Teenage crush to lifelong love – The Queen and Prince Philip’s romance explained
From teenage crush, to the father of her children, and her loyal companion for decades on the throne – nobody did more to support The Queen than Prince Philip.
As the Queen’s former press secretary Dickie Arbiter tells us: "She first fell in love with Philip in 1939 when she met him aged just 13. That was 82 years ago, and he turned out to be the only man in her life."
As well as taking on a host of royal duties, the duke – who was 99 when he died last April – provided unfaltering personal support to the Queen.
And on what would have been his 101st birthday, we take a look back at the love affair which defined our Queen's life.
Speaking during a BBC documentary, which screened in September last year, Prince Harry explained, "From my grandmother’s perspective to have someone like that on your shoulder for 73 years of marriage… it doesn’t get better than that. The two of them together were just the most adorable couple." Harry added, "Behind what the world sees, you have two individuals who were very much in love. The experiences that they went through; that is an incredible bond between two people."
Their courtship officially began at Christmas 1943, when 22-year-old Prince Philip was invited to join the family at Windsor Castle. Elizabeth was only 17, but according to her governess, Marion Crawford, she had already confided that Philip was "The One".
As the romance progressed, Elizabeth would play People Will Say We’re In Love from the musical Oklahoma! over and over again, and it remained the couple’s favourite song.
Philip proposed at Balmoral in 1946 but the King insisted they announce their engagement when 20-year-old Elizabeth was older. There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from some in the royal circle over the match, though, with Philip described as unpolished, arrogant, penniless and, perhaps worst of all for a country still recovering from the Second World War, "too German". However, the public widely approved of Philip, who was tall, good-looking and seen as a heart-throb.
"He was quite a catch," says former royal butler Paul Burrell. "And the Queen fell in love with him. He was her rock."
It was mutual, and Philip wrote in a letter to her in 1946, "To have fallen in love completely and unreservedly makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty."
Philip’s proposal was kept secret until after the royal family’s 1947 South African tour. Their engagement was announced in the July, when Philip presented her with a diamond ring he had designed himself, made of stones from a tiara that belonged to his mother.
Their marriage took place at 10.30am on 20 November 1947 at London’s Westminster Abbey, but plans for a dazzling event were restricted by Britain’s ongoing recovery from the war.
Rationing was still in place, but an extra 200 coupons were presented to Elizabeth by the government so she could buy the material for her gown. Designed by Norman Hartnell and created in seven weeks by a team of 350 women, the dress was made from ivory duchesse satin and silver thread. It featured crystals, 10,000 seed pearls and a 15ft train symbolising rebirth and growth after the war. Philip’s outfit was a tad less showy – he simply wore his naval uniform, and reportedly wore darned socks.
There were eight bridesmaids, and 2,000 guests were invited to the ceremony, which was broadcast by BBC radio to 200 million listeners around the world. The wedding ring was made from a nugget of Welsh gold and Elizabeth’s bouquet was packed with white orchids and a sprig of myrtle, a tradition first started by Queen Victoria.
A reception was held at Buckingham Palace, with sole, partridge and ice cream on the menu. A nine-foot high, four-tiered wedding cake was baked by McVitie and Price, and contained ingredients from all around the world, including sugar from Australia – which saw it christened "The 10,000 Mile Cake".
The couple received around 10,000 telegrams of congratulations and more than 2,500 wedding presents, including a picnic basket from Princess Margaret, plus a sewing machine and a fridge from other loved ones.
Their wedding photos are a powerful reminder of their enduring partnership, and their granddaughter Princess Eugenie, 32, once said of them, "It’s amazing to see. They are one of the most remarkable couples the world has ever seen."
Soon after the wedding, the Queen expressed her happiness in letters to her mother. "Philip is an angel – he is so kind and thoughtful, and living with him and having him around all the time is just perfect," she wrote. Philip seemed just as content, and in his own letter to the Queen Mother, he wrote, "Lilibet is the only thing in this world which is absolutely real to me.”
