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When Prince Philip Became a Monument

The student from Ghana was insistent. “I want to meet him.” The stubborn, well-attired fool, groomed and keen to make a good impression, was attending the Senate House ceremony in Cambridge for honorary awardees. He was not the only one. In attendance on this warm June day in 2006 were a gaggle of rascals, well-wishers and rogues. This was gawking made respectable.

The awardees were justifiably brilliant. There were the establishment birds of paradise: the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, a man who soporifically charmed; and the Bank of England governor, Mervyn King. The mad cat mathematician’s contribution was also honoured in the form of string theorist Edward Witten of Princeton. Honorary doctorates in law were also conferred upon educator Charles Vest and writer Njabulo Ndebele. Ahmed Zewail scooped the honorary doctorate in science and novelist Margaret Drabble the honorary doctorate in letters.

The ceremony was softly coated in formal Latin, the awards themselves granted to the bright and the brightest, the hall acting as a brace of history. But it was the Duke of Edinburgh who, as ever, managed to cut through what would have otherwise been a stuffy gathering with his immemorial manner. Cambridge University’s chancellor turned up to preside, and, his cloak train held by the unfortunate subaltern, appeared like a decorated reptile, gown merged with body.

The reception – for that is what many there had hoped to get a hack at – saw Prince Philip make his various social sorties. These had the usual devastating air about them. Old mocking remarks about colonies; jabs of casual racism garnished with a mock innocence. Andrew O’Hagan of the London Review of Books was not wrong to observe that his questions would often lie “somewhere between existential brilliance and intergalactic dunce-hood.” To the student from Ghana, who sauntered up to him expecting a nugget of revelation, he said this: “I say, are you still a colony of ours?”

The Prince Philip treasury is laden with such remarks, the sort that inspired other family members such his grandson Prince Harry while enraging commentators such as Hamid Dabashi. To a Scottish driving instructor, the Duke of Edinburgh inquired how it was possible to “keep the booze long enough to pass the test”. To an Australian Aboriginal: “Still throwing spears?” To a group of British students on a royal visit to China: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”

A national treasure? A petrified disgrace? For Dabashi, very much the latter, with one redeeming feature. “He is not faking it,” railed the Columbia University professor of Iranian studies in 2017. “This is who he is – and the long panoply of his racist, sexist, elitist, misogynistic, class-privileged and unhinged prejudices is a mobile museum of European bigotry on display.”

A man such as the Duke of Edinburgh operated in a different dimension, distanced from revolutionary tremor and social evolution, even as the country he presided over with Queen Elizabeth II changed. To expect such a man to evolve with an institution created before an understanding of genetics was hope defiant of experience. He was expected to remain in the putty of permanent infantilism – at least on some level, more role than man. Accepting monarchy is accepting a condition of long service, and the Westminster model demands that the sovereign reigns but does not rule. And that role was reserved for Prince Philip’s wife, Queen Elizabeth.

So much came to massaging him into roles he did not want, and situations he would have thought peculiar. A man condemned to opening buildings most of his life is bound to get tetchy at some point, strapped to concrete, pillars and boredom. Presiding over the opening of structures can risk turning you into a monument, a biped structure condemned to endless ceremonies of tenured stiffness. Naturally, he had to assume the role of consort as robot, breaking occasionally into performance, his sparkles of misguided human observations rippling through the institutional straitjacket.

The role of service can be deforming. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards is touted as an example of “Prince Philip’s belief in the infinite potential of young people”. The Royal had a rather different view of it: the awards were not to be celebrated as some deep, insightful contribution to society. It was simply something to do. At points, he seemed to have strange attacks of modesty. On one occasion, he admitted that his greatest speech involved the utterance of a few words: “I declare open the Olympic Games of Melbourne, celebrating the sixteenth Olympiad of the modern era.”

In the biography of the queen mother by William Shawcross, we find a note written by a newly married Prince Philip to his mother-in-law, touching in so far as it shows an awareness of role and position. “Lilibet is the only ‘thing’ in this world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will also have a positive existence for the good.”

A profound shock was the emerging force of media scrutiny, prompting him to call it “a professional intruder”. That was, is, its job, so you could not “complain about it.” So, in front of the media, he would be able to tell the young children’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai that children went to school because parents wanted them out of the house. Many wearied parents would have agreed; even the youthful Malala stifled a giggle.

