Has Philip Windsor had homosexual sex and been unfaithful
Portrait of a marriage
12:05AM BST 05 Sep 2004
Who are Philip and Elizabeth? What has made them the way they are? The Queen is driven by duty and sustained by faith. But what of the Duke? What of the ladies, the rumours that have dogged him for decades? Gyles Brandreth has spoken to Prince Philip at length – and has spent time with the Queen. The result is a remarkable account of a remarkable partnership
‘Dear, do you want a gin and tonic?” asks Prince Philip. Her Majesty, however, already has her drink in hand. She is positively chatty. The bar is filling up with show business royalty. The Queen is mingling happily.
A generation ago this would not have happened. The bell goes, summoning the audience back to their seats.
Sir Elton John is top of the bill tonight. He sits at the piano and sings three songs. He has his back to the Royal Box.
“I wish he’d turn the microphone to one side,” says the Queen. “I wish he’d turn the microphone off,” says Prince Philip.
I recorded this conspiratorial exchange in my diary on Monday 26 November 2001, the day after I attended the annual Royal Variety Performance with the Queen and Prince Philip.
I have been able to observe the Queen and the Duke at close range: watching the pair of them – two sharply contrasting characters, with wholly different natures, who are nonetheless, and undeniably, partners, allies, friends.
Some months later, in May 2002, I joined the Queen and Duke at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. At that time, I wrote in my diary: “The Duke took part, winning the dressage heat in the carriage-driving competition. The Queen, headscarf on, camera in hand, watched him, with rapt attention and real excitement.
”As he put his horses through their paces, she bit her lip with anxiety and, when he came through victorious, she laughed and cheered and clapped. She revealed an energy and enthusiasm she never displays when going about her official duties. Clearly, she still loves her man.
”Watching her at Windsor, I would say she adores him. She stood in the stand alongside Lord and Lady Romsey. Penny Romsey, 48, is Philip’s regular carriage-driving companion – and rather more than that, if the rumour-mongers are to be believed. I wonder.”
Who are Philip and Elizabeth? What has made them the way they are? The Queen’s life is driven by duty and sustained by faith. And what drives the Duke? What sustains him? They are so different – in character, in temperament, in upbringing.
”Rumour has it that they lead very separate lives. Rumour has been rife, too, of course, for years, about Prince Philip’s lovers. Understanding any marriage is not easy – and, in this case, it is made more difficult because “a public front” has been maintained for almost 60 years. Was this ever a love story? Is it still? Or is there betrayal at the heart of it?
The “story” begins in Dartmouth, in 1939, where the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth had her first meeting with Prince Philip of Greece, age 18.
However, between then and their official engagement in 1947, “Blondes, brunettes and redhead charmers, Philip gallantly and I think quite impartially squired them all,” says Philip’s cousin and exact contemporary, Alexandra of Yugoslavia.
In 1945 Philip was 24, a bearded Adonis. He was on active duty in the Pacific, and along with Mike Parker, an Australian, fellow naval officer, first friend then his equerry, enjoyed antipodean shore leave. According to his cousin, Alexandra, who wasn’t there, “Philip, with a golden beard, hit feminine hearts, first in Melbourne and then in Sydney, with terrific impact.”
According to Mike Parker, who was there, “Philip was actually quite reserved. He didn’t give away a lot. There have been books and articles galore saying he played the field. I don’t believe it. People say we were screwing around like nobody’s business. Well, we weren’t.”
Mike Parker died at the very end of 2001, aged 81, a plain-speaking Australian to the last. “Yeah, there were always ‘armfuls of girls’.” He had used the expression when speaking to Tim Heald, a biographer of Prince Philip, and he was never allowed to forget it.
“Jesus, I wish I’d never used that phrase. What I meant was this: we were young, we had fun, we had a few drinks, we might have gone dancing, but that was it. In Australia, Philip came to meet my family, my sisters and their friends. There were girls galore, but there was no one special. Believe me. I guarantee it.”
Robin Dalton – now a distinguished film producer based in London and Biarritz; in 1945 a 23-year-old Australian girl working as secretary to the commanding officer of the ordnance department of the Southwest Pacific Area – remembers it a little differently:
“I met Philip through David [Milford Haven, Philip’s cousin and, later, best man]. They were like brothers, you know.” She recalls that Philip had two special girlfriends in Australia at the end of the war: “A society girl called Sue Other-Gee, and then Sandra Jacques – that was a terrific love affair.”
“A full love affair?” I asked. “A very full love affair,” said Robin.
