Imagine if Donald Trump, meeting a Kenyan for the first time, asked, “You are a woman, aren’t you?” Or, if during a recession, he muttered, “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining that they are unemployed.” Or to a group of Australian Aborigines: “Do you still throw spears at one another?”
Fortunately, these are not Trumpisms. The president has his own collection of doozies, whether in public gatherings or leaked by his oh-so-loyal administration.
No, the above gaffes – and hundreds more – are the wit, wisdom and legacy of Prince Philip, the royal consort of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. When Philip, 96, retired from public life this week, he took with him not only a royal standard for patriotism and devotion to duty, but a scalding – some might say scarlet -- streak of biting sarcasm.
He loved what Britain stood for, though even he could see its weak spots. “People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.”
Born into Greek royalty in 1921, Philip was a dashing naval officer who wooed and wed Elizabeth, the young woman who would become queen. Even before the term political correctness had been coined, Philip was politically incorrect. “I would like to go to Russia very much,” he said in 1967, “although the bastards murdered half my family.” After attending a concert by Tom Jones, Philip asked the crooner, “What do you gargle with, pebbles?”
He did not mellow with age. On a visit to China in 1986, he warned a group of British exchange students, “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.” Years later, he defended his comment. “The Chinese weren’t worried about it, so why should anyone else (be)?”
It wasn’t just foreigners he offended. He once asked a driving instructor in Scotland (home of scotch whiskey), “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?”
Some of his witticisms damaged not only his reputation, but his wife’s popularity. Imagine being at the dinner table at Buckingham Palace after some of his comments became public. Yet to the outside world, the queen and Philip presented a rock-solid image of unity.
As he removes himself from the glare of publicity, Philip will be remembered not only for his caustic wit, but his unfaltering loyalty to the crown, and the traditions of Great Britain. He loved what Britain stood for, though even he could see its weak spots. “People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.”
Enjoy your rest, your royal highness. You’ve earned it.