Taxi fans offer tips for royal cabbie

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The Independent Online
'I HAD that Prince Philip in the front of my cab the other day' is set to become a Londoner's boast now that the Duke of Edinburgh is joining the elite of famous people who drive black cabs around the capital.

There are several advantages, according to the cognoscenti, many of whom are on their second or third cabs. Most, unlike the Duke, who is spending pounds 20,000 on a new one, buy them secondhand. John Lelliott, the chairman of the eponymous construction company, who is on his second one, likes them because, according to his spokeswoman, 'taxis are allowed in many places that cars aren't'.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey, says that social intercourse can be rather restricted by the glass partition but another user said that intercourse of another kind was perfectly possible in the back of the cab. Mr Hughes's second cab, painted partly in lurid Lib Dem orange, has just 'died' and been sold for pounds 500. He is seeking sponsorship to buy a new one.

There are drawbacks to cab driving. Mr Hughes said he is regularly hailed by prospective customers who return his friendly absent-minded wave with a V-sign when he fails to stop. He sometimes takes people home late at night who happen to jump in his cab. Mr Lelliott's apparently breaks down a lot, forcing him to hail a taxi.

Other users include the musical entrepreneur, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the actor Stephen Fry and the Earl of Winchilsea. Until recently, the Foreign Office used them as official cars in Shanghai and the Falklands - 'very useful for ceremonies because there is room for the feathers', according to Sir Rex Hunt, the former Falklands governor.

The wealthiest user was probably Nubar Gulbenkian, the oil multi-millionaire, who in the Sixties used to be driven around in a silver taxi with Regency stripes. When asked why, he would say: 'It turns round on a sixpence, whatever that is.'

Cabbies are not bothered about Prince Philip joining their ranks, unless, as Bob Oddy, the vice chairman of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association put it, 'he is tempted to do a bit of minicabbing on the side now that the Royal Family are so hard up because they are being taxed'.