A strange life: Profile of Prince Philip

'When he needed a father,' said the man who was Prince Philip's first private secretary, 'there just wasn't anybody there.' It had been a lonely childhood. His parents' marriage had disintegrated. His mother left to join a religious order. His father just left. The young Prince of Greece was passed round relatives and sent from school to school. He came to Princess Elizabeth strong on duty but short on affection. His children's marriages have all been unhappy. Last week, another of his sons separated and his daughter remarried. If his own life had been different, might theirs?

IT'S HIS HANDS you notice first, and not just the size of them. The fingers, so painfully swollen. The skin so dry and chapped, it just flakes away. Like huge swooping paws - huge out of all proportion to him - they cradle a small letter-opener of carved green stone. For nearly an hour while we talk, he fiddles and fidgets with it.

'I have frequently been misrepresented,' he says. 'I don't hate the press; I find a lot of it is very unpalatable. But if that's the way they want to behave, well . . .' As he speaks, he turns the letter-opener over and over in his fingers, clutching it first by the handle and then by the blade, unconscious that this small and deliberate gesture is quite so revealing. For it betrays something he would never admit. That even at the age of 71, even in his own private library, Philip Mountbatten-Windsor, husband to the richest and most famous woman in the world, is quite insecure.

It is a trait he tries hard to keep hidden. Under the vulturine brow, the rheumy blue stare is still fierce enough to keep the curious at bay. No, the Philip he prefers to display isn't vulnerable at all. It is brusque, rational, scientific and firmly in control. 'Always master of his brief,' is how Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin crisply describes him.

Recently, however, that mastery has begun to slip. As his wife would say, just hours after I sat watching him twiddle his paper-knife, it's been a horrible, horrible year.

The family taxes have gone up the swanee, the family home up in flames, and there have been problems with the children. In less than a year, two have separated and one has divorced. Even yesterday's wedding did nothing to erase the indignity of the eldest son apparently telling another man's wife what he wanted most was to live inside her trousers. No wonder that when their mother recently invited an elderly former private secretary to tea, she suddenly turned to him and sighed, 'Oh] And I thought I'd brought them up so well.'

We are sitting, feet nearly touching, on a small dark-grey Fifties couch. Behind him is a long wall of bookcases, in which model ships in glass cases are artfully stowed between the books - on anthropology, history, naval strategy, sailing. In one corner he keeps all the biographies that have been written about him. And behind his right ear is an orange and black volume entitled Sex in Our Time. Don't ask, I tell myself.

The tall windows that look out on to Constitution Hill and beyond to Green Park throw a slanting light into the room. On a table by the window stands an array of family photographs. Lots of relatives, but no children, other than a big misty, romantic Seventies portrait of Princess Anne. Beyond is another table, large and round, which he keeps for meetings. You can tell which is Prince Philip's place. It's the one with the little white electronic buzzer underneath. Who comes if you press it? Will he press it if I ask about Charles and Di?

Nothing is sadder to a parent than suddenly realising you've gone wrong somewhere. How much more so, perhaps, for Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich and father of the heir to the throne. For in the sadness of the present is a tale of the past revisited. As a boy, he watched his own parents' marriage disintegrate, while his mother turned to God and his father to the earthly solace of the gambling tables. A string of relatives stepped in to ensure the boy was fed, clothed and formally educated. But he was neglected emotionally, and starved of the constant loving attention children need.

'When he needed a father,' says Michael Parker, an Australian war-time Navy pal who was Prince Philip's first private secretary, 'there just wasn't anybody there.'

In order to cope, Philip developed the prickly disciplined carapace we know so well - that puts duty above all, and reserves personal vulnerability for the privacy of the dark. 'Everyone has to have a sense of duty,' he says in his dry voice. 'A duty to society, to their family. I mean, you name it. If you haven't got a sense of duty you get the sort of community we have now. Look around. Mugging and drugs and abuse - intellectual abuse, intellectual mugging]'

Prince Philip's devotion to duty means that, at an age when most men have long since retired, he still presides over the World Wide Fund for Nature and hundreds of other charities, travels incessantly, chairs meetings, helps raise money and launches initiatives. He is constantly on the move. Intolerant of failure, he is fiercely demanding of his staff (and himself), and can be vicious in his criticism. 'What is certain,' says Martin Palmer, a religious consultant who works closely with him, 'is that Prince Philip's God is an authoritarian one.'

Marriage gave Philip a home, a country, a passport, a new religion and the first real stability he'd ever enjoyed. Elizabeth accepted the exile for what he was, and offered him a sense of belonging. Theirs is an unwritten pact that allowed him to bury the demons of his youth. In return, he gave her, quite simply, his total support. 'He told me the first day he offered me my job,' says Michael Parker, 'that his job, first, second and last, was never to let

her down.'

Now, perhaps for the first time in his life, Prince Philip is being forced to re-examine what he has buried for so long. It will not be easy. 'What you have to understand about him,' says one family member, 'is something that very few realise: that beyond the sense of duty and obligation is a great natural shyness.' A close friend goes further. 'It's more than shyness. He lacks some sort of emotional middle. I think it springs from a deep insecurity.'

In short, Prince Philip is being made to ask himself what many of the Windsors' friends have quietly been asking each other all summer: Are the parents to blame? Are the sins of the fathers being revisited upon the children?

BY THE TIME Prince Philip married, at the age of 26 - younger than his youngest child is today - he had lost virtually all the landmarks that tie the rest of us to childhood and give us identity. His father was dead, his mother had withdrawn into a religious order. He'd lost his birthright, his home, name, nationality and church. Even his birthday - fixed first in the Julian calendar and then the Gregorian - was no longer the same. Little wonder that today he has the immigrant's devotion to the unchanging: England, tradition and the ancient rampant lions of the monarchy.

'His mother was a very beautiful woman,' Michael Parker recalls. 'Very fierce, but very beautiful. I used to visit her in Athens after the war, and take her cartons of cigarettes.' Alice of Battenberg, Lord Louis Mountbatten's sister, married Prince Andrew of Greece in 1903. She was English, though her father had once been German; he was the seventh son of a Danish prince who had been invited to become King George I of the Hellenes in 1863. It was hardly an unusual mixture among the Royal houses of Europe.

