"We should not forget the man who supports the monarch"

By Rabbi Jonathan Romain, May 31, 2012
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Prince Phillip and the Queen walk home after a Royal Garden Party

Prince Phillip and the Queen walk home after a Royal Garden Party

While everyone is praising the Queen for both her longevity on the throne and impeccable sense of duty, it is worth remembering that Prince Philip has also broken royal records, not to mention his Jewish connections.

Over the last six years I have had a private lunch with the Prince twice a year, and can attest that although he can be blunt, it is never out of rudeness or malice, but simply from plain-speaking. He has an instinctive preference for directness and it makes him much more interesting than listening to politicians mouthing platitudes or engaging in verbal gymnastics.

Three years ago he became Britain’s longest serving consort, overtaking the 57 years set by the previous record-holder, Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.

Despite the many privileges that the job brings, it is tough for someone who had commanded his own naval ship to walk two steps behind the monarch for the next six decades.

The tabloid image of the prince as a gaffe-prone loose cannon is a convenient caricature. Perhaps one person’s gaffe is another person’s truth.

One instance often cited in the press is that, when visiting a school and asking a child what he wanted to be when he grew up, the child replied “A space explorer”, to which the Prince is supposed to have riposted: “But you’re too fat to be an astronaut”. Was that a brutal blow to the child’s ego or a helpful piece of advice that altered his lifestyle and improved his future prospects?

Maimonides would approve. What he wrote in the 12th century can apply to Prince Philip today: “A person should not accustom himself to use smooth and deceptive language.

“He should not say one thing when he means another, but his innermost thoughts should be in accord with the impression he gives, and his mouth should utter that which he really thinks.”

But whatever the Prince’s opinions, he has never allowed them to stop him fulfilling his public duties, some glamorous but most of them routine, visiting factories or day-care centres or youth programmes, and taking an interest in the efforts of those who do enormous good but who never receive publicity and appreciate his attention.

Whereas most people retire at 65, he continued his tasks for another quarter of a century, and only started to cut back on reaching his 90th birthday.

These have included numerous visits to Jewish institutions, from the Sternberg Centre to the Jewish Museum, and have ranged from 1956 — when he was the guest of honour at a dinner celebrating British Jewry’s 300th anniversary since the Resettlement — to a repeat attendance 50 years later at the community’s next milestone.

His relations with Jews have been coloured by the memory of the wartime actions of his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg. She had married Prince Andrew of Greece and lived in Athens during the Nazi occupation.

She personally hid six Jews — Rachel Cohen and her five children — saving them from deportation to the death camps.

As a result of her action, Princess Alice was later honoured by the state of Israel, and a tree was planted in her name in the avenue for the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

As for Prince Philip, the butt of some journalists but admired by those who experience his phenomenal work-rate, may he go on to receive a centenary letter from his wife.

    Last updated: 11:55am, May 31 2012