It is strange to mark from afar the death of someone you feel you know quite well yet have never met. And that is a sense many in Ireland will have of Prince Philip. Not because they are ardent monarchists – but because they’ve spent the last five years glued to Netflix’s The Crown.
The Crown was the PR makeover the British royals didn’t know they needed. Though the show has portrayed 'the Firm' warts and all — and not held back from detailing their disgraceful treatment of Diana — Peter Morgan’s blockbuster has also humanised the not-so-merry Windsors.
That was particularly true of Philip, of whom we until then knew little beyond his reputation for public gaffes. It turned out that even the makers ofwere surprised by the drama of his early life.
“Philip was the biggest shock,” Morgan told me when I interviewed him for the Irish Examiner ahead of the first season ofin 2016.
“Elizabeth is partly the person we see in public. She was always very contained, very responsible, very durable. Philip is whole lot of things we don't see.”
The Philip portrayed by Matt Smith and later Tobias Menzies is that ultimate contradiction: an outsider at the heart of the British establishment. Some will have been vaguely familiar with the basics of his background: that he was born in Greece, for instance, and that his family had German connections.
But The Crown filled in the details. We learned that he was just a baby when he was forced into exile with his family and grew up distant from his parents. And that he had been left heartbroken by the death of beloved sister, Cecilie, killed in a plane crash in 1937 aged 26.
, in addition, gave viewers an insight into Philip’s personality and his idea of himself as someone outside the mainstream of British high society.
“He has always spoken his mind,” Smith told me 2016.
“He's never been afraid to say what he thinks. Certainly in the early days, he was a bit of an outsider, a maverick. And, to a certain extent, he still is. He has always been a forward thinker.” “When you do the research, it's obvious that he is a sympathetic character — a family man," added Claire Foy, who acted opposite Smith as Queen Elizabeth in seasons one and two.
“You hear the old stories and you don't get the impression of him going around insulting people or making massive faux pas. What comes up is that he was ambitious, diligent, modern in his outlook, loving of his wife. And incredibly disregarding of the pomp — all that bowing, he found it completely ridiculous.”
, it should be added, didn’t always come at Philip with a straight bat. He was said to have been hurt by the claim that his father had blamed him for the death of Cecilie. In the series she is shown taking that fateful plane journey in order to visit Philip at his Scottish boarding school of Gordonstoun. This is pure fiction.
“Prince Philip, I do know was very upset about that episode and the way his family was treated,” historian Hugh Vickers told Insider.com last year.
“He couldn't really do anything, because if you attack one thing and not the other things, it looks as though all the other things are true, which they're not. He hasn't watched the series, but he knows about it.”