The river of tributes duly flowed on the announcement of his passing. Few were more suited to delivering one than Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister, in various previous incarnations, had merrily offended a good portion of the earth’s nations and races. “Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world,” said the Prime Minister. “By any measure, Prince Philip lived an extraordinary life – as a naval hero in the Second World War, as the man who inspired countless young people through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and, above all, as Her Majesty The Queen’s loyal consort.”

Not much difference was noted on the Labor side of politics. “The United Kingdom,” wrote Sir Keir Starmer, “has lost an extraordinary public servant in Prince Philip.” He noted a life marked by dedication to country, a distinguished career in the Royal Navy during conflict, and decades of service.

From outside Britain, Barack Obama was off the mark, unable to resist the urge to be modern and very contemporary. “At the Queen’s side or trailing the customary two steps behind, Prince Philip showed the world what it meant to be a supportive husband to a powerful woman.”

From the European Union, there was understanding without hyperbole. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen preferred a no-nonsense approach, expressing her sadness and extending “sincere sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen, the Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom on this very sad day.”

During the reception of the honorary graduands that day in 2006, the strawberries being readily consumed, the champagne flowing like arteries let, Prince Philip could still muster a few remarks, speared, sharpened, and directed. He mocked those who had not been to Cambridge, geniuses who never had the chance to go to that great educational wonder in the Fens. “Is it true that there are actually a few of you who did not go to Cambridge?” To see him in motion was to see an institution within a man, bones and flesh going through tasks he did with a certain measure of irritation and resignation. The heat of battle must have been much more fun.

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17 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    Phil the Greek is now gone and the Australian Republic will start to rise when Betty Windsor joins him.

  2. Kathryn

    My God, all this hullaballoo about Prince Philip! People have short memories! There were two things that Prince Philip reported hating: (1) Journalists and (2) Australians !!! There was widely reported an occasion, in London, when a journalist pushed to the front to ask Prince Philip a question. Prince Philip looked at the man from the top of his head, down to his feet and back again and contemptuously sneered: “My goodness, what do we have here? A journalist AND an Australian?”

    Sadly, Philip had a long history of changing feet whenever he opened his mouth! His lack of tact, sarcastic comments and condescending manner managed to offend many people of all ages, colour, creed and nationalities! Philip tried hard not to be misogynistic and racists but, so often, lost the battle! May be he thought himself funny but, clearly, Prince Philip never heard of the wise old saying: “Sarcasm is the lowest form of humour”. Who could ever forget his rather insulting comment to a member of our aboriginal community who were given the odious task of entertaining him: “Do you STILL throw spears at each other?” …. WOW!

    His rather haughty arrogance is rather outrageous considering that Prince Philip was born on a kitchen table to Greek “royalty” who were, in fact, rather impoverished until the beautiful, young Elizabeth decided to marry him. Sadly, Philip had so much tragedy in his life which he managed to rise above, which was admirable.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/prince-philip-gaffes/2021/04/09/f5afbff2-993a-11eb-8f0a-3384cf4fb399_story.html

  3. Harry Lime

    You can see how far we have to go,all this outpouring of alleged grief for a rascist, bigoted ,cosseted drain on the public purse, including here,,when he came to be amused by the ‘natives’ and titillate the forelock tuggers and the royalists,straining to keep their upper crust accents amongst the hoi polloi’s strine.
    Another anachronism kept farting through silk his entire life as a prop for another centuries old tradition that had little problem with murderers and fascists if it suited their purpose.Little wonder the Irish hate them because of what they represent.The only thing half mast around here will be my underpants.

  4. Harry Lime

    And being of an age where underpants are optional,I put them on especially for the occasion.

  5. leefe

    Good riddance.

  6. Stu Cook

    Our stupid fking idiot Prime Minister screwed up the salute, there is no 41 gun salute ever, anywhere . For the Royal family it IS a 21 gun salute in the Commonwealth .Just another Scummo fk up.

  7. Jon Chesterson

    So he was an arrogant privileged little shit just like Morrison with a ton of royal venom and orthodoxy, just like Morrison, but he had more medals on his chest to take him to the bottom of the deep blue sea, the deep blue sea.

