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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Prince Philip: The Iron Duke
Duke of Edinburgh
On the eve of his 80th birthday, the Duke of Edinburgh has been quoted in a new biography, describing his eldest son as being too "precious, extravagant and lacking in the dedication... to make a good king". Caroline Frost of the BBC's News Profiles Unit looks at why this elderly statesman has little patience with his family's foibles.

The Duke of Edinburgh has never attempted to hide his feelings about his son's behaviour. In his authorised biography of Charles, Jonathan Dimbleby depicted Prince Philip as an uncompromising bully who pressured his son into marriage and who tried to instil in him his own pragmatic view of royal family life.

Instead, in the last few years, the Duke has found himself presiding over a family riddled by marital discord. Now a new book by Graham Turner reveals how Philip increasingly felt that Charles's attitude to his wife and adultery with Camilla Parker Bowles was undermining all the work he and the Queen had put into protecting the monarchy.

The Duke of Edindburgh going carriage-riding
Taking the reigns: the Duke in his carriage

For such a defender of the establishment, the young Prince Philip was originally a maverick outsider, who had trouble himself accepting the restrictions of life at court.

After his marriage, the newly titled Duke of Edinburgh was to be found revelling in the wild company of such figures as John Aspinall and Lord Lucan.

All the pomp and circumstance of royal tradition was certainly at odds with the young prince's upbringing. Although his blood is a minestrone soup of most of the royal families of Europe, Philip's entry to the world was less than grand. He was born in June 1921 in Corfu, according to royal folklore, on the dining room table.

His father was banished from Greece when he was a year old, and so young refugee Philip travelled to Britain in a crib made from an orange box.

Prince Philip as a boy
The wandering Prince: Philip as a boy

His deaf mother and gambling father split up and the young prince spent his childhood being passed from the pillars of English prep schools to the posts of European family homes. He finally settled in the spartan confines of Gordonstoun in Scotland, where visits from his relatives were almost unknown.

There, Philip developed the resilience, pragmatism and steel core that would later set him at odds with his more sensitive eldest son, who later called Gordonstoun as "absolute hell".

Following the family tradition of entering the Royal Navy, the Prince found himself at Dartmouth. Mixing in the royal circles of his uncle Louis Mountbatten, his good looks and independence soon appealed to the young Princess Elizabeth.

Duke of Edinburgh
The young Duke of Edinburgh liked to escape courtly life

Despite courtiers' opposition to the match based on Philip not being "quite the English gentleman", he found himself before long in the position of husband to heir of throne.

And then in Kenya in 1952, the young sailor broke the news to his wife that she was now the Queen of England. His private secretary Colonel Michael Parker said that day he looked as though half the world had dropped on him.

Described at school as being "a born leader", the Duke's life since then has been a struggle to support wholeheartedly his wife in her role, protect the rituals and establishment they both hold dear, but to retain the humour and independence of spirit which first attracted the Queen to her consort.

The Duke of Edinburgh with the Queen
A united front: Queen and consort

In creating a role for himself, his interests have been concentrated on three areas - industry, young people's welfare and the environment. One of his most lasting contributions to society has been the scheme named after him, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

But these undoubtedly good causes have all too often been overshadowed by easily-avoided, short-sighted gaffes. Pointing at people, for example, in countries where pointing is taboo, laughing at the "pot bellies" of Hungary and - worst of all - remarking on the "slitty eyes" of the Chinese people all gave the impression of a man who speaks first and thinks later.

But his is a unique balancing act and it is not surprising that Philip has occasionally fallen off the tightrope. After all, this man rooted at the centre of British society by virtue of his marriage is a wanderer with no clear roots of his own.

The Duke of Edinburgh on a tour of China
Speak now, think later: The Duke in China

With his brusque, uncompromising manner, he has never won the affection of the British people, but has undoubtedly earned their respect after a lifetime of doing "what I think is my best" and "just getting on with it".

Now on the eve of his 80th birthday, it would seem he remains indignant that other members of his family are incapable of winning the same respect.


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