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Philip ‘covered his face with a newspaper’ when he heard his wife was now Queen

Former lady-in-waiting Lady Pamela Hicks has spoken of how the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh learned of the accession.

The new Queen Elizabeth II, a day after becoming the monarch, with the Duke of Edinburgh (PA)
The new Queen Elizabeth II, a day after becoming the monarch, with the Duke of Edinburgh (PA)

By Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter

A former lady-in-waiting to the Queen has said the Duke of Edinburgh covered his face with a newspaper and remarked ‘This will be such a shock’ after learning his wife had become monarch.

Lady Pamela Hicks, who is also Philip’s cousin, said the young Princess Elizabeth and the duke were “the last people in the world to hear” that George VI had died.

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Princess Elizabeth meeting members of the Nyeri polo club with the Duke of Edinburgh, shortly before the death of her father, King George VI (PA)

On The India Hicks Podcast, Lady Pamela recalled how she was with the princess, staying in the tiny, remote Treetops guest house in Kenya in 1952, accessible via a ladder, when she became Queen.

“She goes up as a princess. The king dies that night. She comes down the ladder as a Queen,” she said.

Secret ciphers were sent by the British Embassy to the governor, announcing the King’s death, but the coded messages could not be read as the key to the code was elsewhere.

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Treetops Hotel, perched in the branches of a giant fig tree in Kenya (PA)

“We were the last people in the world to hear,” she added.

The Queen’s private secretary, Martin Charteris, was in the nearby town, having a drink in a restaurant, when a writer approached him and remarked on the news.

Returning to the Sagana Lodge residence where the royals were based, he told the duke’s equerry, Mike Parker, who took unusual steps to prevent the new Queen finding out via the radio.

Lady Pamela said in conversation with her daughter India: “Prince Philip is sitting, reading a newspaper, while the princess is in another part of room, at the desk, writing to her father.

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Lady Pamela Hicks, who was with the Queen when she became monarch (Fiona Hanson/PA)

“Mike crawls in as he doesn’t want the princess to look up and see him so he’s crawling out of her sight line and gesturing to get hold of the radio…

“He secretly turns it very, very low and hears all the stations (playing) the same dirge-like music, being very solemn … so it’s obviously true.”

He tells the duke what has happened, getting him to listen to the radio.

“Philip just takes the newspaper and covers his face with it, hides behind it and says ‘This will be such a shock’,” Lady Pamela said.

She said the duke convinced his wife to go for a walk in the garden, where he told her of her father’s death and that she was now Queen when they were alone.

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Elizabeth and Philip pause on the rustic bridge in the grounds of the Royal Lodge, Sagana, a few days before the princess became Queen (PA)

Lady Pamela added: “As she comes into the room. I think ‘Oh, poor girl, her father’s died’. So I go over to her, give her a hug and think ‘Oh my god, it’s the Queen’ so I go into a deep curtsy.

“And she says ‘I’m so sorry. It means we’ve all got to go back’ … She was only thinking of all of us.”

Lady Pamela revealed that the Queen’s mourning dress had to be hurried on to the plane when the royal party arrived back in London.

“A black dress was quickly smuggled on board because we didn’t have a black dress. So she quickly has to change.”

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Dressed in black, the Queen sets foot on British soil for the first time since her accession as she lands at London Airport (PA)

She praised Philip’s handling of the situation, and told how Prime Minister Winston Churchill prevented the duke, who as a foreign-born prince with no money did not have the support of the royal court, from taking on a variety of roles.

“Philip was superb because it was much worse for him – end of his career – he would have been First Sea Lord,” she said.

“He gives up his career. He’s always going to be walking three paces behind his wife, and the whole court and aristocracy are against him.”

She added: “For months he has no job. The Queen thinks of several jobs for him but Churchill says no … Greek, not a well-born Scotsman.”

Lady Pamela is the daughter of Philip’s uncle, Earl Mountbatten, who was murdered by the IRA in 1979.

PA

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