'If anything, I've thought of myself as Scandinavian. Particularly, Danish. We spoke English at home,' Prince Philip recalls today. 'The others learned Greek. I could understand a certain amount of it. But then the (conversation) would go into French. Then it went into German, on occasion, because we had German cousins. If you couldn't think of a word in one language, you tended to go off in another.' For Princess Alice, who had been almost completely deaf since catching German measles at the age of four, conversations in whatever tongue had to be translated into sign language. Her isolation would deepen later, when her marriage broke down and she withdrew into her religious order, donning the severe grey wimple she would wear for the rest of her life.

The couple had four daughters, of whom the youngest was already seven when Philip was born in 1921, on the kitchen table of the family home in Corfu, a villa named Mon Repos. It made him, to all intents and purposes, an only child. Prince Andrew was away when the child was born, for he was a professional soldier in the Greek army. Political turmoil had already forced Andrew's family into one exile. Soon after Philip's birth, his father was arrested and accused of treason. 'How many children have you?' asked the Greek Minister for War, General Pangalos. 'Poor things, what a pity they will soon be orphans.'

Princess Alice travelled to Athens to plead for his life, but she was not permitted to see him. So she turned to her English relatives for help. Mindful of what had happened to the Russian cousins five years earlier, King George V urged British intervention. Andrew was released. HMS Calypso, a Royal Navy gunboat, was dispatched to remove the family from Corfu. Legend has it that the 18-month-old prince was carried aboard in an orange crate. Who knows if that is really true?

What is certain is that this was the start of nearly 30 years of stateless wandering. From 3 December 1922 until he moved into Clarence House as Princess Elizabeth's husband, early in 1949, Philip of Greece had no permanent home.

Andrew's family moved first to St Cloud, near Paris, where they borrowed a house. A wealthy relative paid the children's school fees, for there was very little money. Nobody can agree quite who this was, and it may be a measure of how little the family talked about its troubles that even today Prince Philip isn't sure who sent him to school in Paris. But it was Alice, really, who kept the family together, on a limited allowance from her brother and a small legacy from Andrew's. For the rest, they lived on borrowed funds and hand-me-downs. Even today, one of Philip's German relations, Princess Louis of Hesse, remembers how Edwina Mountbatten had her dresses made with extra large hems and seams, so they could easily be let out for relatives.

By many standards this was not poverty. But being poor is relative, and being a poor relative weakens a family and eats away at its children. Philip was a boisterous child, his headmaster recalls; perhaps even a bit of a tearaway.

In a letter Alice wrote to his school in 1929, imploring them to form a Cubs company for her son, there is no small hint of maternal desperation. 'The training would have such an excellent influence on him . . . I should be

infinitely grateful if you could manage it as soon as possible.'

By 1931, Alice, Princess of Greece - as she signed herself - was on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown. 'She was really very ill,' says one family member who knew her at the time. Lord Mountbatten's biographer, Philip Ziegler, is among many who believe Alice's depression was the result of a traumatic menopause. 'That sort of thing can be treated today, but then, no one knew what to do. She was left to cope on her own.'

The family Alice had spent so long holding together began to break up. Her four daughters all married within nine months in 1930-31, and moved away to settle in Germany. Alice's husband, who had spent more and more time away from home, finally left altogether.

Ex-Queen Alexandra of Yugoslavia remembers how Prince Andrew would 'turn everything into a joke'. If so, it was a device. Underneath, says one relation, he was 'a deeply unhappy man'. Alice would soon go to a sanatorium in Switzerland, and Andrew to Monte Carlo.

'Then we all sort of disappeared,' says Prince Philip's youngest sister, Sophie, 'and the house in St Cloud was closed down.'

Prince Philip was 10.

AS HIS PARENTS renounced responsibility for the boy, so began a tussle between the German and English halves of Philip's family that would go on for many years. For a while, the English side had the upper hand, as Philip's maternal grandmother took charge. She sent him to the country, to his uncle George, Marquess of Milford Haven, whose son David was two years older than Philip and would be best man at his wedding. The two boys went to Cheam prep school, where Philip slacked in class but excelled at games. Milford Haven often came to watch him play in school matches.

George Milford Haven came closer than anyone to giving the boy a sense of stability. Prince Philip denies he was an unhappy child. Yet there are signs that the upheavals were deeply confusing; perhaps more so than he will admit. I asked him what language he spoke at home. His immediate retort was, 'What do you mean, 'at home'?'

By 1933, however, Philip's German relatives began to assert themselves once more, and, unwittingly, would introduce him to the man who was to become one of the greatest influences of his life - the educationist Kurt Hahn. When Hahn died in 1974, Prince Philip read the story of the Good Samaritan in the lesson at his memorial service.

Philip's second sister, Theodora, married a German aristocrat called Berthold, Margrave of Baden, whose father had been Germany's last Imperial Chancellor. Kurt Hahn had been the Chancellor's personal secretary. Hahn was one of many German Jews who, to prove their detractors wrong, were almost more German than their non-Jewish compatriots, more patriotic than the nationalists. Hahn had been deeply involved in the Versailles peace negotiations following the collapse of the German Empire in 1918. He helped coin Kriegsschuldluge (the lie of war guilt) - the explosive patriots' slogan under which Germany would clamour for revenge and rearmament, and which led to the Nazi regime and the Second World War.

But in 1920, von Baden and Hahn founded a school together at von Baden's family home, Schloss Salem. It was here, to his sister's, that Philip was sent in the autumn of 1933. Hitler had been in power eight months, long enough for political tensions to rise. Hahn had been arrested for protesting against the Nazis, and forced to flee to Britain just before Philip's arrival in Germany. It was an unfortunate moment to send the 12-year-old boy to Salem.

