Prince Philip, the Queen of England’s husband for an astonishing 73 years and her prime support system for the entirety of her nearly 70-year reign, died on April 9th. He was, as anyone who lives to be 99 has to be on some level, a dinosaur, but he was an Old World gentleman. Curmudgeonly for sure and often tremendously out of step with changing society. Because his society didn’t change. He belonged to a world of Kings and Queens and time-frozen nobility. That was part of his charm, part of his place in history. It won’t ever be like that again, which I, for one, having grown up in class-subservient England of the ’60s and not being in favor of royalty, think is a good thing.
In 2017 Prince Philip, the dutiful — and, God, we mean that literally — consort, retired from public service. That had meant traveling the world, and every square inch of Britain, meeting people, shaking hands, and being given a nearly infinite number of factory and sundry tours. He’d been doing this, remarkably, for 60 plus years, and it is not hard to imagine that the novelty wore off long ago. Perhaps 60 plus years ago.
Yet there he faithfully and (mostly) admirably went! Unwavering if not always enthusiastic. The Royals have always been an idea more than a reality. If you strip away the pageantry and the necessary mythology of the monarchy, the British Royal Family are pretty universally, and very, very deliberately, bland people. But not Philip. He was not bland. And he had been touring longer than the Rolling Stones.
Along the way to making 410 trips and visiting 107 foreign lands, he occasionally delivered a few howlers in public. Alright, quite often. One suspects — forgive one — not all these were accidental misspeaks, for the Prince was not a shy man in his opinions.
Here are some of his most head-scratching, fantastically insensitive, but always one-last-breath-away-from-being-immortal quotes:
“I declare this thing open, whatever it is.” Canada, 1969
Everyone is a food critic: “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an airplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.” World Wildlife Fund meeting, 1986
“If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” Yes, he actually said this a group of British students in China, 1986
We are not impressed: “It’s a waste of space.” Upon touring the British Embassy, Berlin, 2002
“How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?” Asked of a driving instructor in Oban, Scotland, 1995
Don’t reach for the stars: “You’re too fat to be an astronaut” Said to a presumably crushed 13-year-old schoolboy, 2001
“They must be out of their minds.” Upon hearing population growth was 5 percent in the Solomon Islands, 1982
“You look like you’re ready for bed.” To the President of Nigeria, who was dressed in national robes, 2003
“I would like to go to Russia very much, although the bastards murdered half my family.” 1967
Not how we advertise ourselves, no… “Ah, so this is the feminist corner then.” Proffered to a group of female Labour MPs standing together at a reception at Buckingham Palace, 2000
“Do you still throw spears at each other?” To a highly successful, highly horrified Aboriginal entrepreneur, Australia, 2002. (The businessman replied, “No, we don’t do that anymore.”)
“You managed not to get eaten then?” To a British student just returned from trekking in Papua New Guinea, 1998
“You look like a suicide bomber.” A not quite compliment paid to a young female police officer wearing a bullet-proof vest, on the Isle of Lewis in the UK, 2002
“There’s a lot of your family in tonight.” Said to businessman Atul Patel, after noticing his name badge, at a Buckingham Palace reception for British Indians, 2009
Tin Ear Dept, Part One: “People usually say that after a fire it is water damage that is the worst. We are still drying out Windsor Castle.” Said while addressing surviving family members of the plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed all aboard, 1993
No, but that’s not a bad fashion business idea actually…. “Do you have a pair of knickers made out of this?” Asked of Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie, indicating a patch of nearby tartan, at a papal reception no less, Edinburgh, 2010
Well, I suppose you never know, but should you ask? “You are a woman, aren’t you?” To a young woman offering him a native gift, Kenya, 1984
He’s no Donald Trump! “I would get arrested if I unzipped that dress.” Said to a pretty council worker wearing a dress with a frontal zip, His Highness apparently cognizant of even Royal limitations and that you can’t just do it because you’re famous, Kent, 2012
“If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort, provided you don’t travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly.” In remarks to the Aircraft Research Association, 2002
“Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?” Said to natives of the Cayman Islands, 1994
Everyone is an art critic: “It looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from her school art lessons.” At an exhibition of ‘primitive’ Ethiopian art, Ethiopia, 1965
“How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?” To a disabled man, driving a mobility scooter, Redbridge, UK, 2012
“If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she’s not interested.” Said about Princess Anne, his daughter by the way
Well then, case closed! “People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.” 2000
Tin Ear Department, Part Two: “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed.” During the recession in the UK, 1981
“When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.” Responding to a question about marriage, 1997. (He also said, to his great credit: “You can take it from me the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance.”)
“Where did you get that hat?” To the Queen on her coronation day, referring to her crown. (He was joking.)
She kind of lingers…. “Yak, yak, yak; come on, get a move on.” Impatiently to the Queen from the deck of the Royal Yacht, Britannia, Belize, 1994. The Queen was on the dock, politely talking with their hosts.