So what is the truth about Philip and those 'affairs'? Latest part of our portrait tells how rumours have dogged the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's 70-year marriage
Through most of the Queen and Prince Philip’s 70-year marriage, rumours of his alleged affairs have been rife.
Even now, people wonder how he could have left his wife and two young children — Charles and Anne — for a jaunt round far-flung outposts of the Commonwealth in late 1956.
It lasted more than four months, and there was gossip about wild parties. Did it have any foundation? The jury is out, but it hardly seems credible that anything untoward could have taken place without the knowledge of at least some of the royal yacht Britannia’s crew of 220 men and 20 officers.
The following year, a London-based correspondent for the Baltimore Sun claimed that rumours abounded of Philip’s interest in an unnamed woman, whom he allegedly met regularly in a society photographer’s apartment in the West End. ‘Report Queen, Duke in Rift Over Party Girl’ ran the headline.
Suave: Prince Philip, pictured with friend Penny Romsey in 1975, has faced allegations throughout his 70-year marriage that he has embarked on affairs
Gossip was further fuelled by the fact that the Prince’s private secretary Mike Parker had chosen this moment to tender his resignation. This was taken as a sign that he had to go because he’d been leading Philip astray. In fact, Parker felt he had to resign because his wife had just filed for divorce. According to him, ‘The Duke was incandescent [about the reports]. He was very, very angry. And deeply hurt.’
In a break from the rule that the Palace never comments on rumour, the Queen authorised her press secretary to announce: ‘It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke.’
Some people wondered if the unnamed party girl referred to in the Baltimore Sun was Pat Kirkwood, a beautiful musical comedy star.
Rumours about her having an affair with Philip had surfaced as early as 1948, when Princess Elizabeth was pregnant with Prince Charles. Pat, then the highest-paid star on the London stage, was the girlfriend of society photographer Baron Nahum — a member of the Thursday Club in Soho, which Philip regularly attended for a boys’ night out.
Lost lovers? Late actress Pat Kirkwood, left, and Sarah Ferguson's mother Susan Barrantes (right) were among the women rumoured to be linked to the Duke of Edinburgh
So what is known about her association with the Prince? Years later, Pat said that one evening, after she’d performed in the musical Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome, Baron had taken Philip and an equerry to her dressing room.
The foursome then went out to dinner at Les Ambassadeurs Club in Hamilton Place, run by a Polish ex-wrestler. Afterwards, they carried on — at Philip’s request — to the Milroy Club for some music and dancing. According to Pat, the Prince wouldn’t let her sit down, dancing with her to whatever the band played. They stayed out until dawn and had scrambled eggs at Baron’s flat.
Pat insisted that the only time she’d ever met the Prince again was at theatrical command performances.
After she died in 2007, her fourth husband Peter Knight announced that, at her request, he’d one day give ‘correspondence’ between Pat and the Duke of Edinburgh’ to Philip’s official biographer. It would prove that there was no illicit relationship, he said.
This didn’t explain, however, why Pat and the Prince were corresponding with each other at all.
Happy families: The Queen and Prince Philip, pictured here with children Charles and Anne in 1951, married in 1947
Another woman with whom the Prince has been romantically linked is Hélène Cordet, formerly Helene Foufounis. They became friends as children when they spent holidays together at her parents’ villa in Le Touquet, France.
Helene, who became the hostess of the BBC variety show Café Continental, had two children while separated from her first husband, but refused to reveal who their father was. So when Philip elected to become godfather to both, some assumed that it must be him.
Despite this, Helene allowed the paternity of her children to remain a mystery — though one of her sons has flatly denied that the Prince is his father.
The rumour mill has kept on grinding, even alleging he had a relationship with Sarah Ferguson’s mother, Susan Barrantes. His alleged indiscretions include: the Countess of Westmorland, wife of the Queen’s Master of the Horse; the novelist Daphne du Maurier, who was married to ‘Boy’ Browning, former Comptroller of the Royal Household; the actresses Merle Oberon and Anna Massey; the TV personality Katie Boyle; the Duchess of Abercorn, wife of the Lord Steward of the Royal Household; his cousin, Princess Alexandra; and his carriage-driving companion Lady Brabourne (now Lady Mountbatten).