'After Hahn's arrest, there was total confusion at the school,' recalls a master at Salem, who was a pupil then. Alone among the school-

children, Philip lived with his sister and his brother-in-law, the headmaster. 'He wasn't really integrated into the community,' the master says. 'He had little opportunity to make real friends, and he spoke very little German. He was really very isolated.'

The Nazis wanted Salem kept going, but under their control. Many masters had to leave. Those who remained were split over how to deal with the Hitler Youth movement that quickly took hold within the school. Much has been made of the fact that Philip laughed at the Nazis, as if to prove he had a fine nose for politics. More likely, their strutting just made the 12-year-old laugh. The Nazi salute was the same gesture boys at Salem used in class to indicate they wanted to go to the toilet.

Just why Philip should have been sent to Germany is not clear. The family line was that it would broaden his education, but many believe the von Badens hoped the presence of a royal prince with strong British connections would be a coup for the school. Either way, Philip's sister soon had more to worry about than a lonely pre-teen kid brother, and in the spring of 1934 he was sent back to Britain - to a new school on the Scottish coast: Gordonstoun, founded by Kurt Hahn.

No one who ever met Hahn could forget his large-brimmed hat and stooping gait. He was an arresting figure, and a highly original thinker who evolved his personal philosophy by snatching a little from Matthew Arnold and a little from Plato. Young people, he said, had to fight the five-fold decay of a sick civilisation: The decay of fitness, The decay of initiative and enterprise,

The decay of care and skill, The decay of self-discipline, The decay of compassion.

It is a measure of his forcefulness that two years after fleeing Germany, Hahn had amassed enough backing to start a new school in Britain. He loved education, but hated schoolmasters. Most of all, he wanted his youngsters to overcome their weaknesses by confronting them. Gordonstoun boys rose at seven, donned shorts and, still barefoot, ran 300 yards to the washroom, where they showered, summer and winter, in cold water. 'Hahn believed it closed the pores,' says David Byatt, the quiet and scholarly warden of Gordonstoun, who was once a pupil.

'I REMEMBER the first time I saw Prince Philip,' says Jim Orr, an older Gordonstoun boy who was later to become another of the private secretaries. 'He was playing on a rope hanging from a tree, and he had this incredibly white, white hair.'

Energetic, tough and competitive, Philip flourished under Hahn's regime, and there are strong traces of Hahn's philosophy in his approach to life today. (Prince Charles, by contrast, loathed it.) Philip excelled at hockey and sailing, and in his last year became headboy, or 'Guardian'.

But Gordonstoun also had severe limitations. Hahn never married, and never taught his boys about what women thought or felt. Philip couldn't help but be affected by this attitude. And his sons' failure to form sustainable relationships with women may stem directly from it. 'Hahn was totally uncomfortable with women,' Byatt says, 'unless they were middle- aged mothers.' All discussion of sex was forbidden. One master adds: 'I remember boys in the sixth form coming to me as they were leaving school, and asking me about the facts of life. I suppose the truth is Hahn was a repressed homosexual. Certainly, we all thought so.'

Philip was undoubtedly well cared for at Gordonstoun, but he was just as much an appendage to his family as before. Two contemporaries recall how each term there were long discussions about where the homeless prince would go for his holidays. In the five years Philip was at Gordonstoun, neither George Milford Haven nor his brother, Lord Mountbatten, who was Philip's other guardian in Britain, ever visited him. Perhaps they were too busy. Even so, it seems an extraordinary lapse.

On every occasion, Philip was left to fend for himself. One contemporary remembers organising a whip-round among the boys for the loan of collar studs and cufflinks so Philip would be properly dressed at the wedding of his cousin, Marina, to the Duke of Kent.

Had it been merely his clothing that was neglected, Philip would probably have been unaffected. But two events occurred in the winter of 1937 that would leave the adolescent more lonely than ever. While flying from Germany to a wedding in England, his sister, Cecile, her husband and two children were killed when their plane flew into a chimney stack. The wedding - of Philip's old friend Margaret Geddes, now known as Princess Louis of Hesse - went ahead the next day. Mountbatten was best man, and Philip was left to travel alone from Gordonstoun to attend the funerals. In the photographs, his near-white blond hair stands out among the dark greatcoats of Germany.

Then, less than six months later, George Milford Haven died suddenly of cancer at the age of 46. Once again, Hahn called the boy into his study to announce bad news.

Just how much he was affected by these deaths is hard to gauge, for friends say Philip never talks of them. Neither do his Gordonstoun contemporaries recall any displays of grief.

Was there no one to turn to? 'I suppose he just buried his feelings,' says one former pupil. If so, he also did what he would do often in times of difficulty: threw himself into solving a practical problem, this time the question of what he would do after Gordonstoun.

Influenced first by his father, and then by Lord Mountbatten, Philip had decided to join the Navy. Mountbatten had taken his brother's place as Philip's guardian. Later, he would play up his role in raising the future Royal Consort, and even claim to have single-handedly engineered his romance with the English princess, but in reality he had little to do with the boy until 1938, when Philip was nearly 18. 'We always took what Dickie said with a pinch of salt,' the Queen Mother once told Prince Philip's biographer, Tim Heald, over lunch.

Late in 1938, Philip entered the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. He excelled at naval training, and would have passed out with top marks except for his atrocious spelling.

The Dartmouth period is remembered chiefly for the first meeting between the young prince and the blue-eyed 13-year-old who would later become his wife. Prince Philip was put in charge of entertaining both Elizabeth and her sister Margaret when they paid a visit to the college. But it has another significance. For Dartmouth and the Navy would be the making of the boy into the man. According to Lord Lewin, then also at Dartmouth: 'Prince Philip was a highly talented seaman. No doubt about it. If he hadn't become what he did, he would have been First Sea Lord and not me.'

The atmosphere at Dartmouth was frenetic, for Britain was on the brink of war, and young men around the country were already being called up. Prince Philip's first posting was in January 1940, to an elderly battleship, HMS Ramillies, based in Ceylon and used to escort Australian transports to the Mediterranean. This and his next few postings took him far afield - to Bombay, Aden, Mombasa, Durban, even the Solomon Islands. He was young, free, and on his own. The only contact with his sisters was through his aunt, Louise, Queen of Sweden. 'They would write to her,' a German relative recalls, 'and she would copy out the letter and send it on to him.'

