Prince Philip's legacy is guaranteed through awards scheme
- Credit: PA
The older I get, the more I enjoy reading obituaries in newspapers. Nothing maudlin, no indecent relish that it’s someone else’s number which has come up, not mine. It’s just that they make wonderful potted histories of fascinating lives and the times in which they were lived.
No recent passing has attracted so many newspaper inches as that of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and it would appear that marrying the Queen and having four children with her was by no means the most interesting part of his life. For that, we need to look to the fact that from birth and well into his life he was a person without a state, stateless, a kind of refugee.
His very beginnings carry us back into the fascinating but mad Europe of the beginning of the twentieth century, when the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire, Prussian states, Italian provinces, various Scandinavian alliances and the machinations between Greece and Turkey were all at boiling point. Into this febrile atmosphere, the young Philip was born, his father destined to become a kind of king for hire in Greece (that did not work out), leaving his son with the unwarranted nickname of Phil The Greek for many years.
So naturally he acquired a Danish passport, went to school in Scotland, joined the Royal Navy and married the heiress to the throne of the United Kingdom. As you do. His mother suffered from deeply troubled mental health, his sisters married German minor princes, including a couple of Nazis, so then he had to put up with the nickname Phil the German too.
To me, his legacy is already guaranteed, not in his descendants but in the Duke of Edinburgh awards which will always bear his name. Most families will have a member who took part in these, and you can be sure that when young people’s CV’s are written a D of E qualification, if awarded, will feature proudly with due prominence.
For my eldest son in particular, they were part of growing up in Devon. His practice walks with his pals for the big final push on Dartmoor were for me among the happiest days of his younger years, dropping him at a car park on Woodbury Common, only to pick him up six hours later somewhere on the South West Coast Path, where they were all hunkered down eating their ridiculous provisions of Kendal Mint Cake and small plastic pots of baked beans.
These journeys forged lifelong friendships, I am sure, and also meant that at least some of our young people can still orienteer with a map rather than a satnav on their phones telling them where to tread every twenty metres. These groups were always mixed gender: one more brick knocked out of the gender war wall there too.
For all of this, he and his pals won a Gold award and he went with his mother to Buckingham Palace to collect it. They called me from the train on the way back and I asked if it was the Duke or some other royal who’d pinned on the award. No, my wife said with great disappointment, it was some footballer. My interest piqued, but although both she and our son are sporty, they could not give a fig for football.
“Did you get his name?” I asked. She said she wasn’t sure, maybe Geoff somebody. “Sir Geoff Hurst?!” I hollered down the phone, “the man who scored a hat-trick in ’66!”
This meant nothing to either of them. What a wasted opportunity. I’d have still been shaking Sir Geoff’s hand, the ultimate hero of my childhood.
I like to think that the late Duke might have laughed at all of us, saying we were bloody fools, and wandering off amiably down the line in this tolerant country of kind contrasts, good humour, and a warm welcome to refugees like him.