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Philip teases women on community centre visit, asking 'who do you sponge off?'

The Duke of Edinburgh was back to his uncompromising best during a visit to a community centre, asking one group of women - "who do you sponge off?"

Philip's comment was taken in good humour by Nusrat Zamir, a trustee of the Chadwell Heath Community Centre, the Queen and Duke's first stop during their tour of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham to mark its 50th anniversary.

Last week Philip looked annoyed as he appeared to utter a four-letter rebuke to an RAF photographer during a photocall with Battle of Britain veterans, but he was in good humour and a mischievous mood during the trip to east London.

Mrs Zamir, who founded the Chadwell Heath Asian Women's Network which meets at the centre, said: "The Duke said to us 'who do you sponge off?' We're all married so it's our husbands.

"He was just teasing and it's similar to what I call my husband - the wallet."

The trustee, 35, from Chadwell Heath, who presented the Queen with a large iced sponge cake, added: "He also said to us 'do you meet to have a gossip?'

"It's a familiar question, a lot of people say what the Duke said but we do a lot of work. When we organised a fair in March that took a lot of organising and time."

Philip chatted freely with the guests invited to the centre which is run by local volunteers, supported by the local authority and opened in September. It provides a library and hosts a range of services from exercise activities, literacy lessons for children and mother and child classes.

When Philip chatted to Martin Shaw, he poked fun at his job.

The guest said: "I told Philip I'm a professional fundraiser and he said 'do you have any friends left?' I said 'not many'."

And the Queen's consort even "told off" the centre's chair Anne Estlea from using the word community.

She said the royal couple put her at ease and seemed to enjoy touring the building.

"It felt comfortable, it felt easy, it felt right. They were so interested in everything we had to show them, what we've been doing and how we worked with the council to create the community centre," she said.

She added: "The Duke told me off for using the word community so many times, so I asked him what I was supposed to say and he just laughed at me.

"And as they left and I was shaking his hand I told him I was going to find a thesaurus to find a different word for community and he just laughed."

A royal aide said later that Philip's "who do you sponge off?" remark was not meant to offend.

The aide said: "There's a context here, they were talking about a sponge cake, no offence was intended or taken.

"The whole visit took place in a wonderful atmosphere."

The Queen revealed her rarely heard talent for speaking French when she chatted with a schoolgirl when she visited Sydney Russell School in Dagenham.

During her visit to the year eight language class, the Queen stopped to talk to 13-year-old Suvika Kumaravelu.

When she first walked into the classroom she was greeted with a chorus of "Bonjour, Votre Majeste."

Then Suvika said to her: "Comment allez-vous?" and the royal guest replied: "Tres bien, merci."

The schoolgirl, who was carrying a photograph of her Sri Lankan grandfather, Devasthan Samuel, then explained in French how he shared a birthday with the Queen and they used to exchange cards.

The monarch replied "Ah, vraiment" - "ah really".

However Buckingham Palace was unable to clarify to what extent Mr Samuel was acquainted with the Queen.

The Queen then listened to a presentation in French by the pupils on Charles de Gaulle - a French leader who, the headmaster Roger Leighton pointed out, the Queen would have known personally. "Very well," said the Queen.

Mr Leighton said afterwards: "I said that he was an impressive man, but could be stubborn. She did not disagree. She said that he was an interesting man to deal with. Let's leave it at that."

Philip spent part of his boyhood living in Germany but when he joined a class teaching the language he confessed he remembered little.

Speaking about the Queen's state visit to Germany, he said: "I've just come back from Germany. But I spent my time not understanding anything."

He had, however, not lost any of his acerbic wit. After the teacher, who had been talking in German, finished by saying "OK", Philip said: "I don't think OK is German."

The couple also watched pupils play a game of cycle polo, which Philip seemed especially interested in. "He was very interested in the mechanics of the bikes - were they fixed gear?" said Mr Leighton.

Karen Sayers, the school's business manager, said he told them he had even played the game himself: "There was a match on the Sandringham estate. He and his polo team were invited to participate in a cycle polo match. He said it was 'very rigorous'."

The Queen and Duke were later guests of honour at a lunch attended by many of the majors from the capital's London boroughs that were also founded 50 years ago.

After the lunch, hosted at a local theatre by Barking & Dagenham Council, the royal couple walked to the nearby Abbey Leisure Centre, where they watched a swimming lesson for primary school children at the £14 million complex.


From Belfast Telegraph