Philip did not seek glory, history or greatness… He wanted home, family and peacePhilip did not seek glory, history or greatness… He wanted home, family and peace


It was the funeral he might well have asked for himself in one of his more curmudgeonly moods.

No uniforms. No hymns. No hangers- on – especially politicians – and, most important of all, no faff. The Duke of Edinburgh’s brief, 50-minute funeral was, in the end, the service he truly wanted, not the one that was expected of him. Because at heart, Greek-born Prince Philip was a Spartan who abhorred mollycoddling, loathed fuss and sliced through hypocrisy whenever he encountered it. This simplicity – so apparent in yesterday’s farewell – ran through every aspect of his life.

To the end, his bedroom was much like his room at Gordonstoun, the remote Scots school that gave structure to Philip’s rather rackety young life.

Barely a stick of furniture beyond what was functional, some favourite artwork and the same threadbare candlewick bedspread he’d brought with him to Buckingham Palace in 1953.

It’s impossible to mark out a life like Philip’s in days, months and years.

He’d set himself just one life target – grimly achieved when he died aged 99 – which was not to live longer than the Queen Mother.

He once explained: “I certainly don’t want to hang on until I am 100 like Queen Elizabeth. I can’t think of anything worse. I’m quite ready to die. It’s what happens sooner or later. When you get to my age there’s a lot of it about.”

Even the sheer numbers can be bewildering.

More than 22,000 official engagements, 900 charities, a blizzard of honours from around the globe. Better, then, to remember him for the things that truly mattered to him. The love and support of his partner for life and the good he passed on in the lives he touched.

His biographer Gyles Brandreth tells a story of how he watched the royal couple mingling separately in a roomful of guests at a Royal Variety Performance. He said: “I saw Philip catch Elizabeth’s eye across the crowded room. He simply smiled at her and gently raised his glass. She smiled back and, almost imperceptibly, raised hers.

“In that fleeting moment, I sensed what I hadn’t understood before. These two were allies.”

That alliance – seen again yesterday as the Queen took one last look of love at her husband before the service – has not been broken by death.

As the slow, steady tread of the bearer party rang out, Britain’s greatest-ever sovereign’s consort arrived at St George’s Chapel’s West Steps after a brief drive in the Land Rover he had, with typical practicality and efficiency, designed for his own funeral.

And as a grateful nation fell silent at 3pm, they paused briefly as the last echoes of the Royal Navy piping party’s Side lingered in the chapel’s richly vaulted ceiling. In the levels below lay the remains of legendary names running through the history of these British Isles like a golden thread: Henry VIII, Charles I, George VI.

With or without a crown, Philip had earned his place in their stellar company. Close family, military brotherhoods, the Duke’s household were there. But none of the politicians, opinion makers and naysayers who had buzzed around him all his royal life, like gnats pecking at a magnificent golden eagle.

And no one would have been more surprised than the Duke himself that in death he had become beloved, with countless bouquets laid outside palaces and castles, tributes from around the world and the retelling of his everyday encounters with ordinary people who, just for a minute or two, came into his orbit.

It could be a terrifying first moment for some, as his great friend the actress Joanna Lumley explained. She described it: “You get the impression of meeting a bird of prey – a hawk or an eagle. There’s something absolutely penetrating about the eyes. You feel like you’re being scanned, you raise your game. You rather hope he’ll like you.”

But Philip had never courted popularity nor sought attention for himself in life and would be grouchily baffled that he had become the nation’s favourite grandfather on his death. As he often explained to younger royals: “If you believe the attention is for you personally, you’re going to end up in trouble.”

The Duke went on: “You are not a celebrity. You are representing the Royal Family. That’s all.”

Philip, in life, was a knotted mass of contradictions as he strove to play out the strange hand that fate had dealt him.

A loving father, but a stern critic. A great innovator, but with gossamer-thin patience if anyone did not see his vision in an instant.

Prince Philip'

Prince Philip’s greatness was born out of modesty and an understanding of duty (Image: Chris Jackson / Getty)

To the Duke there was no difference between being a devoted husband and loyal subject and then threatening to get out of the car because his wife’s conversation was irritating him.

At her Coronation in 1953, he knelt dramatically at her feet and pledged himself as her “liege man of life and limb”. But a few minutes later in private he grinned and pointed at the St Edward’s Crown on her head and asked: “Where did you get that hat?”

It says much about his often forgotten compassion that at the height of the family crisis over Prince Harry’s television interview with Oprah Winfrey, he refused to condemn his grandson.

All he would say was: “He’s a good man.”

Yesterday there was much talk about Philip’s duty and honour but little about that strain of often abrasive humour that ran through him. When he first took delivery of his now notorious Easy-Rider monkey-bike at Sandringham – the Queen’s Norfolk estate – the Duke took it out for a spin immediately without bothering to wait for any instruction.

After his seventh fall virtually the entire staff had gathered outside to watch him and were roaring with laughter so loudly the Duke heard them.

The Duke

The Duke’s brief funeral was the service he truly wanted (Image: Getty )

He rode over to the crowd apparently furious at their lack of feudal spirit. As he got there, the Queen arrived and instantly defused the Duke’s fizzing temper.

By the time they left they were both giggling like children.

Philip’s death is all the more noble and his royal role all the more instructive as it’s been played out against the seedy, backbiting political world of cronyism and lobbying.

Our political leaders had barely drawn breath after paying parliamentary tributes to the Duke before returning to their bickering about whose snout should be in which trough.

By comparison, the stoic, ramrod-straight backbone of events playing out in Windsor seemed like a crystal-clear, sparkling mountain stream.

Philip’s summoning of Prince Charles to his hospital bed shows it is likely that he knew the end was coming and this makes his final days all the more poignant.

What did the Duke seek? Glory? History? Greatness? No, he wanted what we all want. Home. Family. Peace.

We can only wonder what final wisdoms he tried to burn into his son’s soul. And as Charles inherits his father’s role as the family’s alpha male, only time will tell if those words stuck.

Yesterday’s service reminded us we bring nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

That’s partly true, at least, of Philip who arrived in Britain as a boy from a proud but rag-tag royal dynasty with nothing to call his own, not even a name.

Decades later, and only half-jokingly, he referred to himself as the Queen’s “refugee husband”.

But he takes out from this world something more treasured than dynasty or riches. He takes with him the lifelong love of his soulmate, the respect of the world for his achievements and the heartfelt thanks and sorrow at his passing of a grateful nation.

His greatness was born out of a modesty and an understanding of duty. The Duke once said: “Everybody has to have a sense of duty. A duty to society, to their family.”

As ever, he lived it as he said it.

the Queen

As the Queen shed a tear in her lonely chapel pew, a nation wept with her (Image: Yui Mok / PA Wire)

One of the great pillars of the nation has gone forever and we can only hope that what comes next will show the same strength, now that the “Forth Bridge” has fallen.

In life, Philip gave up everything he had known to be at Elizabeth’s side. Yesterday, in death, he managed to claim back some of the things he surrendered for the love of a queen. Beside his medals, decorations and a Field Marshal’s baton were two simple awards from Greece and Denmark – whose royal bloodlines came together in him.

Now, after a life of action and churning restlessness, Philip – the man who dominated much of the past 100 years of British history – lies in the Royal Crypt at St George’s Chapel… finally at rest.

As the Queen shed a tear in her lonely chapel pew, a nation wept with her. For Philip, certainly.

For their own losses through a year of unbearable suffering. But perhaps most of all for a woman who had dedicated her entire being to their nation now facing a future alone.


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