The Navy gave Philip a taste for travel that would last the rest of his life. But early on, at least, he was kept far from the fighting. Greece wasn't yet at war, and no one wanted to risk having a Greek prince killed by enemy action while serving in a British man-of-war.

So Philip passed his time, among other things, filling out Admiralty Form S 519, 'Journal for Use of Junior Officers', a ruggedly bound volume with marbled endpapers. The entries reveal him passionately interested in technicalities, and still not much good at spelling. Hitler's Axis allies are consistently 'Italiens'; buoys pop up as 'bouys'; there are 'misstakes', and 'exept'. The title page is signed Philip, Prince of Greece, but the men called him Pog. In the evenings he was 'Captain's Doggie' and one of his duties was to make the cocoa.

Only after Italy's invasion of Greece put him formally in the Allied camp did Philip begin to see any action. And when it came, it was dramatic. His ship, HMS Valiant, was at the centre of the battle of Cape Matapan that destroyed the Italian navy. Philip was mentioned in dispatches, and emerged from the war one of the RN's youngest first lieutenants.

If the Second World War was the making of Philip, it was also good for the British Royal Family. Day after day, the shy, nervous King George VI, with his knock-knees and painful stutter, walked through the rubble of London, accompanied by the Queen. Buckingham Palace was bombed, and its shattered windows boarded up. The King could have moved to Windsor, or even to Sandringham in Norfolk, but he chose to remain in London, sharing his subjects' ordeal. As the Queen explained: 'The children can't go without me. I can't leave the King, and, of course, the King won't go.' Meanwhile, in the Palace, Princess Elizabeth kept a photograph on her dressing-table of a young officer serving in her father's navy. Behind the beard was Philip.

Elizabeth was a shy and obedient girl. Her father was particularly possessive of her, and had raised her in a very protective atmosphere. She and Philip had known each other since she was 13, but it wasn't until after the war that he began paying her serious attention, driving up to London in his black MG to see her. In 1946, Philip proposed. The King objected. He liked the younger man, and even told a cousin he believed Philip thought about things 'in the right way', but it was still too soon. Philip might have a good war record, but he lacked a name, he wasn't British and he didn't belong to the Church of England.

The British monarchy was still trembling from the effects of the abdication crisis that had seen Edward VIII leave the throne 10 years earlier. It would not do to make another mistake, especially with another foreign marriage.

In due course, however, the Archbishop of Canterbury received Philip into the Church, and he selected his mother's name - Mountbatten - before becoming an Englishman. These steps cemented Philip's ties to Britain, but underlined his isolation from his own family. His father had died, penniless, in Monte Carlo in 1944, before Prince Philip could get to see him. His mother returned

during the war to her religious order in Greece,

and his sisters were all married to Germans (one of whom had been an SS colonel on Himmler's personal staff).

Not one of them received an invitation to the wedding at Westminster Abbey on 14 November 1947.

'THEY WERE SUCH enormous fun, you know. I mean we all knew who his wife was, but it didn't change anything,' says Myra Butter, a childhood friend of Prince Philip, whose wealthy father had helped support his family financially. 'Both our families were in the forces, and they lived like all normal young married couples with new babies. It was a happy, happy time.'

For five years, the Edinburghs - as they were then known - alternated naval jobs with royal duties. For a while they were posted to Malta, where Philip had his own command, and Princess Elizabeth went out to a hairdresser for the first time. Until then, everyone had come to her.

Prince Charles was born in 1948 and Anne in 1950. (The other two were born much later, in the Sixties.) Philip played squash with his friend Michael Parker while the Princess was in labour the first time, and took her champagne and carnations when it was all over. In London they made a new home in Clarence House. 'They used their wedding presents and a bit of help from the Queen Mother to get over rationing,' Michael Parker recalls. It was the first home Philip could call his own, and he designed many of the changes in it himself.

The old King was growing weaker, and his daughter and son-in-law were forced to take on more royal responsibilities. In February 1952, they left on what should have been a long tour of Africa, India and Australia. It ended one morning in Kenya, when Michael Parker roused Philip from a nap to tell him the King was dead. The Princess was now the Queen.

'He's not the sort of person to show his emotions,' Parker recalls today. 'But you can tell from a man's face - how he sets his features. I'll never forget it. He looked as if half the world had fallen on him.'

Another man who was there remembers being struck by how differently Prince Philip and his new Queen reacted to the news. 'I remember seeing her moments after she became Queen - moments, not hours - and she seemed almost to reach out for it. There were no tears. She was just there, back braced, her colour a little heightened. Just waiting for her destiny.

'It was quite different for Philip. He sat slumped behind a copy of the Times. He didn't want it at all. It was going to change his whole life: take away the emotional stability he'd finally found.'

Philip responded in his usual fashion, by throwing himself into the practical preparations for the coronation. But those who knew him well said that, underneath, he remained depressed for months. As ex-King Peter of Yugoslavia told his wife after lunching at Buckingham Palace: 'You could feel it all underneath . . . I don't know how long he can last . . . bottled up like that.' Indeed, after the move from their beloved Clarence House into the draughty halls of Buckingham Palace, Philip - who is almost never sick - fell ill with

jaundice, a disease often associated with stress and depression.

The first thing he lost was his Navy career. Even today, 40 years on, he still feels the loss of it. 'It was not my ambition to be president of the Mint Advisory Committee. I didn't want to be president of WWF. I was asked to do it,' he says, staring out of the Palace windows, his face set. 'I'd much rather have stayed in the Navy, frankly.'