As well as being full of praise for his new wife, Philip was not shy about revealing more intimate details of their relationship. He told friends shortly after their wedding that they enjoyed a very "passionate" marriage – even though they famously always slept in separate bedrooms.
And when Philip’s late cousin Patricia Mountbatten remarked on the Queen’s flawless complexion, the duke replied, "Yes, and she’s like that all over."
As they settled into married life, the couple travelled the world together, sharing adventures and meeting thousands of adoring fans. Away from the spotlight, Philip would affectionately call her "Lilibet", "Sausage" or "Cabbage" – apparently from the French saying, "mon petit chou".
Then in July 1951, he ended his active naval career in order to concentrate on royal duties full-time. "He always knew his role was to be with her and support the Queen," says Dickie. The couple’s children and grandchildren have echoed the sentiment that Philip was a pillar of strength, with Prince William once saying, "He gave up a very, very successful military career to be the Queen’s consort. It was very much a man’s world back then. So, for a man to give up his career to support a woman, albeit the Queen, was still quite a big step."
Parenthood was the next landmark in their journey, and Prince Charles was born in November 1948, almost a year after they were married. Although Philip was said to have likened his firstborn son to a "plum pudding", his late cousin Marina, Duchess of Kent, wrote in a letter, "He adores children and also small babies. He carries [the baby] about himself quite professionally, to the nurse’s amusement."
Princess Anne was born in August 1950, then came Prince Andrew in February 1960, with youngest child Prince Edward arriving in March 1964.
As they adapted to parenting, Philip took on the role of the true patriarch, and one former aide remarked, "The Queen may wear the crown, but it’s Prince Philip who wears the trousers." Dickie agrees, saying, "She was head of the nation and head of state, but if anybody had a family problem, they would go straight to Philip."
That said, the Queen still valued her husband’s input on official matters, too.
"He was not allowed constitutionally to see what was in the red box, but if she was writing a speech, she would bounce ideas off him," reveals Dickie. "He was always there for her with a critical eye and ear and plenty of sound advice."
As a result, the duke stood at the Queen’s side for all kinds of events – from the opening of Parliament to remembrance services, foreign tours, banquets and hosting dignitaries.
But it was during state visits and official engagements that he occasionally hit the headlines for his off-the-cuff comments. Occasionally shocking, they were also frequently amusing. "I declare this thing open, whatever it is," he memorably said on a visit to Canada in 1969. And speaking of daughter Princess Anne’s love of horses in 1970, he quipped, "If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested."
The Queen clearly shared his sense of humour, and one piece of footage from a 1995 visit to South Africa showed them giggling while watching a dance presentation. And in 2003, they were seen in fits of laughter while inspecting the Grenadier Guards at Windsor Castle. The rapport between them was also illustrated by a photo of them laughing as the Queen held baby Edward on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the 1964 Trooping of the Colour.
Another of the Queen’s granddaughters, Zara Tindall, 40, has said that archive clips of her grandparents "makes the hair stand on end". She added, "…it’s so nice to see how they were with each other.”
According to Prince William, nothing amused his grandparents more than a ceremonial mishap. "When things go wrong, they both chuckle an awful lot. Everyone else gets mortally embarrassed – they love it."
William also told how his grandfather enjoyed playing practical jokes – including a trick at barbecues where he would urge his grandchildren to hold a squeezy tube of mustard with the cap removed. "He would squish your hands together and fire the mustard at the ceiling. He used to get in a lot of trouble from my grandmother for covering most of the places we had lunch with mustard."
Family barbecues were a favourite custom during long summers at Balmoral, where the Queen is said to have spent her happiest days. Several times a week the duke would fire up the grill to cook game, venison or salmon, with the Queen whipping up an accompanying salad.