Perhaps there was a licence to be more uninhibited in Australia? Georgina Kennard [known to friends as “Gina” and to Prince Philip, when they were children, as “George”], sitting in the elegant drawing room of her third-floor flat off Sloane Square in October 2003 (in the week she turned 84), looked back on life in England 60 years before and said to me, emphatically, “It was a different world. Unmarried girls didn’t sleep with their boyfriends. It really wasn’t done.”
I asked Gina Kennard if Prince Philip had been her boyfriend. She laughed. “Everybody said he was in love with me. My mother used to say that his mother – who was a saintly person, deaf but lovely – would have been very happy for Philip to marry me, but it never came up.
” I said to him recently, ‘Are you still in love with me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, of course, I am.’ The truth is, he was wonderfully attractive – he still is – and we were friends, best friends, and we went out together and had just the best time, but nothing really serious happened. It wasn’t like that.
”He was young and handsome and, of course, I loved him. At that age, you fall in love all the time, don’t you? Philip knew lots of girls. There was Osla Benning, wasn’t there? We were just young people having fun.”
In 1944, both Gina and Osla (a beautiful Canadian debutante) became engaged to other men.
Prince Philip is adamant. He did not think about marriage in any serious sense until more than a year after the war, when he went to stay at Balmoral in 1946. If he had thoughts of marriage much before 1946, he kept them to himself.
Getting an insight into Philip’s feelings about his relationship with Elizabeth is not easy. Getting an insight into her feelings about him is much more straightforward. The Queen is happy for you to know that, in her heart and in her way, she has been committed to Prince Philip from the age of 13.
As it was with her horses – and her dogs, and her faith, and her duty – so it was with Philip. Her first cousin, near-contemporary and friend, Margaret Rhodes, said to me: “Princess Elizabeth was enamoured from an early age. She never looked at anyone else. She was smitten from the start.”
However smitten Elizabeth was, and however interested Philip declared himself to be, Establishment figures were none too happy.
Sir Alan Lascelles, assistant private secretary to the Prince of Wales throughout the 1920s, assistant private secretary and private secretary to successive kings from 1935, encapsulated some of the family’s and most of the courtiers’ initial estimation of Lt Philip Mountbatten: “They felt he was rough, uneducated and would probably not be faithful.”
Was Philip right for Lilibet? Was he good enough? Was he, in truth, a suitable consort for a future Queen? The royal establishment did not welcome Philip with open arms. Far from it.
According to John Brabourne, “They were bloody to him. We were at Balmoral that summer [1947, the year of their engagement] and they were absolutely bloody to him. They didn’t like him, they didn’t trust him, and it showed.” It certainly rankled with Philip – and rankles still. He was snubbed by snobs.
Different witnesses give different assessments of the temperature of Philip’s passion. Mike Parker told me, “He was completely in love with her [Elizabeth], absolutely.”
John Brabourne agrees: “It was a love-match, certainly.” Gina Kennard told me: “Philip used to speak to me about Princess Elizabeth before they were engaged. He was extremely fond of her, always. He said, ‘I think we could do a lot together.’ ”
On the morning of their wedding, however, some nervousness had crept in. “I saw him just after breakfast that morning,” Patricia Mountbatten – Lord Mountbatten’s elder daughter – told me.
“We were alone together – we were cousins and we knew each other very well – and I said something about what an exciting day it was and, suddenly, he said to me, ‘Am I being very brave or very foolish?’ ”
I asked Lady Mountbatten what she thought he meant by that? “He was apprehensive,” she said.
“He was uncertain – not about marrying Princess Elizabeth, but about what the marriage would mean for him. He was giving up a great deal. In many ways, nothing was going to change for her. Everything was going to change for him.”
They have, indeed, done a lot together, and everything did change for him.
Inevitably, since the Queen’s Accession, she and Philip have led separate, yet parallel lives. In 1956/57, Prince Philip embarked on a World Tour. The length of the tour was unusual, but its scope was ambitious. Decades on, however, it is still often portrayed as a junket. And it also led to questions in the press about the Prince’s private life.
The Sunday Pictorial, for one, wanted to know why wasn’t Philip at home with the kiddies? Philip’s prolonged separation from his wife and children created a flood of speculation – and eventually the dam burst.
The Baltimore Sun – the premier newspaper of Wallis Simpson’s home town – broke “the story”, with the paper’s London correspondent reporting that the British capital was awash with rumour that the Duke of Edinburgh was romantically involved with an unnamed woman whom he met on a regular basis in the West End apartment of a society photographer. “Report Queen, Duke in Rift Over Party Girl” ran the headline.
