BBC One aired a special documentary in November, which saw members of the Royal Family give their personal tributes to Prince Philip. In interviews filmed before and after his death, his children, adult grandchildren and in-laws sat down to give the world an insight into his incredible and long life.
‘Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers’ was originally meant to celebrate the Duke of Edinburgh’s milestone 100th birthday in June 2021, but became a memorial after he died in April – just two months short of the occasion. It was written and produced by royal biographer, Robert Hardman.
“He didn’t actually want to get to a century,” Harry told us towards the end of the show, while his cousin Zara said: “He hated getting older.”
Of course, that did not make losing him any easier for them. The loss was evident in the way the family spoke about their beloved patriarch, who may have been just a public figure to us but was a loving father and grandfather to them.
The hour-long special detailed all of Philip’s life with private input from his family and – for the first time – looks into his office, library and records.
Starting with his short time in Greece, where he was born a member of the Greek Royal Family, we were told by Zara that he could not remember it. He spent his childhood bouncing around from country to country, relative to relative after the family were exiled.
Camilla asked her father-in-law about his childhood and found what he said ‘riveting’, however the Duke never really spoke about his early years, and Prince Charles only found out about this period of his life from paternal aunts.
The documentary makers travelled to Salem in Germany to learn more about his life there from Philip’s Baden relations. He spent time in school there under Kurt Hahn, but when the Nazis rose to power and the Jewish teacher headed to Scotland to avoid persecution, Philip followed him there to become one of the first students to attend Gordonstoun, which focused on a more outdoor education to build skills.
Philip was not the last student, and not the last member of his family to attend, either. Both Peter and Zara Phillips attended the school and their grandfather was always interested in how they were getting on there.
From Gordonstoun, Philip Battenberg went into the Royal Navy after staying in the UK with relatives, and then on to war – two subjects he spoke about with son-in-law, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Lawrence, husband of Princess Anne.
During the show, Tim read an extract from Philip’s midshipman journal, which detailed the battle of Cape Matapan, which the Allies won. During this battle, the young seaman was responsible for searchlights on the Valiant, helping to find the enemy. Tim asked his father-in-law about war and if he could ever look back on victories, to which Philip told him that you have ‘no time to reflect’ on war duties, and that ‘everyday was a challenge, you have to move on’.
When it came to his own grandchild going off to war, he only had one piece of advice for Prince Harry – to come back alive.
After the war came marriage, and the family love to see how Philip and Princess Elizabeth were before everything else came along.
Elizabeth and Philip told Sir Tim that that period of time – before royal duties took over – was a happy one in their life and everyone in the family seems to hold their relationship in high regard. Princess Eugenie said that she sees her grandparents as being ‘one of the most remarkable couples, I think, the world has ever seen’.
The Duke of Sussex called them ‘the most adorable couple’; while Harry misses his grandfather’s humour the most, he misses him for The Queen more.
All members of the family agree he was a great support for her.
“It’s no good trying to copy anyone else in the Royal Family, you have to do it yourself,” was a piece of advice that Philip had for his son-in-law, Tim, and Philip certainly paved his own way in his role as consort to The Queen.
One of the things that Prince William admired most about his grandfather was the fact that he gave up his career to support The Queen in her role at a time when most men did not give up their lives for their wives. And while he could not make an impact in the same way his wife could, he could leave his own mark on the world in his own way.
He travelled the globe (sometimes flying the plane himself during official tours – and once flew Concord!) and saw the impact of global warming first hand at the beginning of its impact on the planet. The Duke created documentaries about his travels to broaden peoples views, and teach them about the environment and how they could do their bit to protect it. He also helped set up the World Wildlife Fund, now one of the most prominent conservation organisations in the world.
Another of his major achievements was The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, a pilot project he joked never stopped. Lady Louise, in her first official interview, spoke about how important doing the award was for her and how she wanted to make her grandfather proud by achieving it.