It was more than just a job change. Implicit in it was a permanent - and for a man like Philip - a difficult shift in the balance of power within the Royal Family. Prince Philip would be husband of one monarch and father of the next; his position permanently defined by a wife and son more important than himself. Years later, there was a struggle over whether the family name should be Windsor or Mountbatten-Windsor. When Churchill, then Prime Minister, urged the Queen to choose Windsor, Prince Philip was heard to cry, 'I'm just a bloody amoeba] That's all.' One of the Queen's private secretaries explains: 'I've always taken that to mean he was just there to deposit semen.'

She was very young to become Queen, and he was still much in need of the love and attention she offered. 'People forget what it was like when the Queen was 26 and I was 30, when she succeeded. Well that's when things started . . .' He doesn't go on.

Convulsed by the King's early death, Philip seems to have buried his deepest personal needs and concentrated instead on hardening his brusque and busy exterior. 'It was at that time,' says one old friend of his, 'that you began hearing people say he seemed to have no emotional middle.'

And what of the children?

They, too, suffered. Just as Philip's need for constant affection was ignored by parents whose attention was elsewhere, so his children - particularly Charles - would need far more from him than he could give.

At Elizabeth's coronation, Philip swore to be her 'liegeman of life and limb'. She - who had shared his bed and borne his children - became Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

The government became Her Majesty's Government. British criminals would be detained 'at Her Majesty's pleasure'. Philip's beloved Royal Navy would sail in Her Majesty's Ships; and in his office, he would use pencils provided by Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

But the job of turning himself from Captain's Doggie into Queen's Consort was his alone, and would take years of struggle, misunderstanding and plain hard work.

PRINCE PHILIP is not a morning man. 'He's not really civilised until after nine,' says one of his equerries. None the less, he rises early and breakfasts well. His suits are made by John N Kent, his shirts by Stephens Brothers, his shoes by Lobb. In his breast pocket there is always a white handkerchief, neatly folded (he keeps another in his trouser pocket) and on his right wrist a plain watch with a brown leather strap. Occasionally he wears a copper bracelet to ease his arthritis, but his fingers are too swollen today to wear the gold signet ring of his youth.

His face has grown old lately. His lips are thin, his hair thinner, and the top of his forehead is covered in liver spots like his mother had. His voice is dry and adenoidal and sounds ever so slightly as if he is being squeezed by the balls. But his energy seems undimmed.

By the time his private secretary, Brian McGrath, has finished his habitual morning cup of tea with the Queen's private secretary, he will find the Duke of Edinburgh sitting under the Laszlo portraits of his parents, at his desk in the first-floor study on the north side of Buckingham Palace. A sheaf of letters will have been finished the night before. Prince Philip receives about 120 letters a day. He reads them all and replies personally on his laptop computer to people he knows well.

Geoff Williams, who knows his boss better than most, having been his personal pilot for more than 20 years, says: 'The key is never to let him down, and if you make a mistake be honest. I always make a point of saying that to the new equerries. 'Remember, be honest.' Because he'll always see through it. And if you ever get ticked off by Prince Philip, you know you've been ticked off.'

One private secretary recalls his own particular rocket, although it took place more than 30 years ago. 'He was recording some television interview, and there was a glass of water beside his chair. It wasn't cold enough, so when the interview continued the next day I asked if they could be sure to provide cold water. He suddenly turned on me in front of everyone, and snapped, 'I'll do my own complaining, thank you'. I was so upset I nearly resigned. He really hurt me.'

Just the threat of a telling-off is enough to make the office run like clockwork. Most of the pounds 359,000 a year Prince Philip gets from the Civil List goes to paying the salaries of the 11 people who work there. The atmosphere is cheerful, though curiously insensitive to the world outside. The senior staff are all men, and the only women are secretaries, who are kindly, though disparagingly referred to as 'the girls'.

It is not unusual to hear racist remarks, though these are ignorant rather than malicious. One equerry, describing Prince Philip, cheerfully told me: 'He works like a black, though I have to say I know plenty of blacks who don't work very hard.' There wasn't a hint that he realised what he'd just said. There are no black people to be seen at the Palace.

If Prince Philip lunches in, it will be something simple, accompanied by half a lager rather than wine. Unlike his wife, who prefers plain fare, Philip is fond of good food and has a large selection of cookery books in his library. He loves to barbecue, often going out half an hour before everyone else to stoke the charcoal. Contrary to common belief, he eats virtually anything, even shellfish, although he refuses oysters while on public duties.

Mostly he eats out, for he is president or an honorary member of 850 organisations and attends more than 500 public functions every year. If he dines in with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, she will often retire afterwards to watch television while he returns to his study to read.

He never stops working. In London he is driven to his engagements in a little green electric van made for him by Lucas Industries. Prince Philip carries a driving licence, unlike the Queen, whose handbag contains only her specs and a lipstick. He also carries credit cards and a passport, one of the old blue ones. It lists his profession as 'Prince of the Royal House'.

His travel is a nightmare to the security detail. He never uses lifts, unless it is unavoidable. And all the Royal aircraft carry anti- missile devices. Prince Philip has two Personal Protection Officers, who rotate their duties. In the first six months of this year he spent nearly eight weeks abroad, far more than any other member of the Royal Family.

Most of Prince Philip's trips are made on an aircraft of the Queen's Flight. He's given up flying helicopters, but has more than 5,000 hours on his pilot's licence. According to Geoff Williams, he'll still take the fixed-wing aircraft up and bring it down when it's time to land. 'In between he retires to the back of the plane, where we've set up a desk for him to work on his laptop.'

While he is away, the Queen continues her work. She does the Telegraph crossword,

attends to her red boxes, meets the Prime Minister, and, carrying the perennial bouquet, attends the public engagements that have already been in her diary for more than six months.

Of course, they often weekend at Windsor. But if it's January, it will be at the Queen's country home at Sandringham, where Prince Philip shoots pheasant with such old friends as Lord Buxton, the former head of Anglia Television. At other times in the winter, when Sandringham House is shut up, they stay in a smaller house called Wood Farm. Philip uses a matched pair of old shotguns by Purdey and is described as a 'competent' rather than brilliant shot.

