There was barely a cloud in the sky over England for the day of Prince Philip’s funeral. Unusual, but perfect for the sendoff of one of its favorite royals. In fact, the Royal Navy’s tribute to the one-time sailor and pilot was, in part, “fair winds and following seas,” the maritime message for smooth sailing. And for the Duke of Edinburgh, and all watching, his funeral was.
Partly due to COVID-19 restrictions but also due to the royal’s own wishes, it was a relatively simple affair, scaled back and straightforward. But with all the elegant and meaningful detail, it also summed up the man. In the week or so since his passing, it has been confirmed what a wide-ranging individual he was.
He was not just the sometimes curmudgeonly father figure as he was portrayed, but a deep thinker, with interests across a range of fields from engineering and design to conservation and sport, and a loving man not just to his family but the many young people he helped through his charities.
And he was down to earth. We spoke with several of his neighbors in Windsor, near London, just on the other side of the walls of the castle that would be one of his favorite places. Until a few years ago we were told, he would roll out of the stables adjacent to the castle on his horse and carriage, and roll down a block of a public street to get to the parkland nearby.
A pub owner told us he would always say hello, compliment him on the flowers outside the building, and complain that his sign needed painting. And another fellow recalled the man was pulling his Land Rover out from a parking space, spotted the prince in his carriage, and stopped. The prince instead also stopped and made sure the car got out first. As we found out at Saturday’s funeral, the prince liked Land Rovers – his own casket carried on one for his last ride.
(Another tip of the hat to the prince’s sporting past: one of those carriages with his two favorite horses was parked next to the Castle, as the prince’s remains were moved to St. George’s Chapel for the funeral ceremony.)
People in recent days told us stories about Prince Philip saying just the right (or sometimes wrong!) kind of joke, or just the proper remark to put them at ease in a formal setting. Or if they didn’t know him personally, they told us how much they admired him.
My first story for Fox News was the death of Princess Diana. We all remember the huge emotional outpouring at the time. Certainly this landmark was quite different in many ways. But the deep feelings we heard about the prince, from close friends as well as the public, were nearly the same in depth of emotion.
One 22-year-old standing outside Buckingham Palace sporting a half-Mohawk haircut probably gave to us the highest honor he could offer the prince: “The guy had class!”
All through the sometimes turbulent times of this Royal Family (including all the turmoil surrounding Princess Diana), Prince Philip was known as a fence-mender. Beyond the grave he might have done it again. Throughout the procession leading to the funeral and at the ceremony itself, Prince Harry was kept – either purposefully or by coincidence – at a distance from his father Prince Charles and brother Prince William. Both were said to have been angered by the controversial interview Harry and wife Meghan gave to Oprah earlier this year.
Then, after the ceremony was over, which was filled with simple prayer, song and reminders of the prince (and with a bit of help from the Duchess of Cambridge), Harry and William walked out of the chapel together, talking, close, almost smiling. Observers noted Prince Philip would have liked that.
Finally, we recall the sad and wizened elderly woman we spoke with another day outside Buckingham Palace. She said she wasn’t thinking about the prince. She was thinking about and grieving for the queen. After more than 73 years of marriage, after decades of having him by her side and giving him her support, he was gone.
And while she will have a wonderful and loving family around her, the one picture seen perhaps most after the funeral showed her alone, distanced by COVID-19 and by fate, in a pew of St. George’s Chapel. She will be 95 this week. The prince would have been 100 in June.
I heard from my family in the States during the last few days. They were all taken by the ritual and the aura of the prince’s passing. Sometimes I think, with the popularity of “The Crown” TV series and all things royal, Americans are more fond of “The Firm” than Brits are. The locals can sometimes be begrudging of the money they cost and the fact that the institution can seem out of step with modern times.
It might have taken the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh to remind those here and around the world how very much “with it” the prince (and royals) can be, and what a contribution is made to society. Along with some laughs as well.
Prince Philip’s reported wish upon his passing was that the royals “just stick me in the back of a Land Rover and drive me to Windsor.” I suppose he got that wish. And then some.