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Review: ‘Prince Philip’ by Philip Eade

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By Philip Eade

Henry Holt, $28

Updated: February 23, 2012 8:00AM

No wonder he was cranky.

Spare a little sympathy for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, famous for his irascibility and bizarre, occasionally offensive remarks in public. “If you stay here too long you will become slitty eyed,” he was once heard to remark to a British student in China.

Yikes. But as Philip Eade’s new biography, Prince Philip (Henry Holt, $28) details, the little Greek princeling had a calamitous early life, filled with drama and multiple tragedies. He lost his home, his name and identity, his family and many of his close relatives by the time he was a teenager. Then his wife became Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and he lost his job in the Royal Navy, consigned from that point to play a supporting role, fathering her heirs, staying out of politics, organizing her palaces and always walking a few paces behind her for the rest of his life.

This he has done, quite splendidly, but Eade shows what a frustrating struggle it has been for a smart, robust, take-charge alpha male to tamp down his natural instincts and personality. Philip has a temper, can’t bear fools and says so. He’s as likely to scoff at clucking about the terrible things that happened to his family.

“‘You are where you are in life, so get on with it’ is his philosophy,” Eade quotes an old friend saying of him. “He never let misfortune cloud his life.”

But what a lot of misfortune. It goes some way in explaining why Philip sometimes seemed wrong for the part of royal consort. Much of this is not news to Brits; Philip, who just turned 90, has been married to their queen for 64 years, making him the oldest and longest-serving consort of a British sovereign in history. But this is the first Philip biography to focus on his first 32 years, before his wife was crowned.

When Philip was a baby, the Greeks got fed up with his family and ran them out of Greece. His mother, Alice, had a nervous breakdown and ended up in an asylum. His father drifted to a mistress in Monaco, where he drank and gambled his way to an early death.

Philip grew into a tough young man mostly raised by his English royal relations and marinated in the Royal Navy. Princess Elizabeth, five years his junior, met him when she was 13 and promptly fell in love. He did not, but he came round.

Now Philip is as familiar a presence as the queen herself. If he is occasionally viewed with exasperation, he is also seen as crucial to her success. When the queen goes, the British no doubt will grieve deeply. This book suggests that when Philip goes, they may find themselves just as mournful.

Gannett News Service

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