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In defence of Prince Philip

I admire Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh because he’s often right on his jibes. It’s just that his audience — or his critics — are paralyzed by political correctness, lack of wit or both, writes Karan Thapar.
By Sunday sentiments | Karan Thapar | None
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2008 04:00 PM IST

Do you know what ‘dontopedology’ means? According to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, it's “the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it.” He should know because he’s acquired quite a skill at it. But, to tell you the truth, I admire him because he’s often right. It’s just that his audience — or his critics — are paralyzed by political correctness, lack of wit or both.

To begin with, the dear Duke can be very wise. Consider this selection: “The art of being a good guest is to know when to leave”; “I don't think a prostitute is more moral than a wife, but they are doing the same thing”; and “When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.” He’s even said things that should please Sunita Narain and RK Pachauri: “The biggest waste of water in the country is when you spend half a pint and flush two gallons".

The D of E can also be delightfully witty. Immediately after his wife’s coronation he’s supposed to have said: “Where did you get that hat?” Asked how he handles so many public appearances, he shot back: “I never pass up a chance to go to the loo or take a poo”. And on hearing Tom Jones sing, he asked: “What do you gargle with, pebbles?”

What gets the Prince into trouble is his candour. Quite frankly I find it disarming and refreshing, but I can see how it could rile others. When questioned if he wanted to visit the Soviet Union, he responded: “The bastards murdered half my family.” He was dead right. The Tsarevitch was his mother’s first cousin. Commenting on the necessity of a university degree, he said: “I’m one of those stupid bums who never went to university and a fat lot of harm it’s done me.” Except, he was Chancellor of Cambridge University at the time.

And faced with the rising tide of sentiment against the British monarchy in the 70s, this is how he tackled the problem: “If people feel it has no further part to play, then, for goodness sake, let’s end the thing on amicable terms without having a row about it.”

Of course, there are several occasions when PP ends up making you squirm, blush or fume. But might you not have been tempted to say the same, assuming you had the gall or gumption? Judge for yourself:

When he met the President of Nigeria, dressed in his traditional flowing agbada, the old boy remarked: “You look like your ready for bed!” After a lavish French dinner — possibly at the Elyseé — he commented: “French cooking’s all very well, but they can’t do a decent English breakfast.” Asked about a carpark attendant who failed to recognize him, he muttered: “Bloody silly fool.” In Australia, on meeting an aborigine, he asked: “Do you still throw spears at each other?” In the Cayman Islands, he said to an original resident: “Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?” And, finally, on Canada, a country his wife happens to be Queen of: “We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

The best part is that the Queen’s husband isn’t intimidated by celebrities. In fact, he seems to delight in putting them in their place. For instance, when he discovered Elton John owned a gold Aston Martin, he said: ‘Oh, it’s you that owns that ghastly car — we often see it when driving to Windsor Castle.” At the premiere of the James Bond film Die Another Day, where Madonna sings the theme song, he pointedly asked: “Do we need ear plugs?”

Quite honestly, I applaud the man. It’s not that he isn’t aware of how his comments are used to send him up. He knows they can — and do — boomerang. But I suspect he couldn’t care less. Now, how many of us have that sort of confidence? And it isn’t easier if you’re the Queen’s consort. Arguably, it’s more difficult.

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