Prince Philip was charming, funny and had intense dislike for fools – duty was the centre of everything for him

I FIRST met the Duke of ­Edinburgh in the late 1970s. He was in his mid-fifties and although no longer the dashing polo-playing prince, he had a swagger of self-confidence about him which was immediately attractive.

He was charming, polite, funny and engaging. He was impressive — and there were none of the verbal putdowns he adopted in later life.

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The next time I met him was in Amman in March 1984.

He was with the Queen on a state visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as guests of King Hussein and Queen Noor.

As we walked into the British Embassy, Philip walked up to me and asked me in his crisp, dry voice if I was German.

I suppose with a name like Ingrid it was a possibility. As soon as I replied in the negative, he turned on his heel and walked away.

I later learned it was standard ­behaviour for the Duke. People in a position of power such as Philip frequently don’t terminate a meeting properly. They just walk away if they are not interested.

They know people only want to talk to them because of who they are, not as a real person, so they have little sensitivity towards the other individual’s feelings.

His groom, the late David Muir, once told me: “People that don’t know him are ­intimidated by him.

“It can be like the parting of the Red Sea. As the Duke walks up, everyone stands back.

“But if you are honest with him, he is ­honest with you. He can spot a fake a mile away.”

With his intellectual rigour went a great generosity of spirit.

Practically everyone who worked for him had unqualified affection for him, even though he continually shouted at them. He also had a capacity for intense ­dislike of the Press, his critics and fools.

His best relationships were those based on mutual respect such as he had for the Queen, his daughter Anne, the Princess Royal, and his youngest son, Edward, the Earl of Wessex.

Philip was surprisingly unstuffy, although he had almost as much blue blood running through his veins as the Queen.

His friend Major General Sir Michael Hobbs, a former director of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, said: “He was reserved by nature and not a demonstrative man. He met discomfort absolutely head-on and wasn’t worried by it. He was a loner, utterly happy within himself.”

Philip liked a lot of people for specific parts of what they were but did not have many complete friends.

Not surprisingly for his age, many of those he did have are dead. But Philip was pragmatic and didn’t dwell on the past or what might have been.

As a high achiever, he expected the same from his friends yet when they ­disappointed him, he was always fair.

It was the same with his children. In youth, his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, was frightened of him and although they ­developed great respect for each other, it took years of misunderstanding.

The late Diana Princess of Wales said he was an amusing dinner companion.

But she would never look to him for ­sympathy or go to him for help as opposed to guidance, which he gave her. At the end of her life, she declared she hated him.

In a conversation I had with her on the subject, she informed me she had warned her sons William and Harry never to shout at anyone who couldn’t answer back the way their grandfather did.

As is often the case between younger and older generations, the Duke’s grandchildren found him easier than his children did, in ­particular Anne’s son, Peter Phillips, who was always a favourite.

According to a member of staff, as the Duke became more cantankerous, the only one that could cheer him up was Peter.

Increasing old age made Philip more irritable and moodier — but he still took huge pleasure in defying convention.

As the Queen hosted tea for Donald Trump in July 2018, the Duke took a helicopter 200 miles from Wood Farm at Sandringham to Romsey in Hampshire instead.

There he stood at the font of Romsey Abbey as a godfather to six-month-old Inigo Hooper, his first cousin three times removed.

Inigo is the son of Tom Hooper and Lady Alexandra Knatchbull, great-great grandson of Louis Mountbatten, Earl, Viceroy of India, statesman, Philip’s uncle and his boyhood hero.

Little Inigo will one day inherit the family seat, Broadlands.

Philip, who was then 97, wanted to be there among the Mountbatten family, not at Windsor Castle with a US President he had no desire to meet. He was getting back to his roots.

Philip refused to change anything because of his age. The staff at Windsor noted that after his car accident in January 2019, he had a renewed zest for life — possibly because he felt he had been given a reprise to get on with whatever remained of life.

He enjoyed watching cookery programmes on television, could still read and appreciated the ­company of attractive women and intelligent conservation.

He was surprisingly sensitive and somewhat shy and maintained a continuing fascination with new things and new ideas, which were sometimes a bit off-the-wall.

For instance, he once decided it would be a good idea to introduce hawks into New York City to kill the vermin population at the time.

Above all, Philip was loyal — to his wife, the Queen, and the institution of the monarchy.

It grieved him that the younger generation did not all appear to have the devotion to duty that was always his byword.

For him, duty was at the centre of everything. It was not a choice. It is the framework from which all other things follow. Philip found comfort and security in structure, but he had a rebellious streak.

He always held the opinion that his way was the right way and he did not enjoy being ­corrected if someone contradicted him.

He was an alpha male playing a beta role but he accepted that as his duty. He was always there, two steps behind.

The multifaceted, complex, humorous character that was Prince Philip dedicated his spare time to the pursuit of knowledge and to enjoying what he was doing.

During his final years, he refused to give in to illness or infirmity, realising that to do so would deny him his final opportunity to understand what he had not understood before.

I don’t think he was afraid of death or afraid of life. His fear was to leave things undone.

To the last, he remained a man of immense personal discipline and dedication to duty.

How he managed to survive within his extraordinary life and make it worth living is his eternal legacy.

  •  Ingrid Seward is author of Prince Philip Revealed: A Man Of His Century published by Simon & Schuster.

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