According to Mike Parker, “The Duke was incandescent. He was very, very angry. And deeply hurt.” The Queen was equally dismayed, and, surprisingly (given her instinct to follow precedent and the unwritten rule that royalty never answers back), authorised an official and complete denial: “It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke.”
Tongues were wagging, all over the world. The Queen and the Duke did their best to rise above it. But the rumours rumbled on. They rumble still. I have seen a number of the newspaper obituaries already prepared in anticipation of the Duke’s death. Each of them, without exception, makes reference to Prince Philip’s life as “a ladies’ man”.
Prince Philip is sensitive to this. I know because I have discussed it with him. Publicly, he brushes it off. Privately, he broods. He knows what people say.
Once, he showed me a photocopy he had made of 10 pages from an Australian magazine, Woman’s Day, that on its front page promised readers a full expose of “Prince Philip’s torrid sex life”.
Inside, Australian readers were offered a “sizzling extract” from a book “they daren’t publish in Britain”. The book’s author, Nicholas Davies, purported to reveal “a shocking world of royal adultery, passion and betrayal” and stated – as fact, not surmise – that the Duke of Edinburgh’s liaisons with his cousin, Princess Alexandra, with the film star Merle Oberon, and with the Duchess of York’s mother, Susan Barrantes (among others!) were the reason “why the Queen banned her husband from her bed”.
Bedroom arrangements at the Palace have rarely been off the minds of those in the popular press. In July 1982, an intruder (a 31-year-old schizophrenic named Michael Fagan) found his way into Buckingham Palace and disturbed the Queen, alone, asleep in bed.
This alarming incident prompted a double dose of outrage from the tabloid press: why was the Palace security so lamentable and where was Prince Philip? Why was he not on hand to come to his wife’s rescue? Indeed, the “revelation” that the Queen and her husband did not appear to share a bedroom caused more comment in certain quarters than the fact that a lunatic could wander off the street into the Sovereign’s bedroom without let or hindrance.
The Queen, who, at the time, handled the intrusion with commendable calm, was nevertheless shaken. The popular press had the answer: “Give her a cuddle, Philip” instructed one newspaper headline. Although it is really none of your business (or mine), I am able to tell you that, customarily, when sleeping under the same roof, the Queen and Prince Philip do share the same bed.
It just happened that on the morning of Fagan’s intrusion, Philip had a crack-of-dawn start for an out-of-town official engagement and so spent the night in his own quarters.
Prince Philip is in a special position. He is the Queen’s consort, and Her Majesty is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. At her Coronation, he knelt before her, placed his hands between hers, and vowed, “I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth will I bear unto you . . .”
Privately, Prince Philip is critical of the Prince of Wales, disapproving of his son’s adultery with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Publicly, Prince Philip is a role model – especially to the young and those in the armed services. He is founder of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and patron of the Outward Bound Trust. He is a Colonel or Colonel-in-Chief, Field Marshal, Admiral and Air Commodore 42 times over. He takes these appointments seriously. Honour, duty and example count with him. Is he a hypocrite? Is he a philanderer?
I think we can take it as read that the Queen has been faithful throughout her married life.
There are those who persist in believing that Prince Andrew’s natural father was the Queen’s racing manager, Henry Porchester, “Porchey”, 7th Earl of Carnarvon, suggesting the conception occurred at some point between 20 January and 30 April 1959 when Philip was away on another of his long sea voyages in the Britannia.
Never mind that the dates don’t stack up: Andrew was born on 19 February 1960, a happy by-product of the Queen and Philip’s post-Britannia reunion.
When a journalist from a Sunday broadsheet suggested to Philip that he might have a raft of illegitimate children and have enjoyed a homosexual liaison with Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the former President of France, he sat impassively, incensed but silent.
Privately, he will say, “How could I? I’ve had a detective in my company, night and day, since 1947.” He points out that he is accompanied everywhere he goes, that his face is not entirely unknown, and that, over five decades and on three continents, reporters have been trying to dig up some dirt on him that will stick and, thus far, have come up with bugger all!
Mike Parker told me, “Philip has been one hundred per cent faithful to the Queen. No ifs, no buts. Take it from me, I know.”
Lord Charteris (who worked for the Queen as her assistant private secretary and private secretary from 1950 to 1977) said: “I am aware what people say, and have said for years, but I know of no evidence of any kind, no evidence at all, and, if there were any, I rather think I would.”
Geoff Williams, Prince Philip’s former pilot, who accompanied his boss to fairly faraway places, put it even more succinctly: “I have no information that would make two lines in the Sun.”
And yet the murmuring goes on. “When I see the tabloids,” Prince Philip once sighed to Patricia Mountbatten, “I think I might as well have done it.”
