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).
They married eight years later at Westminster Abbey with thousands lining the processional route. Elizabeth was dressed in a wedding gown designed by Norman Hartnell, a designer she remained loyal to, some say, for far too long. Because postwar rationing was still in effect, the wedding cake was made from ingredients given as a gift from the Girl Guides of Australia. And she took her corgi, Susan, along on their honeymoon at Balmoral.
What is their relationship like now? Rather like what one might expect. Friends say when they row in the car, he tells her to get out and walk. They sleep in the same bed and always have, unless one has to get up particularly early. She worries about his health; he’s 86 and slightly stooped, but still exercises with the contraption bodybuilder Charles Atlas made popular decades ago. He worries about her health; she’s 81 but still takes long walks, and occasionally rides, and had a mother who lived to 101. Their favorite song is “People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma!, which was the hit show the year they married. They danced to it on their wedding day, and will probably dance to it on their anniversary.
In short, their relationship is not very different than most long-married couples. They still squabble. They still irritate each other. But their knowledge of one another is unsurpassed; they have lived through the problems of their children, and through various tough times. But, of course, who hasn’t? The marriage has earned the respect of the British public — not because the marriage is royal, but because it is real.
The palace staff took up a collection to buy the seasoned couple a gift of dishes, dessert plates, and bowls illustrated with paintings of the queen’s horses and corgis for their anniversary. The queen has some of the same set, which the staff gave her on her Golden Jubilee five years ago, when the British public unexpectedly turned out for a huge celebration of her rule. According to the Daily Mail, a senior staff member said they were adding to the china because she loved it. “It’s really a relief,” she said, “because we know what to give them on their seventieth.”
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America and co-author of How to Raise an American. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.