    To the Scottish driving instructor he asked how was it possible to keep booze long enough to pass the test, the man from Ghana still here I see from one of our colonies, to the Aboriginal so you still throw spears at each other, and a smile thus just like Morrison, a cunning wide grin just like Morrison, but far more medals on his chest from ear to ear and the bottom of the deep blue sea, the deep blue sea.

    To the Duke
    Cunning Eulogies
    AB (1st 2 verses)

  8. GL

    One less parasite.

  9. GL

    I heard that the mad monk was going to lower his budgie smugglers to half mast when he heard that Sir Prince kicked the bucket but changed his mind when Scotty from Marketing aimed the 41 cannons in his direction.

  10. Canguro

    What the Cocky, Kathryn, Harry, leefe, Stu & Jon said; ditto, with eggs on top.

    When I was 10 I was sent to a boarding school in Adelaide after an uninspiring first decade trapped in a cage in a backwoods village in the deeps of the Adelaide Hills; it was my first exposure to the world outside my deeply dysfunctional familial surrounds apart from the forced & uncomfortable mingling with the kids at the local primary school and being farmed out to rellies or sent to a children’s home in the big smoke that catered for kids whose parent were incapable of caring for them.

    To say I was poorly socialised doesn’t even begin to state the circumstances.

    It was early 1963, and Lizzie & her consort were on their second visit to Australia, and amongst the welcoming hoopla thousands of young kiddies were marshalled in the Victoria Park racecourse, on the inside of the track, to greet the celestial pair as they were paraded around the circuit in the open-topped Roller.

    For a kid who’d at that point never been among more than a handful of people, a country classroom being the biggest grouping, this throng of screaming, cheering & waving children was an incomprehensible babel of confusion, the mexican wave of excitement preceding the approach of the regal couple and following their passing was like a Doppler wave of unabashed ecstasy.

    I have to say, I wasn’t thrilled. It seemed like madness then, and on reflection nearly sixty years later, still does. Why get so worked up over a couple of rich and over-privileged pommy gits? Years later, when I learned of Pig-Iron Bob’s sycophancy, and of John Kerr’s mastubatory adulation of all things royal, the sense of distaste for the British royals only intensified, as it did also with the incremental additions to the knowledge base of their various degrees of privileged perversity; Charlie and his tampon fantasy, Andie and his paedophilic criminality, the vendetta against Diane, the rampant adultery, the imbecility of Phil the Greek, the snouts deeply embedded in the trough etc etc.

    Yes indeed, what the others above said, and a pox on all their royally undeserved houses… particularly given Lilibet’s a pretender, not that any of them aren’t given they all got there, lineage-wise, by bloodthirsty scheming & murder down the generations. And we should bow down and offer them honour & respect? Give me a break… FFS!

  11. wam

    With 4 kids and an enormous use of natural resources he was admirable in ignorance in declaring indians are wasting resources in that they breed like rabbits.
    He will not be missed.

  12. Goog

    In 1970 at RAAF Laverton on my radio mechanic technician course there was a Pom who came onto my Air course from a previous ground course and he told us he had relatives that worked at one of the palaces and women were told never to let themselves be alone in a room with phill the Greek , he was want to feel them up

  13. Zathras

    I find it hard to accept that a lifetime of pure indulgence, free of consequence or such everyday things as job interviews, financial pressure or struggling with a mortgage can be described as being “hard work”.

    At 99 years of age his life was not “tragically cut short” and there seems to be a competition over the degree of contrived fawning or fake adulation in the media.

    While I don’t celebrate his passing, a bit of perspective would be appreciated and then we can get on with the things that really matter to the rest of we commoners.

  14. Consume Less

    GL. Tony, smugglers, half mast, that’s funny.

  15. wam

    Thanks, keith davis, for reminding me, the queen, who first met him 82 years ago, will miss him, terribly.

  16. Jack sprat

    No mention of his nazi sisters who where both married to prominent Germans aligned to Hiltler.One was so enamoured with the Fuhrer that she gave her son the middle name of Adolt. I am sure had the Germans won the war Phil with his family connections would have retained his status and privileges and have become a figure head for the thousand year reich ,it would have been a easy fit for him to change from being a figure head of one imperial power to another .His racists comments and his views ot himself as being superior would have gone down a treat with a nazi regime.

  17. Kerri

    #Jack Sprat
    Are you sure Phillip’s sister named her child “Adolt”?
    Wasn’t that Phillip”s real name? 😂😂

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