Well, has he or hasn’t he?
Countess Mountbatten [of Burma] is in no doubt. “He has been completely faithful to the Queen,” she said to me. “I’m sure of it, completely and utterly sure.”
Just as her father, Lord Mountbatten, would never – in his biographer’s phrase – “sacrifice his career for lust”, so her cousin, Prince Philip, would never betray the Queen for a mere roll in the hay. “Supporting the Queen has been his life,” Countess Mountbatten reminded me.
“Actually, it’s quite hateful,” says Katie Boyle, a celebrated beauty from the 1950s who is regularly mentioned in despatches as one of Philip’s flings.
According to the book the Duke of Edinburgh brought to my attention, “Philip’s affair with Katie was very steamy. They had the most extraordinary times together.”
“Yes, I’ve met Prince Philip several times,” Katie Boyle told me, when I raised the story with her.
“I think he’s the most fantastic man. I love his dryness. But an affair? It’s ludicrous, pure fabrication. When it appears in print, people believe it. You can’t take legal action because it fans the flames, so you just have to accept people telling complete lies about you.”
I have known Katie Boyle since I was a small boy. I know her quite well. I believe her completely.
Philip and Helene [Cordet] were friends, not lovers. He is not the father of her children. Rumours started because, when her son Max was born, Helene was still married to William Kirby, though they had lived apart for two years. At the time, no one knew about Marcel Boisot [her lover at the time that Max was born in 1943].
Helene allowed the paternity of her children to remain a mystery. Even in her memoir, Born Bewildered, published in 1961, years later, she does not name him. I get the impression (though she denied it) that Helene Cordet rather relished the frisson created by the rumours surrounding her friendship with Prince Philip. I get the impression Prince Philip thinks so, too, and it irritates him.
In several accounts of the Duke, I have read reports of him appreciatively eyeing up shapely women and simultaneously making suggestive remarks. In my experience, while he evidently enjoys the company of good-looking women, his manners are impeccable.
To mark his 70th birthday, I organised a “ladies only” lunch in his honour at the Savoy Hotel. The room was filled with good-looking younger women. The actress Jane Asher baked the birthday cake. I placed another actress, Joanna Lumley, and my own beautiful wife, Michele Brown, either side of His Royal Highness. By several accounts (I was not there: it really was ladies only, apart from the Prince) a happy time was had by all.
Prince Philip is attractive to women. He has the gifts of the charmer: he listens, he laughs, he looks into your eyes, he takes you seriously, he makes you feel he wants your company.
He never looks over your shoulder to see if someone more interesting is coming along.
Dame Norma Major – who, as the prime minister’s wife in the 1990s, often found herself in conversation with the Queen’s husband, and whose own husband, John Major, is no slouch himself in the charmer stakes – told me: “I am a huge fan and have always enjoyed his company on the numerous occasions I have been privileged to sit beside him at dinner.” Joanna Lumley said to me: “Prince Philip is just the best dinner companion, the best.”
I bring Vicountess Bangor – better known as Mrs [Sarah] Bradford – into the narrative at this point because, of all the more distinguished and reliable royal biographers, she alone, writes boldly, baldly, of his “affairs”.
I went to see her, to discover why she is so uncompromising in her assertion of Prince Philip’s infidelity. She was open, friendly and hospitable.
By candlelight, over a glass of wine, she told me, “There is no doubt in my mind at all. The Duke of Edinburgh has had affairs – yes, full-blown affairs and more than one. Not with Pat Kirkwood or Merle Oberon or any of those people. You’re quite right, all that was nonsense, complete nonsense. I don’t think there was ever anything in any of that. But he has affairs. And the Queen accepts it. I think she thinks that’s how men are. He’s never been one for chasing actresses. His interest is quite different. The women he goes for are always younger than him, usually beautiful and highly aristocratic.”
I asked her, if she was so certain about these “affairs”, why she had not named any names in her book. “I wanted to give an accurate picture without hurting people,” she said, reasonably enough. I told Mrs Bradford I was trying to get to the bottom of the raft of rumours about Prince Philip and his love-life – either to establish them as fact or scotch them once and for all.
“How do you know you are right about this?” I asked. “I do know,” she said, smiling. “Believe me.” “Who are these women?” I persisted. “You know who they are,” she said.
“They’re the ones people talk about.” “You mean, women like Sacha Abercorn,” I suggested. “Yes,” said Mrs Bradford, putting down her wine glass. “She is certainly one of them. Philip and Sacha Abercorn certainly had an affair. Without a doubt.”
I went to see Sacha Abercorn at her London mews house, near Victoria Station, a stone’s thrown from Buckingham Palace.
