HRH - A surly 'god' in the South Pacific
Wednesday 21 April 2021
"You are going on this trip and airplane in case something happens to him," Sid Mason, chief news editor of Reuters, told me on an Australian visit. "And," boomed the veteran Cockney newsman, "there'll be no 'the sun shone royally today' bullshit, agreed?”
The assignment: travel in a small plane with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and half a dozen officials, using little airstrips cut in the wilds of nowhere, over hundreds of miles in the South Pacific.
I don't know if there's a precedent for a solo journalist on a royal flight, effectively the only representative of world news media. But I gathered Reuters lobbied for this as Queen Elizabeth's husband would be away from the royal yacht Britannia for this segment of an extraordinary international tour.
Accompanied by his playboy pal and private secretary Commander Mike Parker, the Duke was making the trip, imaginatively rejigged by Netflix in The Crown, in the wake of a rumoured marital rift, formally denied by Buckingham Palace.
He demonstrated his well known loathing of the press by completely ignoring me, without a glance or word. He could have said "Take your boots off the seat, young man" or "Get out of my way!", but nah. There was only one "incident". Protocol dictates that he is the last to board the aircraft. One day, running late, I assumed that office, causing one flunkey to mutter something about "Tower of London”.
As an invisible scribe I churned out copy as the dashingly handsome Prince appeared, godlike, before waves of bare-breasted dancers, masked warriors, plus a probable leavening of cannibals and cargo cultists, in other words the whole National Geographic scene.
Leaving the rest to your fevered imaginations, we ended up in New Guinea, then northern and central Australia, then Melbourne where he opened the '56 Olympic Games.
Of course nothing did happen to the loftily aloof Duke, the surliest person I never really met. But for me there was something: I came to think more highly of republicans.
So now - Mother of God! - that bangs any chance of a gong from the palace, I suppose. ■