There are some occasions that lead one to believe that there will always be an England. One such occasion is celebrated this week: the 60th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Elizabeth is the first British monarch to celebrate a diamond wedding anniversary (the pleasantry assigned to those who manage to slog it out to the 60th year). Even though the British tabloids have been in the business of either tearing down or building up the Royal Family for years, they seem practically coy about this enduring marriage.
Of course, they have trotted out some of the tales about Philip, calling the tall, still distinguished, and usually snappy Prince Consort, “His Grumpiness.” He has never liked the press, and has never been shy about letting them know it. My husband, a journalist who occasionally went along on royal tours, remembers how very disagreeable Philip could be. But then he is known for telling it like it is. He once wrote Diana, taking a bash at his own son, “I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla.”
There are also the stories of his affairs early in the marriage. One, allegedly, was with a French cabaret singer. There is even the suggestion that the queen returned the infidelity, with a brief fling with her racing manager. But as the Daily Mail declared (after sharing the story, of course), “No one close to the Queen believes there is a shred of truth in this.” And besides, it is all so long, long ago.
The papers — and the British public — would instead prefer to remember the romance between the pair, which brightened the gloom of post-war Britain. Elizabeth met Philip when she was only13, and on a visit with her father to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. Earl Mountbatten, wily and ambitious, arranged for his nephew Prince Philip of Greece, a Naval Cadet Officer, to show them around. She fell in love that day. Philip was very handsome and Elizabeth was quite lovely, with perfect skin and pretty eyes (though photographs have never flattered her, the way they did her most photogenic daughter-in-law, Diana).