Liaison? Actress Pat Kirkwood at the peak of her fame and glamour
The satirical magazine Private Eye even linked Prince Philip with Stephen Ward, the society osteopath at the centre of the Profumo affair, which rocked the Conservative government in 1963.
Ward, also a member of the Thursday Club, was notorious for throwing wild parties at which ‘The Man in the Mask’ served drinks wearing only a skimpy apron. Private Eye took to referring to Prince Philip as ‘The Naked Waiter’.
There is no evidence that this is true, just as there is no convincing evidence to support any of the other allegations.
Of all Prince Philip’s respected biographers, only Sarah Bradford is adamant that Philip has had affairs.
‘There is no doubt in my mind at all,’ she told author Gyles Brandreth in 2004. ‘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 . . . 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 . . . Philip and Sacha Abercorn certainly had an affair. Without a doubt.’
The Duchess of Abercorn has denied this.
Prince Philip’s own response to all the gossip was to tell a reporter in 1992: ‘Have you ever stopped to think that, for the past 40 years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?’
What is not in doubt is that he’s always enjoyed the company of pretty women, preferably years younger than he is.
I have seen him gliding around the dance floor at the Royal Yacht Squadron Ball during Cowes week with Penny Romsey, the wife of Lord Brabourne. Neither of them gave a damn who saw them or what anyone might say. And I noticed that Philip, an excellent dancer, was completely in rhythm with the beautiful Penny.
He’s undoubtedly close to her. In 1996, at the height of what was dubbed ‘the war of the Waleses’, a snooping radio ham taped a mobile phone call made by Philip to a ‘plummy-voiced’ woman, in which they discussed the bitter battle between Charles and Diana.
The other women? As well as Pat Kirkwood (right), another glamorous woman the Prince was romantically linked was Hélène Cordet (left)
The plummy voice turned out to be Penny’s. But, at one point in the conversation, she handed the phone over to her husband, thus rather destroying any illusion of a clandestine affair.
Since 1975, when she was first introduced to Prince Charles, Penny has been popular with the Royal Family.
But it is her lively mind, as well as her beauty, that’s turned this former meat-trader’s daughter into a central figure at the heart of royal life. She’s often at Windsor Castle at weekends, and tells both Philip and the Queen about what’s going on in the outside world.
As a man who has an eye for a pretty woman but easily gets bored, the Prince finds her company irresistible. He’s taught her the rudiments of carriage driving, and more recently he’s found another reason for them to spend time together — painting in watercolours.
How the Queen feels about it all, we will never know.
Philip has always liked to flirt and make suggestive remarks, and she is the first to make jokes about his lascivious nature.
Equally, she’d never let on if she’d been hurt by rumours of her husband’s supposed dalliances.
Quite possibly, she may even have resorted to her usual trick of burying her head in the sand and pretending nothing was happening.
It’s lucky for Philip that the Queen has what many would consider an old-fashioned view of marriage. In her early 30s, she remarked: ‘There’s nothing worse than to fence a man in and stop him from doing what he wants.’
Philip was aghast when a royal maid even joined them on honeymoon
For a sailor used to travelling light and looking after himself, many aspects of life as a royal came as an unpleasant shock to Prince Philip.
The first problem surfaced on his otherwise blissful honeymoon in Scotland — and her name was Bobo MacDonald. As Princess Elizabeth’s devoted maid of many years, she’d automatically accompanied them.
What Philip hadn’t expected, though, was to find her at his bride’s side at all times of the day and night — even when the Princess used the bathroom. Not surprisingly, this irritated him: he resented not being able to be alone with his wife whenever he wanted.
The Princess, however, genuinely couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. She was used to being constantly surrounded by staff and often ignored their presence.
Just married: A problem surfaced on his otherwise blissful honeymoon in Scotland — and her name was Bobo MacDonald. As Princess Elizabeth’s devoted maid of many years, she’d automatically accompanied them
The battle over Bobo would never be quite resolved. Like many female retainers who have devoted their lives to royal service, she always faintly resented the presence of her mistress’s husband. Philip, in turn, would try to keep her firmly in her place. He believed Bobo’s role was to open the curtains each morning and let the dogs in — nothing more.
