Peers paid tribute to one of their own as the Lords marked the passing of Prince Philip
Baroness Mobarik achieved the rare feat since Prince Philip's death of revealing something new: that he hated rhubarb crumble.
The Duke of Edinburgh made 5,493 speeches around the world but not one of them was in the club of which he was made a member in 1948. He visited the House of Lords almost every year, of course, sitting beside the Queen at State Openings on a throne whose seat was set ever so slightly nearer the floor than hers, but if he had views on the speech that she was giving, he wisely kept them to himself.
This, some felt, was a pity. “What a marvellous speaker and member he would have been, with his style and knowledge so well suited to the highest standards of this House,” said Baroness Deech as the lords gathered to pay their tributes. “His appearance always lifted spirits.”
What would he have made, though, of six hours of business being given over to 88 speeches about himself – almost one for each year of his life? It was often remarked after his death how the Duke hated fuss. “He would probably be thinking: ‘Why are they all going on so long?’” reflected Baroness Hoey. Viscount Thurso doubted whether he could have contained himself. He recalled giving a speech in front of the Duke at a charity do and being interrupted by a loud, if well-intended, “Oh bloody well get on with it!”
Whatever he said, he never bored anyone
The speeches were sincere and affectionate and often quite erudite. The Duke was praised in Latin and Hebrew, in Swahili and Danish, and those who struggled to find their own words cribbed from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Burke and the Book of Common Prayer, even from the Guardian’s cartoonist.
So widespread were his interests, being associated with almost 1,000 different organisations, there was little repetition. Most spoke on their own area of expertise, be it Lord De Mauley, as Master of the Horse, on the Duke’s equestrian exploits or Admiral West, formerly First Sea Lord, on his time in the Navy. The Earl of Caithness, whose father was Factor of Balmoral, talked about his talent for dancing Scottish reels. Baroness Mobarik achieved the rare feat since the death of revealing something new: that he hated rhubarb crumble.
Several recalled their youth on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and so we heard that as a teenager the Leader of the House had earned her gold badge by learning wine-making, which Baroness Evans of Bowes Park said had “rather tickled” the Duke when she mentioned it, while Lord Newby, a mere bronze-winner, was still grateful for knowing how to do a fireman’s lift.
Most were dressed in sombre black, though Lord Winston, who discussed their shared love of classic cars, was characteristically colourful, while Lord Marland was proud of his slightly louche chequered suit, saying that he had worn it to a grand reception at Buckingham Palace and the Duke, having looked him up and down and sniffed a few times, asked what he wore for casual wear.
Summing him up in a soundbite was tricky, but some got it spot on. “He was Kryptonite for pomposity,” said Lord Empey. “His presence lifted a gathering,” added the Archbishop of Canterbury. "Whatever he said, he never bored anyone." Many ventured variations on a theme of service and duty. It was Lord Forsyth, though, who, having called the Duke "the antidote to celebrity culture," suggested that his legacy could be boiled down to three words, on which there was much agreement: “Weren’t we lucky?”
Patrick Kidd is a journalist and author.