The Man Behind The Crown

Greetings America.

I've got a book in the best-seller lists over here. It's about our Queen and her husband. Nobody seems to know much about him - except that he's spent the past fifty-two years walking dutifully one step behind his wife and, even at 83, he still looks good in a uniform.

I've known The Duke of Edinburgh for many years and I admire him, but I only recently learnt what an extraordinary life he's lived.

He was born Prince Philip of Greece. His grandfather was assassinated and, in the year Philip was born, in a politically-inspired show trial, his father was imprisoned, found guilty and due to be sentenced to death. The family fled into exile and ended up in Paris. Before he was ten, Philip's parents separated. His mother had a mental breakdown, suffering from religious mania, hearing voices. His father floated down to the South of France where he lived with his mistress. For several years, Philip barely saw his mother - not a birthday card, not a Christmas card. She ended her life, many years later, dressed as a nun - though she wasn't one - living with Philip and the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

From the age of nine until he married the Queen, Philip had no proper home of his own. He makes no complaint about any of this. He is stoical, steady, cool under fire. He joined the British Navy and during the Second World War, he was mentioned in dispatches. When his wife became Queen in 1952, he had to give up his naval career to support her - and he has, resolutely, at home and abroad.

Since 1952, he has undertaken 612 overseas visits to 141 different countries - but he only seems to hit the headlines when he makes a boo-boo - most recently, in Australia, at an Aboriginal cultural display, when he enquired of his host, 'Do you still throw spears at each other?' He despairs of the press. He's only ever trying to be amusing, to break the ice. Meeting royalty isn't easy. As someone once said, 'When they leave the room it's like getting a seed out of your tooth.'

The Duke of Edinburgh tries to jolly things along - and sometimes it gets him into trouble. He knows he's written up in the newspapers as 'a cantankerous old sod' - his phrase, not mine - and he can be grumpy. He can be funny too. He once said, 'When a man opens the car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife.' Philip has had the same wife for nearly 60 years. How do they get on? Is Kitty Kelly right? Does Philip have a roving eye? I'll bring you the true story when next we meet.

By Gyles Brandreth