PRINCE Philip was clearly angry and fit to burst.
Another of the Queen’s tours had erupted into international controversy, after the media had reported one of the Duke of Edinburgh’s legendary gaffes.
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The Queen’s 2002 trip to Australia was now in danger of going pear-shaped because of Philip. Talking to indigenous Australians in the jungle near Cairns, Philip had asked: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”
At a reception for the Press a couple of days later in Brisbane, the Duke poked me in the chest and said: “I did say ‘chucking spears’ and I don’t regret saying it because you lot don’t know why I said it.”
It turned out that earlier in the day he had met men from a rival tribe and they had said: “The people you are seeing later, we used to chuck spears at them years ago.”
The Duke was unrepentant and ticked us off for not knowing the context of when he said things.
He also admitted that in 1986, on the first-ever tour of China by a reigning British monarch, he did tell a group of British students that if they stayed in Beijing much longer they would “all be slitty-eyed”.
The Duke told me: “It was a private conversation and you weren’t supposed to report it.”
He said those students were having a terrible time living in Beijing at that time and he was trying to cheer them up. With the first-nation Australians he just wanted to crack jokes with them and he never regretted any of it.
Whenever there was a picture to be taken of him with the Queen and heads of state, he would only ever pose for four pictures — then he would just get up and go.
In Malta I was asked to take a picture of the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Queen and the Duke at a Commonwealth heads-of-government conference.
Sure enough, after I had shot four frames the Duke just walked off and Prince Charles said: “Nothing changes.”
In China, Philip and the Queen posed for pictures with the Great Wall in the background. It was a very hot day but The Sun’s reporter, Harry Arnold, turned up in a suit and tie. The Chinese thought he was part of the official party from the British Embassy and so allowed him to follow the Queen up on to the wall.
Harry later came back and slipped me a roll of colour film. It turns out he had gone with the royal couple to the first tower, where the Queen had stopped and put on her sunglasses, then turned to Prince Philip and said: “Let’s have our picture taken together.”
Refused painkillers and endured service to pay his respects
The Duke had replied: “But we’ve just had loads of pictures taken down there, by that lot.” The Queen had said patiently: “This one’s just for us.”
Just then, Harry had taken his little camera out of his pocket and taken a couple of snaps, which I later sent back to London.
That historic roll of film mysteriously disappeared. Someone must have got into my hotel room and taken it. But the picture that most sums up Philip’s incredible character is one I took at the Cenotaph in London, in 2017, just after he had retired.
He was on the balcony with the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall. I was concentrating on the Queen but out of the corner of my eye I could see the Duke moving from one foot to the other, looking agitated.
Then he leant against the balcony wall. The Queen spoke to him and the Duchess did too, but he just ignored them and carried on.
That service goes on for 20 minutes at the most and as he walked away, he let out a big breath of air as it was over and he could rest. The Duchess later told me that he was in terrible pain from a very bad hip, which he later had replaced.
But he refused to take any painkillers and endured the service in complete agony, to pay his respects to fallen comrades. He never appeared at the Cenotaph again.
I photographed the Duke for more than 40 years and one of my favourite photos shows him with his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who they knew as Dickie, and Prince Charles laughing and joking at a polo match.
That’s how I want to remember this remarkable man.
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