Eventually, Prince and maid came to an amicable, non-verbal agreement to keep out of each other’s way. As for the Queen, she viewed Bobo — who served her for 67 years — as a friend and a crucial link with her childhood, as Bobo had been her nanny.
Not only was Philip unable to escape the maid on his honeymoon, but he was forced to live with his in-laws at Buckingham Palace for the first year of his marriage, while Clarence House was being refurbished at a cost of £50,000 for him and his bride.
Princess Elizabeth was already well aware that it would be difficult for a man so used to doing what he wanted to be tied to a suite of rooms in a huge, old-fashioned palace, where everything was subject to endless protocol. She also knew that he found many of the courtiers pompous and ridiculously stuck in their ways.
Precious memories: The Queen (bottom right) with her nurse Margaret 'Bobo' Macdonald in 1932
‘Life at court was very frustrating for him at first,’ said the late Lord Brabourne, whose wife, Patricia Mountbatten, was Philip’s cousin. ‘It was very stuffy. Tommy Lascelles (private secretary to the King) was impossible. They were bloody to him. They patronised him. They treated him as an outsider. It wasn’t much fun.
‘He laughed it off, of course, but it must have hurt. I’m not sure Princess Elizabeth noticed it. She probably didn’t see it.
‘In a way, marriage hardly changed her life… She was able to carry on much as before. In getting married, she didn’t sacrifice anything. His life changed completely. He gave up everything.’
Back in 1947, courtiers and senior members of the household wielded great influence, often making important decisions over a few large whiskies or a rubber of bridge. Unobtrusively powerful, they never admitted to mistakes, never complained about one another, never resigned and were never proved wrong.
The straight-talking Prince — who once described himself as a cosmopolitan European — didn’t fit into this world one little bit. And the palace old guard found him abrasive and rude.
His cousin, Lady Pamela Hicks, recalled: ‘He knew he was going into the lions’ den. He was very conscious of the way he’d been treated and how hard he would have to fight for his position and his independence [against the Establishment]. What he didn’t know was just how fearsome it was going to be.’
For the first few months of married life, Philip was given a desk job at the Admiralty, which did little to improve his mood. ‘I was just a dogsbody, shuffling ships around,’ is how he described it.
Later, he was posted to a residential staff course at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich — a welcome respite from the palace, if not his wife. He also became patron to several organisations, and joined Princess Elizabeth on official visits and tours.
No matter how busy he was, Philip found time to have fun with his old friend Mike Parker as part of the Thursday Club — a group of men who had weekly meetings in a private room at Wheeler’s fish restaurant in Soho.
The happy couple: The Queen and Prince Philip line dancing on a royal visit to Canada
The straight-talking Prince — who once described himself as a cosmopolitan European — didn’t fit into this world one little bit. And the palace old guard found him abrasive and rude
The club was started by photographer Baron Nahum, and there was usually ten to 15 people at each gathering. Members included actors David Niven, James Robertson Justice and Peter Ustinov; the poet John Betjeman; and Iain MacLeod (later Chancellor of the Exchequer).
Princess Elizabeth referred to this motley crew as ‘Philip’s funny friends’. There were rumours of wild parties, even of orgies — all denied by Parker — but exactly what went on at the club has never been substantiated.
Whatever the truth, marriage had not mellowed Philip. He was a man of his time and background, just as his wife was a woman of hers — and he didn’t see why he shouldn’t continue to enjoy jesting with cronies.
The palace old guard didn’t approve: there was great concern about Philip’s apparent desire to continue bachelor friendships with people of somewhat dubious reputation. But rather than reining him back, their attitude seemed only to spur him on.
'You couldn't invite the Hun to a Royal wedding so soon after the war'
Family affair: Prince Philip, pictured with his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg, in 1957
There was never any question of Prince Philip’s four sisters being invited to his wedding to Princess Elizabeth. King George decided their connection to Nazi Germany was still too shaming.
All four had married German aristocrats in the Thirties. Worse, two of Philip’s brothers-in-law had been active in the Nazi party, and had ended up joining the elite ranks of Hitler’s SS and SA (the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party.).
‘So soon after the war, you couldn’t have “the Hun”,’ recalled Philip’s cousin Lady Pamela Hicks.