In August and September, the Royal Family is at Balmoral. The circle of friends there is small and secretive. A good friend of mine is the god-daughter of one of the Queen's ladies- in-waiting. Yet the two women have never discussed her. And when my friend's godmother invited her to spend the weekend in the country, she wasn't told that Prince Philip and Prince Andrew would be their guests at dinner until half an hour before they sat down at table.

Conversation is largely initiated by Philip, and he has a weakness, among his men friends, at least, for dirty stories. 'Very lewd. Very German,' says one of the Queen's equerries.

Guests at Balmoral are surprised at the formality of these holidays. A valet unpacks and lays out clothes for dinner, which is always formal. Guests call him 'Sir', he calls her 'Lilibet', but refers to her in conversation with others as 'the Queen'. Everyone else calls her 'Ma'am', except her children, who call her 'Mummy'. Prince Philip descends for dinner before her: if he is late he makes a formal apology. No one leaves the room before she does.

While the others are at Balmoral purely to relax, Prince Philip has the job of running the Queen's estates, which include Sandringham and Windsor. He has regular formal planning meetings with the Factor at Balmoral to decide on new tree plantings or renovations to the castle; it has just been completely rewired and replumbed. There are 7,500 acres of forestry that need constant management and a fold of 30 Highland cattle. The extensive kitchen garden grows flowers, fruit and vegetables for the house. Whatever's not used is frozen or made into jam at the end of the season.

But the main business is sport. Guests can kill salmon on the Dee or stalk the 200-odd stags that are shot each year to keep the deer population under control. Prince Charles likes to stalk, but Prince Philip prefers to shoot grouse, often over a German pointer bred by his factor, Martin Leslie. The other guns might be Sir Iain Tennant, a local aristocrat and former Gordonstoun boy, or Lord Camoys, a merchant banker, or even the Duke of Grafton or the Earl of Airlie, whose wives are both ladies- in-waiting to the Queen. And early in the autumn there is a boys' shoot, when younger members of the family such as James Ogilvy (Princess Alexandra's son), Timothy Knatchbull (Lord Mountbatten's grandson) or the young son of the Princess Royal, Peter Phillips, get a crack at the hares.

If Prince Philip is the squire in the country, he also heads a vast array of professional and charity interests which he carved out for himself when his wife became Queen. These range from playing-fields for children to care for ex- servicemen around the Commonwealth and the, often confused, search for a way of managing the Earth's resources.

'Everything he turns his hand to is approached the same way,' says his friend Lord Buxton, who works closely with him at the World Wide Fund for Nature. 'He is totally professional. He takes care to brief himself extremely well. And he really knows his stuff. No one else does a job quite as well as he.'

Prince Philip is not afraid of controversy. In marked opposition to the official view of the WWF (where he is chairman), he is a supporter of elephant culling in Africa and would like to see the international ban on ivory trading lifted, if trading were legal and controlled. 'Culling is vital,' he says, punching the air as he discusses it. 'How are the poor countries going to pay for (their wildlife) unless they can get an economic benefit from it?'

He explains how he decides which interests to patronise by saying: 'You can't just decide you want to do this or that. You have to be invited.' He picks his way astutely through social climbers and time-wasters. He doesn't like being used, especially for commercial purposes, though he is happy enough to glad-hand for his favourite charities if he thinks it will help. He is soon, for example, to attend a private dinner for just 10 people who will be giving pounds 1m to restore the Cutty Sark. A private dinner he graced in Sheffield last October brought in four new donors from the North of England for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. Each pledged pounds 15,000 a year over the next five years, which in a recession shouldn't be sniffed at.

He is said to be a far better patron than Charles, who has an unfortunate tendency to take something up with great enthusiasm, only to let it drop soon after. Princess Anne, his favourite child, comes closest to matching him.

His is a punishing schedule. Earlier this year, when the Queen ended her state visit to Australia, Prince Philip went on to New Zealand to attend to Ex-Services League and WWF business. From there, explains one of his equerries, 'it was on to Japan for a briefing on a massive new airport development that is in danger of damaging one of the last remaining coastal reefs. Then he flew to Alaska for another briefing, this time on the Exxon Valdez disaster. Then on to Canada for a fund-raising exercise; to the US about a project at Monterey; to Brazil, where he met the President on behalf of WWF; to Guyana via the Bahamas for another WWF meeting; back to Brazil and home, again via the Bahamas, for a fund-raising dinner for the Award Scheme.' Taking a deep breath, the equerry adds: 'He just never stops.'

QUEEN ELIZABETH recognises his need to keep constantly moving, although she may not see it, as others do, as a symptom of insecurity. She reconciles it with her position, and the imbalance it imposes on her marriage, by allowing Philip to assume, at least in private, the unspoken title of head of the family. If she is the Queen, he is her man. In many ways, that hasn't been difficult. She was raised in a family where the only man was not only head of the household, but also King. A man's leadership comes naturally to her. And Philip is a natural and forceful leader. What is more, says one old courtier who spent a lot of time with her during the Fifties and Sixties, 'She was quite definitely in love with Philip. Quite definitely. You could see it in her face, in the way she talked, the way she moved.' It is not certain he felt the same, although he has always been loyal, supportive and very protective of her, shouting frequently at journalists who try to get too close, 'Don't jostle the Queen]'

Despite her attachment, there remains a reserve between them. They never permit themselves the slightest display of public affection. Some put this down to the natural discretion of that generation. But in the early days, it perplexed even those close to them. Michael Parker, who worked for Prince Philip until 1957, says: 'He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. I always wanted to see him put his arms around the Queen, and show her how much he adored her. What you'd do for any wife. But he always sort of stood to attention. I mentioned it to him a couple of times. But he just gave me a hell of a look.'

Philip's leadership within the family extends far out towards its more distant relatives, though it is easier with the women than the men. He found Mark Phillips hard going. They shared many interests horses, principally - but the younger man 'just wasn't bright enough for him', says one who knows him well.

