United in grief’: How UK newspapers reacted to Prince Philip’s death

British front pages mourn passing of Queen’s ‘beloved’ husband and detail a ‘life of duty’

Andy Gregory
Saturday 10 April 2021 10:13
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Prince Philip obituary: The Duke of Edinburgh dies aged 99

UK newspapers have reacted to Prince Philip’s death with a mixture of reverence and respect, highlighting the Duke of Edinburgh’s sense of duty, decades of service and legacies in conservationism and British life – as well as his penchant for unsavoury outbursts.

A day after the Queen’s husband’s passing on Friday, just weeks before his 100th birthday, much of the coverage was also devoted to the nature of the “deep sorrow” and loss felt by the British monarch and her family.

The front pages of The Independent, The i Weekend, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph all featured straight tributes to the duke, while The Times, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star and Daily Mirror all led with the Queen’s loss, with The Sun saying: “We’re all weeping with you, ma’am”.

The tabloid featured several pictures of the couple of 73 years on the cover of its special wrap-around edition, including a quote from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee speech in 2012, when she said: “Prince Philip is, I believe, well-known for declining compliments of any kind.

“But throughout he has been a constant strength and guide.”

On a page carrying tributes from Prince Philip’s children and grandchildren, the paper also claimed that the royals were “united in grief after Megxit pain” – a reference to the Sussexes’ heavily dissected decision to step back as senior royals.

This decision was notably followed by a recent Oprah interview, in which Prince Harry’s allegation that “a level of control by fear that has existed for generations” in the “invisible contract” between the royal family and the British tabloids was among the least explosive revelations.

A prominent headline in the Daily Mail similarly claimed that the UK was “a kingdom united in grief”.

In a piece on page seven headlined, “a wave of loss, a jolt of sorrow”, Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote that he was “the last major public figure from the age of courtesy and duty first, from the time when a stiff upper lip and good manners were as highly prized as the shine on your brogues and the cut of your jib.

“He was a man who lived through brutish times, who suffered childhood bereavements and then – like the vanishing generation he belongs to – had his life truncated by war”.

Amid what it dubbed a “historic 144-page issue” – 34 of which were devoted to the Queen’s late husband’s death – the Mail also carried a piece centring on his variety of less than diplomatic remarks, along with the claim: “His critics called them gaffes – yet how those one-liners brightened up his (and our) days”.

It included a variety of Philip’s most significant outbursts, ranging from the frank (“just take the f****** picture”), to the rude (telling a hopeful 13-year-old they were “too fat to be an astronaut”), to the outright racist (asking dance troupe Diversity if they were “all one family”).

An obituary in The Independent’s daily edition, titled “Rootless lad who excelled as naval officer and consort” explores Philip’s admission that “I never knew who I was”, noting that when he was nine years old, “an extraordinary series of events effectively left the little blond boy without home or family”.

It suggests that Philip’s “problems of identity as a child and young man” were so chronic that upon becoming engaged to the heiress of the British throne, the Corfu born great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria was “technically a commoner who was just getting used to a brand new name and a new nationality” – also pointing out that in his married life “he occupied a permanent constitutional grey area” as the Queen’s husband.

In another nod to this apparent uncertainty, the cover of The Times’ supplement features a quote from the duke at the age of 90, saying as he ruminated on his life as the Queen’s consort:“It was trial and error.

“There was no precedent. If I asked somebody ‘what do you expect me to do?’ They all looked blank. They had no idea. Nobody had much idea.”

But on its front page, the paper described him as “a strikingly modern figure who transformed the role of consort”.

And elsewhere in the paper, Matthew Parris argues that Philip was a “progressive” but like “all long-lived people he turned into a figure from the past”.

Meanwhile, a variety of papers, including the Yorkshire Evening Post described the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as his “most lasting legacy”, with a piece in The Telegraph stating that “there is little doubt that the Duke of Edinburgh Awards ‘changed Britain’, and the lives of millions of young people around the world”.

Aside from the awards scheme which encourages young people to volunteer and experience the outdoors, another legacy frequently mentioned was the duke’s longstanding passion for conservationism – with many referencing his hand in the founding of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The Guardian reported that long-revised plans for Prince Philip have been “abandoned” due to the coronavirus pandemic and reported that while organisers are said to be “desperately anxious” not to stage anything that results in mass gatherings, the duke could be assured that his wish to avoid “ostentation” would be met.

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