The Duchess of Abercorn is tall, slim and striking. She is quietly spoken: intelligent, articulate and thoughtful. She was born in 1946, the daughter of Lt Col. Harold Pedro Joseph Phillips and Gina Wernher. She is 25 years Philip’s junior.
“It was later [after her marriage in 1966] that we became close. I think it was at The Gables – when Nicky was running the shoots – that we particularly got interested in each other. What brought us together? Jung. Yes, Jung. I’ve always been interested in Jung, his work, his ideas. And Philip is interested in Jung. Prince Philip is always questing, exploring, searching for meaning, testing ideas. We had riveting conversations about Jung. That’s where our friendship began.”
The Duke of Edinburgh is not the caricature to which we are accustomed. The Duke of Edinburgh reads Jung, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, the Bible.
Since the 1950s his interest in psychology, philosophy and religion have developed and deepened, and become increasingly intermeshed with his interest in the natural world and the environment.
Without any awkwardness, Sacha Abercorn denied having a “full relationship” with the Duke. “Do you see much of him nowadays?” I asked, as Sacha began to stack up the tea things and I put my pen and notebook away. “Not really. He used to come to Eluthera.
And he’d come carriage-driving at Baronscourt with Penny [Romsey], but we’ve stopped having the carriage-driving. It was too expensive. I am sorry I don’t see him properly any more. Really sorry. He is a very special man.”
As I walked away from Sacha’s house, along Buckingham Palace Road, over Grosvenor Place, past the Royal Mews, I thought back on what she had told me – and the way she had told it to me: easily, fluently, without any sense of defensiveness, “Yes, that’s it. That is all we need to know. It makes sense.”
It makes sense of Penny Romsey. Dr Johnson once said, “If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.”
The Duke of Edinburgh has duties, and an eye to the future, but he is nevertheless wholly at ease carriage-driving with Penny Romsey, 30 years his junior, because he knows the Queen knows that Penny is his playmate, not his mistress.
Penny Romsey’s mother-in-law, Countess Mountbatten, said to me when I went to see her, “Philip is a man who enjoys the company of attractive, intelligent younger women. Nothing wrong in that. He’s always had somebody there, sharing one or other of his particular pursuits. He has special friends, like Penny. But I am quite sure – quite sure – absolutely certain – he has never been unfaithful to the Queen.”
What lies at the root of these passionate friendships, these unconsummated amities amoureuses? Countess Mountbatten would say it was the old Mountbatten energy, that Philip is like his Uncle Dickie [Lord Louis Mountbatten]: a dynamo who needs the occasional confidential companionship of a sparky, larky girl who is flattering, intelligent and fun.
But how do the rules of his “passionate friendships” impinge on his marriage?
Talk with his friends Lord Buxton or Lord Brabourne and they have stories to tell of Philip holding his wife’s hand, gently stroking her hair, coming into the room at the end of the day and saying simply “Lovely to see you” and watching her face light up with happiness.
“Philip is not sentimental,” Lord Brabourne said to me, “but he is sensitive, profoundly so. When our son was killed [by the IRA bomb that killed Lord Mountbatten] the first letter that arrived was from Philip. It was wonderful. You can talk to him about matters of the heart.”
But what about Philip’s testiness, his grumbling and his grouches? Lord Charteris said to me: “Prince Philip is the only man in the world who treats the Queen simply as another human being. He’s the only man who can. Strange as it may seem, I believe she values that.”
(When the Duke is critical of his wife, berating her for paying attention to the dogs when she should be listening to him, or wondering out loud why she spends so much time on the telephone, or telling her she is wearing the wrong clothes for a shooting expedition, the Queen is quite capable of answering back, saying to him, “Oh, do shut up.” According to family and friends, she has become bolder with him, and he gentler with her, over the years.)
Countess Mountbatten said to me, “They’re good together. They’re good for one another. They always have been. Make no mistake.” “Oh, yes,” said Gina Kennard, who has known them, individually and as a couple, for something like 70 years, “They own each other. Nothing could come between them. What they have for one another is the greatest respect – which counts for so much – and deep love. Deep love that goes back a long, long way.”
Philip and Elizabeth are two very different human beings. Philip is more adventurous, more physical, more intellectual than his wife.
She is more placid, more cautious, more conventional, less changeable in mood. They are very different people. Yet they understand one another. Completely. And they are allies.
I saw that, that November night, three years ago, in the interval at the Royal Variety Performance, as they looked at one another across a crowded room, and smiled. I caught then a glimpse of the conspiracy – the shared secret – that has sustained them over what will soon be 60 years.