Ingrid Seward, author of My Husband And I: The Inside Story Of 70 Years Of Royal Marriage, says Philip always enjoyed cooking for his busy wife, and he was renowned for his omelettes, scrambled eggs and smoked haddock.
In spite of the familial bliss, there were times when Philip appeared to be frustrated by the lack of freedom. There were stories of wild parties, membership of a raucous men’s lunch club and gossip about liaisons with actresses and aristocratic women.
"There was talk that he had a wandering eye," says Dickie. "He was a good-looking chap. Women swooned over him, and he was a bit of a flirt. But he window-shopped, he didn’t buy." Dickie, who got to know the duke well over the years, adds, "There were lots of rumours, but they were just malicious. For instance, when he was away for six months in 1955 to 1956, French newspapers suggested the marriage was in trouble. For the first time ever, Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying it was absolute rubbish."
Not only that, but when a female journalist once asked the duke about rumours of infidelity, he retorted, "Good God, woman. Have you ever stopped to think that for years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?"
Whatever the truth, the Queen and Prince Philip were hugely compatible – even though he admitted he could be a difficult man to live with. When they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1997 with a gala lunch, he told guests, "The Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance," adding that it was an essential ingredient of any happy marriage.
Meanwhile, the occasion saw her pay her own touching tribute to the duke, as she said, "He has quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know."
As they grew older, their relationship matured into relaxed companionship. In 2007, the Queen became the first monarch in British history to reach the milestone of a diamond wedding anniversary, which the couple celebrated with a trip to Malta, where they briefly lived after their marriage.
In 2012, they celebrated their blue sapphire anniversary and in 2017, their 70th platinum anniversary. That same year, the duke retired from public life and began spending more time at Wood Farm on their Sandringham estate.
While the Queen mostly stayed in London to fulfil her official duties, the start of the pandemic in March 2020 saw them reunite on a more permanent basis. As they shielded together at Windsor Castle, they were looked after by a small number of staff known as HMS Bubble. As Dickie says, "The pandemic saw them spend the longest time together in the entirety of their marriage. I suppose the Queen is thankful she had that quality time with Philip."
She was at the duke’s bedside when he died peacefully at Windsor Castle last April, and his funeral at St George’s Chapel in Windsor was attended by only 30 members of the family – in accordance with Covid restrictions. It was a highly emotional occasion, and the image of the Queen sitting alone, her face half-concealed by a black mask, was one of the most poignant moments of her entire reign.
"However, she is stoic and she is pragmatic," says Dickie, "and while she was hurting inside, she would never show it. She is someone who always leads by example, so if everyone else had to stick to the Covid rules, she would, too."
Royal biographer Deborah Hart Strober adds, "That photo of her alone at the funeral was so heartrending. Here she was, burying the love of her life, with nobody to comfort her. She loved him until his dying moment, which made it all the more moving."
The Queen said the duke’s death left "a huge void" in her life, and referring to the loss of her "beloved Philip" in her traditional Christmas Day speech, she said, "Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones. This year, especially, I understand why. But for me, in the months since the death of my beloved Philip, I have drawn great comfort from the warmth and affection of the many tributes to his life and work – from around the country, the Commonwealth and the world."
She added, "His sense of service, intellectual curiosity and capacity to squeeze fun out of any situation were all irrepressible. That mischievous, enquiring twinkle was as bright at the end as when I first set eyes on him. But life, of course, consists of final partings as well as first meetings, and as much as I and my family miss him, I know he would want us to enjoy Christmas."
Although Philip had no template to follow as the Queen’s husband and was required to create a role for himself, he is the longest-serving royal consort in British history and accompanied her on all Commonwealth and state visits.
"Everybody who met Philip enjoyed his company," says Dickie. “He didn’t suffer fools and he didn’t do small talk – his attitude was that life was too short. But he was tireless in his work, a terrific mentor to his family, and he was the only man the Queen ever had eyes for."
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