Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

How Charles and Camilla’s affair took over the last big royal visit to Jerusalem

Jenni Frazer looks back at a previous - and particularly memorable - royal visit to Israel.

    Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, chatting with WW II veterans during his 24-hour flying visit to Israel
    Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, chatting with WW II veterans during his 24-hour flying visit to Israel (Photo: SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

    For me, the announcement last week that Prince William will make the first official visit to Israel by a member of the Royal Family brought back a flood of memories of when his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, made a private trip in 1994.

    I was the JC’s correspondent based in Jerusalem when I was summoned — as were many British reporters — to an off-the-record briefing by the Foreign Press Association (FPA), a body that represents international journalists working in Israel.

    There we were to be told by an official from Buckingham Palace about Prince Philip’s 24-hour flying visit.

    The briefing did not go well, to put it mildly. Journalists from The Times, the Guardian,the Daily Telegraph andthe Independent, long accustomed to the rough and tumble of Israeli politics, horrified the official with questions about Prince Charles’s adultery with Camilla Parker-Bowles, which had recently come to light.

    The journalists’ more deferential counterparts back in the UK would never ask such questions, she sternly told us.

    Prince Charles attended the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem
    Prince Charles attended the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem (Photo: ABIR SULTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

    We were treated to a litany of the protocols we would have to observe.

    Questions were strictly not to be raised with Prince Philip about Charles and Camilla. Nor should there be questions about Philip’s sister, Princess George of Hanover, who was accompanying him on his visit and who rather unfortunately had been married to a Luftwaffe pilot.

    All the British hacks, to my amusement, left the briefing kicking and sulking.

    We had a saying in those days — “You know you’ve been in Israel too long when…” — and it felt appropriate here: I had just witnessed the Israelification of a large chunk of the British press.

    But what was Prince Philip doing in Israel in the first place? The answer lay in the dark days of the Second World War and the heroic, wholly unexpected actions of his late mother, Princess Alice of Greece.

    In 1943, she made a life-changing and potentially life-threatening decision: to take a Greek Jewish woman, Rachel Cohen, and two of her five children into the royal apartments to hide them from the Nazis. She sheltered them for a year until liberation.

    For that action, Alice was to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Prince Philip and his elder sister, Princess George of Hanover, were visiting Israel in 1994 to accept the award.

    Prince Charles with Camilla Parker-Bowles in 1979
    Prince Charles with Camilla Parker-Bowles in 1979 (Photo by TIM GRAHAM/Getty Images)

    It was claimed Princess Alice suffered from severe mental health problems after the Second World War but, as she was profoundly deaf, she may very well have been misdiagnosed.

    For the last 20 years of her life she lived as a nun whose dying wish was to be buried in Jerusalem.

    She died in 1969 but burying her in the city did not prove possible until 1988, following prolonged negotiations between Israel and the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church authorities. Eventually her coffin was brought to the ornate onion-domed Russian Orthodox church of St Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives and interned in a space in the doorway of the church.

    At her wish, she was laid to rest near the body of her aunt Elizabeth, cousin of the last Tsar of imperial Russia.

    Andrew and Princess Alice - Prince Phillip's parents
    Andrew and Princess Alice - Prince Phillip's parents

    Advice from the Foreign Office had prevented Philip from attending that ceremony, meaning the 1994 visit was to be the first time he saw his mother’s new grave.

    Her son, journalists were instructed, would arrive at the church with his sister, but only one reporter would be allowed inside to take notes on behalf of the rest of the press.

    This pool arrangement is standard FPA practice for big press events; and it was none other than the Jewish Chronicle that would be the eyes and ears of the international journalists.

    That was why I later found myself explaining the Russian Orthodox order of service to the Daily Mail’s hotshot foreign correspondent, Dame Ann Leslie, who flew out especially for the occasion.

    I told a Haaretz reporter how Prince Philip walked through the church and the throngs of monks and nuns, characteristically with his hands behind his back.

    “Did he show any emotion?” the reporter asked and I had to explain that in those days prior to Princess Diana’s death, no member of the Royal family showed emotion about anything.

    The travelling circus then moved onto the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Ramle, where the “bad behaviour” of the British press really caught fire.

    I remember journalists shouting questions towards Philip about the state of Charles and Diana’s marriage as he strode among the graves, pretending he couldn’t hear what was being said.

    Those days of presumed deference are long over now but Prince William’s much-anticipated visit is likely to be just as tightly stage-managed by Kensington Palace and the Foreign Office.

    How I would love to be there.

UK News

United Synagogue's Israel tour sparks pride

Jenni Frazer

Monday, May 14, 2018

United Synagogue's Israel tour sparks pride
Obituaries

Obituary: Dr Ephraim Jaffe

Jenni Frazer

jenni frazer

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Obituary: Dr Ephraim Jaffe
TV

TV review: McMafia episode 7

Jenni Frazer

Sunday, February 4, 2018

TV review: McMafia episode 7
Israel

Knesset deputy speaker: Corbyn’s friends ‘want Israel eliminated’

Jenni Frazer

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Knesset deputy speaker: Corbyn’s friends ‘want Israel eliminated’
TV

Television review: McMafia Episode 8

Jenni Frazer

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Television review: McMafia Episode 8
News Features

Gaza: what next?

Jenni Frazer

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Gaza: what next?
World

New Holocaust museum for Macedonia

Jenni Frazer

Friday, March 16, 2018

New Holocaust museum for Macedonia
Comment

Why can't London kosher dining be more civilised?

Jenni Frazer

Friday, February 9, 2018

Why can't London kosher dining be more civilised?
TV

TV review: McMafia Episode 6

Jenni Frazer

Sunday, January 28, 2018

TV review: McMafia Episode 6