Today Elizabeth accepts Philip as he is, and knows how to ride his outbursts of anger. They agree on big things, and squabble about details. One courtier says: 'He gets irritated with her passiveness. You see, she's much better at knowing when it's right to say no, than at taking the initiative and saying yes. So he'll say, 'Come on, Lilibet. Come on. Just do it'.' She, in turn, gets cross with his bad temper. Once, when he threatened to walk out of a lengthy sitting for a portrait, she coolly ordered,'You stand there]'

In the early years of the Queen's reign, Philip was the only Royal male in her immediate family, and he said what he pleased. He was often brusque. 'Let's get the hell out of here,' he would say. 'This is a bloody waste of time.' He chafed at the constrained, ambiguous business of being Consort. The problems came to a head soon after the Queen's accession, when Philip left on a four-month tour of the Commonwealth, accompanied by Michael Parker.

'I think Philip just got bored with the whole Royal business,' says one of the Queen's former private secretaries. 'All those stuffy engagements, all that handshaking. It wasn't his thing at all. He just got fed up with it.' At the end of the tour, Parker resigned when his wife sued him for divorce. His departure sparked off a wave of rumours about trouble in the Royal marriage.

Even today, you can't mention Prince Philip's name without someone tapping the side of their nose and saying: 'Oh yes, loads of girlfriends.' His name has been linked with Daphne du Maurier, whose husband worked in his private office; the cabaret star Helene Cordet (a childhood friend and mother of one of Prince Philip's godchildren), and Anna Massey. The Palace is happy for what it calls 'these three old chestnuts' to be repeated, but draws the line at commenting on fresh additions.

Parker swears he would have known if his boss kept a mistress. 'Never once was there anything like that.' Another courtier also disbelieves the rumours. 'I just don't think he's at all sexual in that way. He gets it all out playing polo, or sailing, or working. But not that. It's just not him.'

AT THIS POINT, our conversation in the library has covered the future of the youth service, horse medication and his experiences with a technological development in carriage driving, which is known as the bendy pole. The time had come to ask Prince Philip a question about the rumours of his infidelity.

He starts to laugh, but his hand doesn't move toward the white buzzer. His retort is smart. 'Have you ever stopped to think that for the last 40 years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?'

He stares in the eye, waiting for the next question. The subject is closed. Yet outside, the rumours persist, and there are theories as to why. One is that people feel happier criticising Prince Philip than the Queen; others believe Philip has escaped exposure because many people do not want to read anything that will hurt her. 'There is a sort of cordon sanitaire around her,' says one family friend, 'that extends to cover him too. Like some sort of big brolly; it shades them both.' It's a brolly that's letting in the rain, for there has been a fundamental change in the media's attitude towards the Royal Family. Despite this and the investigating efforts of the tabloids nothing has been proven against Philip.

Either way, the rumours have done little to help his relationship with media folk, whom he once compared with the apes of Gibraltar. He cannot overcome his distaste, even when it would suit him. One British reporter, who doesn't want to be named, recalls approaching Prince Philip as he took a walk after a church service at Sandringham one freezing January morning. The Royal yacht Britannia had just been used as a temporary refugee ship during an evacuation of Aden. 'The story showed the Navy in a really good light,' the reporter says. 'I expected him to make some sort of positive comment. Nothing more.' Instead, the reporter says, 'he just turned and snapped, 'Fuck off'.' Then he pressed his electronic buzzer. The police came running.

I ask Prince Philip if he still feels misunderstood. He had been quoted as saying so in Look in 1964. It sets him off again. 'Come off it. You cannot take quotations in newspapers seriously.' Brushing an imaginary speck from his suit, he adds: 'It so happens that it is perfectly legal to put anything in a newspaper in quotation marks, and there is nothing you can do about it. You have no copyright on what other people say you said.

'There's no point in talking about it.'

The whole family has been shocked at the tabloids' lese majeste. And one of the reasons advanced for the Queen's offer to take so many of her relatives off the Civil List is that she hopes they will now be able to insist on more respect for their privacy. If so, it may not come in time for the next media bombshell: the next book by Kitty Kelley, who put the cat among the Reagan White House pigeons, is about the House of Windsor.

After nearly 50 years of marriage, the union of the Queen and Prince Philip has settled into a mutually comfortable routine. They sleep in separate bedrooms, except at Balmoral, where they share a corner room overlooking Queen Mary's rose garden and the splendid clump of maples that was a gift from the Canadian government. He dislikes her Welsh corgis, and shows no interest in her passion for horse-racing. She, in turn, is happy to leave him to pursue many of his interests alone.

Close friends say he has mellowed with age. And many talk of his enormous loyalty as a friend. 'I've always admired and greatly loved him,' says Princess Louis of Hesse. 'He's always been ready to help over a problem.'

If he is a supportive husband and a loyal friend, it is less certain that he has been the warm and loving father his children needed. The early years of the Queen's reign must have been enormously bewildering to the children. Suddenly, 'Mummy' was always busy; ensconced with men in suits, carrying red boxes for her to attend to behind closed doors. There were long periods when she and Prince Philip would be on tour abroad, leaving the children in the care of nannies and other relatives. To anyone who knows of Philip's own childhood, there is more than a hint of repetition.

None the less, as they grew up, the children came to regard him as a hero. He was busy, athletic, fun. Michael Parker remembers how Philip always treated them as grown-ups, bending his thin frame over to engage them in adult conversation. But he also frightened them, though his fierce, some would say harsh, exterior hasn't affected his daughter. Princess Anne has inherited most from him, once again going her own way in marrying the Queen's former equerry. 'She won't take any nonsense,' says one of Prince Philip's staff.

But his relationship with his sons is a different matter. True to his own background, he wanted them to be tough and manly. That worked well with a confident child like Andrew, but infinitely less well with his two more sensitive sons, who reacted badly to his irascible temper. What's more, Philip's inability to pass on a sense of what women need has become increasingly stark as the two elder boys have been overtaken by marital crises.

The Prince of Wales's biographer, Anthony Holden, believes Philip's insistence on toughening up his boys has led to an unusual level of sibling rivalry among them. This was the main reason, he says, that Edward made his disastrous foray into the military. Charles joined all three forces, and Andrew served in the Falklands. How could Edward cap that but by joining the toughest and most bullying of them all: the Royal Marines?

