. The first three quarters showed his lineage: Denmark (lions and hearts); Greece (white cross on blue); Mountbatten (two black “pales” on white). The fourth quarter contains the arms of the City of Edinburgh and represented his title.

52. His coat of arms bore the motto “God is my help” as well as the motto of the Order of the Garter – “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Shame on him who thinks this evil).

53. The duke had eight grandchildren – Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Sussex, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn – and 10 great-grandchildren – Savannah Phillips, Isla Phillips, Prince George of Cambridge, Mia Tindall, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, Prince Louis of Cambridge, Lena Tindall, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, August Brooksbank and Lucas Tindall.

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