William shared a funny story connected to the awards: the two of them were driving together in Scotland when they came across a group of DofE students. The Duke stopped the car and rolled down the window and asked them how they were getting on before being told (in a not so nice way) to ‘jog on grandpa’. The Duke rolled up the window and drove off with a smile on his face, joking about ‘the youth of today’.
But it wasn’t always work and no play, the Duke was a lover of reading and his library was full of books on World War II, his family, politics and cooking. The Countess of Wessex bonded with her father-in-law over that, and revealed his favourite cooking show was the ‘Hairy Bikers’.
Other stories about barbecues came to the fore, with footage from Scotland showing Philip roasting meat in the outdoors. Prince Charles shared that he tried to help but something would often go wrong so he was told to ‘Go Away!’.
Sir Tim called his cooking ‘experimental’ but commented that the Duke was an excellent barbecuer.
One of the fun anecdotes shared was the mustard story. Philip would give his young grandchildren a tube of mustard to hold, without the lid, eventually squeezing their hands and making the yellow condiment fly everywhere – often onto the ceiling.
You can see his grandchildren reminiscing about this trick below.
The Duke also liked to get outdoors and take part in some sport. He was a professional at polo, and Charles joked about how his father would always shout at him when he was playing polo – whether he was playing alongside his son or watching on from the sidelines. But his most famous pastime was carriage driving, a sport he made famous. He helped to design and create his own carriages and tried to teach his eldest son the techniques needed, but with no success.
He did, however, pass on his love of carriage driving to his granddaughter, Louise, and would take great interest in her competitions, always asking her about them afterwords with excitement in his eyes. Not all the grandchildren were as brave as young Louise, with Peter describing his time on the carriages with his grandfather as ‘scary moments’.
Lady Louise inherited Philip’s carriage and horses – who made an appearance at his funeral – after his death.
But there were many happy moments which outweighed the scary. The Duke was a dedicated family man who created a ‘safe and loving family environment’, explained Princess Eugenie. He would read to his children and taught the all sorts of sports and even how to drive.
The Princess Royal explained how her father started all of the children driving early – he would work the pedals while one of the children would steer and another would work the gears. We have seen this with other Royals too, like James, Viscount Severn on the Windsor estate.
Anne shared one funny story about her father and fishing, a favourite pastime of his. She told her father that she could not catch anything, which he told her was ‘nonsense’. After half an hour of not catching anything though, the Duke turned to his only daughter and told her: “I see what you mean.”
The Duke was also a loving and witty grandfather, who William said he had gotten closer to in adulthood than as a child. He ‘loved being a grandfather’ explained William, and he always made time for them all. Peter and Zara showed the public how Philip was just like any other grandfather when it came to technology. When he got a new laptop or printer, he could be heard shouting at it as he tried to figure out how it work, Peter explained. Because of this, Peter and his sister loved to buy their grandfather new gadgets as gifts, just to see him confused by how they work and tell them it was rubbish when they explained it to him.
A talented painter, the Duke shared that love with his granddaughter Eugenie – but she did not know that until she turned 16. For her wedding, he gifted her a painting of flowers which he had made himself as a skilled oil painter. He was such an important figure in her life that Eugenie name her son August after him (one of his middle names); happily, the Duke got to meet his ninth great-grandchild before his death.
The Duke, a man who always had an eye on the future, was looking forward just hours before his death according to The Prince of Wales. Charles spoke to his father the day before he died (which was also his own wedding anniversary) with the topic being his upcoming 100th birthday and how it might be celebrated.
“I was talking to him the day before he died, we were talking about his birthday coming up,” the future King said. “I said [speaking loudly], ‘We’re talking about your birthday,’ because he was getting a bit deaf. And he said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘We’re talking about your birthday and whether there’s going to be a reception.'”
Although he was becoming deaf and couldn’t hear the conversation very well, Philip told his son: “Well I’ve got to be alive for it, haven’t I?'”
Charles described it as a happy memory.
Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh died on the 9th April 2021, two months shy of his 100th birthday. The ‘end of an era’ was how The Duchess of Cornwall described it, but she was ‘very pleased and very proud’ that she knew him.