‘I think Philip understood, but the sisters certainly didn’t. For years afterwards, they’d say: “Why weren’t we allowed to come to your wedding?” They weren’t exactly Stormtroopers.’
It wasn’t until 2006 that Prince Philip broke a 60-year public silence about his family’s Nazi ties. Like many Germans, he explained, his family had found much to admire in Hitler’s early attempts to restore Germany’s power and prestige.
‘There was a great improvement in things like trains running on time and building,’ Philip explained. ‘There was a sense of hope after the depressing chaos of the Weimar Republic.
‘I can understand people latching onto something or somebody who appeared to be appealing to their patriotism and trying to get things going. You can understand how attractive it was.’
He stressed, however, that he was never ‘conscious’ of anyone in the family expressing anti-Semitic views.
Whether they did or not, Philip’s mother, Princess Alice — whose father Prince Louis of Battenberg (later anglicised to Mountbatten) was German — actually risked her life to save persecuted Jews in Athens during the war.
For her actions, she was awarded Israel’s highest award for a foreigner.
In 1994, Philip and his sister, Sophie, went to Jerusalem to receive the award post-humously on behalf of their late mother.
The prince himself never had any Nazi sympathies. One of the greatest influences in his life was Dr Kurt Hahn, a German Jew who helped found Germany’s Salem school — then one of the finest in Europe.
Philip was sent there at 12 at the behest of his sister, Theodora, but he lasted less than a year.
First, he got into trouble for mocking the Nazi salute, and then — when the Hitler Youth began to infiltrate the school — Theodora agreed that he should return to England.
Meanwhile, Dr Hahn was running foul of the Nazis, who couldn’t allow a Jew to educate the youth of Germany. He was arrested and imprisoned, but influential people from all over Europe, including British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, petitioned Hitler to set him free.
As a result, Hahn was allowed to emigrate to Britain, where he established a new school in Scotland — called Gordonstoun — which Philip joined in the autumn term of 1934.
Apart from his brief German schooling and visits to his sisters, Philip spent hardly any of his childhood in Germany.
And while he may have German blood in his veins, so, too, do the Windsors — who changed their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1917, during World War I.
Indeed, the Royal Family still retain the German custom — introduced by Prince Albert — of opening their presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning.
The move to Clarence House was a welcome reprieve. Under Philip’s supervision, it had been kitted out with the latest household gadgets including an intercom system, washing machines and an electric trouser press.
In 1949, the Prince became first lieutenant to HMS Chequers, the lead ship of the Mediterranean destroyer fleet, based in Malta. Princess Elizabeth frequently flew out for lengthy stays.
Her time in Malta has often been described as the only time she could live like an ordinary naval wife, driving herself, going to the hairdresser and shopping. In truth, it was a life less ordinary: their villa had a staff of 19 and the Princess also had her lady-in-waiting and detective in tow.
In 1950, much to Philip’s delight, he was appointed to his first command: the frigate HMS Magpie. Back home, however, the news was grim: the King was ailing with a bug he couldn’t shake off.
The following year, Philip took leave and came home to share his wife’s duties as she stood in for her father at official functions.
Pictured: Martin Charteris, Princess Elizabeth’s private secretary (pictured together above), broke the news to Philip of the King's death
An operation to remove one of the King’s lungs seemed to go well, so the next year the royal couple flew to Nairobi on the first leg of a Commonwealth tour.
It was Mike Parker who picked up news of the King’s death on a shortwave radio after speaking to Martin Charteris, Princess Elizabeth’s private secretary, and woke Philip at a Kenyan lodge.
According to Parker, his private secretary, the Prince looked as though the whole world had dropped on his shoulders.
Lady Pamela Hicks, who was also there, recalled that Philip’s first reaction was to put a newspaper over his face and remain motionless for five minutes.
Pamela said: ‘And then he pulled himself together and said he must go and find the Princess… She was having a rest in her bedroom… And so they went for a walk in the garden and you could tell, walking up and down, up and down, that he was telling her.
‘She came back to the lodge — and one just thought, this poor girl who really adored her father; they were very close. I think I gave her a hug and said how sorry I was. And then suddenly I thought, my God, but she’s Queen!’
The ‘awful thing’, added Pamela, was that the couple hadn’t expected her to take on the job until they were in their 50s.