Both parents were at first delighted with his decision. 'He's the first in our family to become a Marine,' Philip told the American admiral, Sylvester Foley, whose own son was an officer in the US Marines. When Edward dropped out in 1987, to work in the theatre for Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Queen was disappointed. But Prince Philip was furious.

There is a closer rapport today between Philip and his youngest son, who has made up for the Marines fiasco by quietly making a career raising funds for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. Even here, though, fatherly praise is hard to come by. 'It's always like that with them,' says Myra Butter, long a trustee of the Awards Scheme. 'They believe you just don't praise your family. You do your duty as you've been taught. And that's that.'

Where there have been no repairs is in the relationship between Prince Philip and his eldest son. Shy, tubby and lacking in any inward resilience, Charles has always irritated his father. Philip thought as with the others - that what he needed was toughening up. He prescribed his old alma mater, Gordonstoun. Although the Queen is believed to have wanted to send him to Eton, there were sound reasons for having the child far from London and Fleet Street. Years later, Charles admitted he hated Gordonstoun.

Curiously, even in doing it, Philip may have suspected he was making a mistake. Lady Butter tells of an incident that speaks as much of Philip's private anxieties about his son as it does of his complete inability to show the child what he really felt about him.

The Butters happened to be staying at Balmoral the first time the Queen and Prince Philip drove Charles to Gordonstoun. On their return, she says: 'Prince Philip came into the drawing-room. He was white as a sheet. I asked him what was the matter, but he just walked across the room and poured himself a drink, which is very unusual for him.' Lady Butter has five children of her own, and recognised the sinking feeling one gets leaving children at boarding-school. 'Years later,' she goes on, 'Charles was telling me about what he felt when he sent William off to school. I told him I understood. He said, 'Oh, that's because you always cared so much. I bet no one ever cared that much about me.' So I told him the story about his father. He was stunned. He just couldn't believe it.'

So it's not really that Prince Philip doesn't love his son, he just can't show it. 'Goes back to his own childhood,' another friend adds. 'Simple as that.'

If Charles felt unloved as a child, the feeling grew worse as he grew older. As with Edward, Philip was unable to give Charles any praise. He made an oblique speech in which he disagreed with Charles's approach to modern architecture, he castigated him when he cut down on his public duties after his younger son was born, and he berated him in public for minor misdemeanours.

On one occasion, the Prince of Wales just burst into tears, a courtier disclosed. 'And he was already a grown man.'

When Tim Heald was writing his authorised biography of Prince Philip, he approached the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles and Princess Anne for interviews. Only Charles refused to co-operate. Nothing irritates Philip more, though, than Charles's apparent inability to stick at anything. 'Charles starts things with great enthusiasm. Then he dithers and procrastinates, and he won't make up his mind,' a courtier reports. 'His office is a mess. No one knows what the priorities are. So things hang around, and just don't get done. That's what gets up Philip's nose the most.'

But nowhere has the gap loomed larger than over Charles's problems with his marriage.

The Queen and Prince Philip seemed happy at the prospect of his wedding to the young Lady Diana Spencer. He was already 32, and convention dictated he should marry a virgin. But how many eligible, adult virgins were there in England? She was 20, beautiful, diffident and the daughter of an earl.

That no one thought to examine the situation more closely is extraordinary. In reality, Diana was too young to marry anyone. She'd had little schooling, and had no experience of any world, let alone the one she would step into. Her parents had divorced, traumatically, when she was very young. And her maternal grandmother the Queen Mother's lady-in-waiting had sided against her own daughter, Diana's mother, in a battle for the children. Diana's childhood was a mess. 'His parents] They should have known he needed someone more experienced than that,' says one friend of the family. 'To hell with being a virgin. That was the least important consideration.'

The saddest thing is that when the marriage began to sour, there was no one in the family to whom he could turn. If Charles had asked his mother what to do, one close family friend believes she wouldn't have known what to say. As for his father, who was, after all, more worldly? An old courtier sniffs, 'He'd never have gone to his father. Never in a million years.'

The first formal meeting at which the Queen and Prince Charles discussed his problems took place on 12 June, five days after the first explosive excerpt of Andrew Morton's book, Diana: Her True Story, appeared in the Sunday Times. He told her the marriage was heading towards separation. She counselled him to wait.

A second meeting took place three days later, on 15 June, at Windsor Castle. This time not only Charles and the Queen, but also Prince Philip and the Princess of Wales were there. The atmosphere was much crisper. Urged on by Prince Philip, who was taking a robust attitude to the Wales's difficulties, the Queen said it was important to limit the damage being done to the monarchy. She suggested the couple take three to six months to cool off and reconsider. Meanwhile, she said, she wanted them to maintain an outward show of togetherness, and perhaps take a trip somewhere. When the South Korean tour happened, the tabloid coverage did nothing to convince the world the rift was healing.

After the meeting, at the instigation of the Queen's private office, Prince Philip apparently sat down at his laptop and wrote to Diana, not once but several times. The letters were not brutal, as has been portrayed, but they were tough. Duty was all-important. It was this correspondence that was described first by Andrew Morton, and drew the criticism that the Duke of Edinburgh had been horrible to his daughter-in-law. 'It was not horrible,' says a close friend of the family. 'It was fundamentally necessary. Any father-in-law would have done the same. It was his duty.' True, the Prince and Princess of Wales have separated. But that call of duty stands.

IF PRINCE PHILIP feels in any way responsible for his children's problems, he's not saying. His duty to the Queen and the institution it's been his life to support, his formality, his reserve - his very upbringing - forbids him to do so. 'It's not even him that's to blame,' says one who crossed swords many times with him while working at the Palace. 'It's the system. The system. And his own childhood.'

Without looking at his watch, Prince Philip knows our short hour is drawing to a close. He steps over to press the little white electronic buzzer on the table. You don't even hear the footman approach.

(Photograph omitted)

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