Posted on 23/04/2021
103. Prince Philip
I don’t know if it is because I am in the latter half of my forties, from Celtic origin, have lost someone very close to me in the last couple of years, or a combination of all three, but I’ve become ridiculously nostalgic (to the point of watching old episodes of Grange Hill) and so emotional that just the thought of Marley and Me is too much. So when I heard that HRH Prince Philip had died, you can imagine!
But two weeks on, having finally composed myself, I ask the question why? Why did I (and millions of others) feel so sad about the death of a ninety nine year old, who had been ill for quite some time, who I had never met?
On one level it is because the death of anyone is sad, especially when they leave behind a ninety five year old widow after seventy three years of marriage.
But it is way more than that. Even though I didn’t know him, I have grown up with him. I can’t remember a time when he hasn’t been there. He made me feel safe and secure and represented a generation I respect and am in awe of. I don’t like the thought of them not being around. Increasingly, it is coming down to us.
Let’s be clear, he was by no means perfect. In fact, flawed. He said the wrong things, behaved in ways he should not have, and in certain incidents, his conduct fell well below the expected standard. But isn’t that true of everyone? We live in a very unforgiving world and, driven by social media, judge each other by standards we cannot keep ourselves. HRH was very human and part of his appeal was he was very real. He knew it, we knew it, and he apparently knew we knew it.
But even with those flaws, when you look at him over ninety nine years, he was a great man. His school report was glowing and said he was ‘universally trusted, liked and respected’. He had ‘the greatest sense of service of all the boys in the school’. This duty and service characterized his life. By all accounts he didn’t suffer fools gladly, was a pragmatist but at the same time cared deeply about people and wanted to help those he could. He was a risk taker and proved it was never too late to try something new by taking up carriage racing in his fifties. He was funny, the ‘legend of banter’, and had a glint in his eye, so that even the Secret Service, never ones to make comments and pass judgement, said of his visits, ‘there was never a dull moment’.
The death of the Duke comes at a critical period of history. Notions of ‘duty’ and ‘service’ are increasingly elastic in public life. And so many things are in the cultural melting pot, not least, the men our boys should grow into. Let's not just look to the future and view our history as something to sanitize, erase and dismiss. Rather let’s use this watershed event to think about how we can ensure that we will see the Duke’s like again.
But how? I think a big part is education. Prince Philip maintained that the school he went to not only changed his life but informed it. It helped shape the venture that he will always be associated with, The Duke of Edinburgh Award. There is much about his school that we are doing and aim to do at FBS. An emphasis on fitness, enterprise, compassion and self discipline.
Academic excellence, success on the sports field, first class music and drama performances, high standards of uniform and appearance, all important at FBS. But above all of the aim surely has to be to produce a generation of young men who are ‘universally trusted, liked and respected’ with ‘the greatest sense of service’.
If FBS can do that, we would have served our country well.