MANY who watched the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh will have quietly decided to live a better life. Already some of us have pulled muscles we didn’t know we had in places we’d rather not discuss trying out the late Duke’s 5BX routine. Every morning, well into his 90s, he followed the Five Basic Exercise regime, which takes about 15 minutes. Likewise his example can be broken down into five basic exercises: Friendship, Fidelity, Fitness, Fun and Faith.
Once, sitting next to a woman at a university dinner, he asked her why she was there. ‘I’m the wife of the college rector,’ she replied. ‘I believe that’s the least interesting thing about you,’ said Prince Philip. ‘Tell me more about yourself.’ This approach put people at their ease and enhanced the work his wife pioneered with the emerging British Commonwealth. Imperial legacies are often unhappy ones, but here was a group of nations meeting to discuss the issues of the age. Its success owes much to the genuine friendship displayed by the royal couple.
The secret to friendship is an ability to listen, to remember and reassure.
Hundreds of people from footmen to footballers attest to Prince Philip’s capacity for remembering them from one meeting to the next. Achieving this means downplaying your own story. ‘It’s a big mistake to think about yourself,’ Philip once said. What counts is what you do for others.
Despite long spells apart the relationship he and the Queen enjoyed testifies to the enduring appeal of a rock-solid marriage. Biographer Gyles Brandreth tells of seeing the Queen surrounded by dignitaries in the middle of a crowded room. Standing by the huge windows was Prince Philip. Looking up, Her Majesty caught his eye. Philip raised his glass to her and smiled.
Philip picked up the basics of physical fitness at Gordonstoun and the Royal Navy. However it was the mental strength he forged in both institutions that kept him sane from 1952 onwards. Kurt Hahn, founder of Gordonstoun School, was a German Jew recently escaped from Nazi Germany. Gordonstoun teaches that the best way of overcoming vicissitude is service to others. Speaking of his wartime exploits in the Royal Navy, Prince Philip would brush aside inquiries about how frightening it all was. He and his fellow sailors were much too busy to worry. Devotion to duty, to service, overrode fear. This formed the basis for his extraordinary success as Queen’s consort. In a world increasingly unsure of itself the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have shown us that we need not be fazed by change. In fact we can make fun of it, not take it or ourselves too seriously. Philip’s gaffes delighted us and maddened his detractors. They obscured a penetrating intellect. A sense of humour is essential if we are to address the exasperating incongruities of our time.
Key to the House of Windsor’s success is the Christian idea of the servant king working to release the creative good inherent in us all. The Reverend Ian Bradley often preached at Crathie Kirk, Balmoral. The Duke took notes during the sermon and disconcerted Bradley by discussing it over lunch. Philip’s faith was backed by an intellectual rigour rare among believers. His library contains 11,000 books, many on theology. Years before it became fashionable he developed a link between divine creation and man’s responsibility for it. According to Bradley it was Philip who encouraged the Queen to talk more openly of her faith in her Christmas broadcasts from 2000 onwards.
Christianity, conservation and conservatism need demonstration. Urging ‘them’ to do something is never going to work. Do it yourself. Show how it can be done. 5BX may temporarily defeat us but to exercise the values Philip demonstrated lies well within our compass. Commentators argue we shall not see his like again. However Philip was by no means the last knight errant, but the latest in a long line of soldier-scholars, Arthurian figures who by their modesty pass largely unremarked. May this serve as his memorial.
‘I will lie down and sleep in peace . . . ’
God Save The Queen.