Elizabeth requested that no pictures be taken as she left the lodge, but there were a couple of photographers already outside.
‘We stood silently outside the lodge,’ one of them recalled, ‘as the cars drove away in a cloud of dust, not one of us taking a shot at that historic moment.
‘Seeing the young girl as Queen of Great Britain as she drove away, I felt her sadness as she just raised her hand to us as we stood there silent, cameras on the ground.’
When the Queen arrived back at Heathrow on February 7, 1952, Winston Churchill and the rest of the Privy Council lined up to greet her. At that moment, Philip knew that his life had changed for ever.
Years later, he recalled: ‘People used to come to me and ask me what to do. In 1952, the whole thing changed, very, very considerably.’
Churchill insisted he and the new Queen move to the palace — an enormous wrench for Philip, for whom Clarence House had been the only home he’d ever been able to call his own.
For the Queen, however, it was simply a matter of going to the place where she’d lived very happily for much of her life.
For the Prince, problems soon multiplied. ‘Philip was constantly being squashed, snubbed, ticked off, rapped over the knuckles,’ said Mike Parker. ‘It was intolerable. The problem was simply that Philip had energy, ideas, get-up-and-go, and that didn’t suit the Establishment, not one bit.’
In his new role, Philip sought the guidance of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands who, as the husband of Queen Juliana, had 15 years’ experience as consort.
In 1949, the Prince became first lieutenant to HMS Chequers, the lead ship of the Mediterranean destroyer fleet, based in Malta. Princess Elizabeth frequently flew out for lengthy stays. Pictured above, the couple in 2011 after 64 years of marriage
Bernhard told him: ‘Practically everything you do will be a subject of criticism. You can’t ignore it because some of it may be justified. And even if it isn’t, it may be politic to heed it. But don’t let it get you down. In this job, you need a skin like an elephant.’
For Philip at this point, frustration, irritation and disappointment were daily occurrences. But, with Parker’s help, he set about modernising the palace, much to the consternation of the old guard.
Among other things, he started a footman training programme, set in hand redecoration of the gloomy private apartments and installed a nearby kitchen so that food didn’t have to be traipsed along miles of draughty corridors.
And as chairman of the Coronation Commission, he oversaw every detail of the ceremony.
Leaving nothing to chance, he even stood on the palace balcony to find the best angle from which the Queen — still wearing her heavy crown — could watch the fly-past after the ceremony without getting a crick in her neck.
But losing his career and being relegated to backroom status couldn’t help but occasionally grate on him.
His chief role in the Coronation on June 2, 1953, was to kneel before his wife, taking the ancient oath of fealty: ‘I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship…’ He then had to stand, kiss her cheek and back away.
But at the rehearsal, possibly feeling a bit emasculated, he mumbled the words quickly, missed the Queen’s cheek and retired backwards fast. The Queen told him off: ‘Don’t be silly, Philip. Come back here and do it properly.’
Half a million people turned up in the rain to line the Coronation route. Inside Westminster Abbey, photographer Cecil Beaton noted the Queen’s ‘sugar pink cheeks and tightly curled hair and her demeanour of simplicity and humility’.
As she walked, he said, she allowed ‘her heavy skirt to swing backwards and forwards in a beautiful rhythmic effect’.
‘The Coronation was a deeply moving spiritual experience for her,’ said the Queen’s cousin Margaret Rhodes, ‘especially the part which wasn’t filmed — when she stood bareheaded, wearing only a white linen shift as the Archbishop of Canterbury marked the sign of the cross on her with the words: “As Solomon was anointed by Zadok the priest, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated as Queen over the people thy God hath given thee to govern.”’
When it came to Philip’s part, he performed well, but his touch on the crown was a bit heavy-handed and his wife had to adjust it. Over the years, he never forgot his pledge to be her ‘liege man of life and limb’. At times, he’d be irascible, laddish and difficult — but he would always give the Queen his whole-hearted support.
- Adapted by Corinna Honan from My Husband And I: The Inside Story Of 70 Years Of Royal Marriage, by Ingrid Seward, published by Simon & Schuster at £20 © Ingrid Seward 2017. To order a copy for £16 (offer valid to November 25, 2017, P&P free), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.