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British Billy and the Royal Family: Prince Philip

Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.

Billy the Cat (aka British Billy) lives in Elveden, a local village about ten miles from RAF Lakenheath. Billy has been around a bit. He came from a rescue centre and prefers not to dwell on the past. He is proud of his country and its heritage and counts his friends and family as hailing from all corners of the British Isles. He is proud to be a “moggy”. Many of his American friends and admirers ask Billy about the things puzzling them about life and culture in the U.K., and if he doesn’t know the answer, he has ways and means of finding out. Feel free to send him any questions, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- I am asked many questions on the topic of the British royal family, and usually when I answer one, it just leads to another.

One of my American friends had been watching the recent royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, otherwise known as William and Catherine, and noticed a spritely, elderly gentleman, magnificently attired in formal military regalia, attending Her Majesty the Queen to Westminter Abbey and afterwards on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. "Who might that be?" they wondered.

It is the same gentleman who has been by our monarch's side for the last 53 years - her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, better known as Prince Philip. June 10 this year, he will be ninety years of age.

On the occasion of their golden wedding in 1997, Queen Elizabeth said of her husband, "He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know."

At his wife's side throughout her reign spanning more than half a century, Prince Philip has carved out a role for himself while supporting her.

He was born on the Greek island of Corfu June 10, 1921, a member of the royal family of Greece. His family tree includes members of the royal families of Denmark, Germany, Russia and Britain.

He went to Gordonstoun School in Scotland, where he later sent his sons. On leaving, he became a naval cadet at Dartmouth, England, because, as he put it, "the war was coming up and you might as well get started right."

During World War II, Prince Philip saw action as a midshipman on the battleship HMS Valiant. When the Italian fleet was trapped off the southern tip of Greece in 1941, Philip manned a searchlight to illuminate the enemy ships and was mentioned in despatches*.

Prince Philip's naval career continued after he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947, but the poor health of the King, George VI, meant that the young couple had to take on more public duties.

In later life, Prince Philip said he was sorry that he had been unable to continue his career in the navy.

The Duke of Edinburgh was someone who might have reached the highest levels in the Royal Navy, but he had to abandon his own ambitions to support the Queen. In addition to accompanying his wife on an incredible number of official functions, even though they are both now well into their eighties, Prince Philip is also patron of some 800 organisations. He is especially interested in scientific and technological research, conservation and the environment and the encouragement of sport. Also keen on the welfare of young people, he launched the highly successful Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme in 1956.

Prince Philip is known as a man who speaks his mind and the press enjoys reporting some of his more outspoken and less politically-correct comments. My favourite witticism, however, is when he said, "Where did you get that hat?" to the Queen after her coronation in 1953. I'm sure a down-to-earth sense of humour has helped them both through the years.

What people often wonder is why Prince Philip isn't a king.

In the British monarchy, the husband of a female monarch does not have any recognized special status, rank, or privileges. In actual fact, Prince Philip does play a major role in royal affairs, but this is not recognized in terms of his title. Interestingly enough, the wife of a male monarch takes on her husband's rank and style upon marrying, becoming Queen, or more accurately, Queen consort.

Prince Philip is the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and was born Prince of Greece and Denmark and, upon his marriage to the then Princess Elizabeth, Philip was given the titles Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich and was made a Knight of the Garter. I won't bother you now with all the details of what being a Knight of the Garter entails.

Philip became a British citizen around this time and renounced his Greek and Danish titles, and in 1957 Queen Elizabeth granted Philip the title "Prince of the United Kingdom." However, although his current princely title is a gift from his wife, you could really say that he was a prince from birth.

Although he may never be king, Prince Philip has had another honour bestowed upon him that I am sure makes up for any disappointment he might feel. He is worshipped as a god in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. It is a long and convoluted story, but several photos have been sent to the devoted islanders by Buckingham Palace. Although it is unlikely that he will ever be able to visit Vanuatu at this late stage in his life, the islanders seem, by all accounts, to be a lively and spirited band of individuals, and I can't help but feel that they would get along famously.

*Mentioned in Despatches (MID) is a military award for gallantry or otherwise commendable service.