My children love the stories of their great-grandfather and motorised transport. It’s not so much his daring Second World War bombing raids they want recounted again and again but the one about him driving his car across his lawn.
There are many tales of scrapes real and metaphorical in his faithful old Citroen but their favourite has the starting-point of firm medical advice that maybe his motoring days were behind him, which he of course flagrantly ignored.
Or to be fair circumvented. Grudgingly, he kept off the roads but reckoned he wasn’t doing any harm chugging through the neighbouring field and a few laps just before martini hour became part of his daily routine. But imagine great-granny’s surprise when she looked up from her crossword – “Three down, eight down, five across: semi-affectionate term for elderly man prone to persistent, low-level blundering” – to see him glide past the sitting-room window, flattening her beloved rose garden.
Silly ... old ... goat. Great-grandpa was not far off the Duke of Edinburgh’s 97 when he finally had the car keys taken off him for good. He died a few years ago but the stories endure. “I hope he isn’t planning on driving to Heaven,” my youngest daughter remarked, “otherwise he might not get there.”
Can we call Prince Philip a silly old goat? When the story of his little accident first broke, I think we could have done, and indeed many did. The Twitter question “Where does Prince Philip actually go in his car?” prompted much chortling (“Lidl ... To his shed where he keeps his dirty mags ... The offy ... It’s not the destination, it’s the journey ... His sense of privilege will take him where he damn well likes ... Fight Club ... He moves gold pianos in his spare time”). But it’s gone beyond goatery now. Hurtled right past it.
The more detail that emerges about his bump on the A149 near Sandringham in Norfolk, the messier things have become. The Duke’s blunderings, which have become persistent, cannot really be called low-level. What’s to be done with him? Well, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” sounds like something his grandson Prince Harry might say, the Duke of Sussex having just revealed that he’s big into meditation. Maybe the Royal who meditates every day can have a quiet, calming word with the Royal who drives every day, regardless. It could be the only solution.
Prince Philip’s car collided with another carrying two women – one suffering a broken wrist – and a nine-month old boy. This might have unnerved most other 97-year-olds, at least until the insurers with that annoying dog for a mascot had begun processing the claim, but a replacement Land Rover was delivered to Sandringham the next day and the Duke was quickly taking it for a test drive – without wearing his seatbelt.
There was an apology. Well, sort of. Buckingham Palace passed on what’s been called a “goodwill message” to the women, although this disappointed Emma Fairweather as it was delivered by a police liaison officer. A fan of the Royal Family, she’d hoped for a note or maybe some flowers and that Prince Philip himself might have said sorry. Instead the message said: “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would like to be remembered to you.” It “didn’t even make sense”, Ms Fairweather said.
If only, while out for a spin, the Duke had simply churned up a field. It might have incurred the displeasure of his eldest son on one of the Prince of Wales’ “Hello trees, hello sky” excursions, but I’m sure the old man could have lived with that. If that was all that happened last Thursday then I’m sure there would have been some sympathy for HRH.
After all, he’s now retired from public life. His final official duty had to be conducted in a Biblical thunderstorm and, bless him, he braved it out. Free from royal inspections of fuse boxes, meeting fat astronauts and wondering out loud if spears are still thrown, he should be permitted his fun.
If Netflix’s The Crown is truthful then he loves cars, especially hanging out the back of a fast one en route to his gentleman’s club where the waitresses don’t wear many clothes. Let the man drive, for goodness sake. But this is going to be tricky now, and especially after his staff proved no less able to hold a straight and trouble-free line in the aftermath of the crash.
“Weekend wheels fell off Royal PR machine” ran one headline yesterday. Such a pity, this, after a run of feel-good moments for the House of Windsor: the weddings, the new babies, the big birthdays (Charlie getting to 70, Lizzie to 90), the addition of Holywood glamour and Kate Middleton trying to save our high streets by wearing £38 dresses. Though if truth be told the gold piano struck a jarring note.
You’ll remember this: 2018 Christmas message, the Queen urging us all to get along with each other, nice photos of her family’s new additions resting on the ... aagh, look at that joanna! What the hell did it cost? Did Henry VIII audition a succession of court minstrels to play Greensleeves on it and, if he didn’t like their playing, chop off their hands?
Bright sunlight has been blamed for Prince Philip’s accident. Maybe it was actually the dazzle from the piano. Either way he should definitely find a field for his driving from now on. Missing their great-grandfather, my kids would love to watch.