Behind an extraordinary woman stood an extraordinary man, leaving his mark indelibly on his country and beyond... setting an example of good service
The aim of this article is to provide a tight piece, bringing to light one of the most remarkable public figures of the 20th and 21st centuries and illustrating why Prince Philip was so much more than “the Queen’s husband” as so many news outlets stated on his passing.
Prince Philip had the verve, the guts and the drive to excel on a multitude of levels (national, institutional, professional, military, sports and family) and the emotional intelligence, the vision and the capacity to set an example in all of them, understanding exactly where the gigantic vessel called the Royal Family should be positioned to ride any wave on any sea at any time.
A life of action
Many with his background would have rested on their laurels, living a life of luxury totally detached from the people and not caring about anything outside a small circle drawn around their own feet. How many show great capacities in one area but leave a lot to be desired in others, as a father, as a husband, as a public figure?
Prince Philip, having started his career as an officer in the Royal Navy, and after being highly commended in dispatches in active service during the Second World War, found himself, on marrying Princess Elizabeth, suddenly in a different world and Philip the action man found himself being informed as to what he could not do.
According to insiders, he asked question after question after question so as to understand his position as the consort to Her Majesty the Queen, to understand his brief and his duties, to find out what he could do and then dedicated himself to carving out for himself his own area of activity outside that of being the Queen’s consort.
He managed not only to fulfil the difficult function of shielding a family living in the increasingly glaring limelight of the media from intrusion while his four children were growing up but remained present throughout their lives as a rock and an anchor when seas turned rough, as they do for everybody.
He managed to perform his duties as consort to the Queen without a single fault in 74 years and remained true to his statement that his first, second and third priorities in life were never to let her down.
And more than this, he was a fundamental part of the team, which includes the Queen herself, in managing to steer a great Institution (the Royal Family), through the decades, from Imperial Power to modern Britain, from the British Empire to the UK, from Empire to Commonwealth, managing to maintain the importance of the Institution among this family of nations, with a common cultural reference. More remarkably, as a member of the inner circle of The Firm (those managing the Institution), he was able to maintain its relevance not only through the decades (since beforeThe Beatles appeared) and not only across the globe in the countries and territories where it has influence but also among the many generations from his own contemporaries down to today’s youth, retaining the respect for his person, his Institution and his family across the globe.
A good manager might achieve this during a period of five years or so. An excellent manager, maybe a decade. But for seventy-four years? (He married the Queen in 1947 and retired in 2017, aged 96).
Instead of becoming a socialite as Prince of Greece and Denmark, he set to work and became patron/president/member of no less than 780 organizations or charities, he launched the hugely successful Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (a program for young people to achieve self-improvement). He was a keen and excellent sailor and later on became one of the top five polo players in the UK and after giving this up in his fifties, a skilled carriage driver (horse and carriage) and as President of the World Wildlife Fund, was champion of Green causes and wildlife protection decades before these became fashionable.
Fundamentally, his dedication to duty, to family and to his brief, as he perceived it, was second to none yet he managed not only to fulfil the standards he set for himself in these areas but also to achieve a tremendous degree of success in his personal attributes as bridge-builder and communicator, visible in his gift for breaking the ice by cracking jokes (misunderstood by those whose opinions do not count) and by forming a bond with people from all stations and walks of life.
Prince Philip once said that he admired the sea because when you are on it, you are in a different medium over which you have no control and you have to react to the conditions as best you can. Prince Philip, alongside Queen Elizabeth II, understood how trends change over time and like the excellent sailor that he was, he sailed his ship through calm and rough seas, through storms, riding tremendous waves and always bringing it home intact.
This is all the more remarkable when we bear in mind that the vessel, the Institution he represented and represents, is so massive and has to appeal to several generations among numerous peoples in diverse countries, renewing its relevance on an almost daily basis.
Quite a remarkable man, standing alongside a remarkable woman for three-quarters of a century. What a couple!
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey can be reached at email@example.com
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