Sussex royal super-fan shares memories of Prince Philip: ‘He was a charmer’
A royal super-fan who has been photographing the royal family for more than 30 years has lifted the lid on her memories of Prince Philip.
Julia McCarthy-Fox - dubbed Britain’s most devoted royal watcher - has travelled thousands of miles from her Sussex home over the years to take photos of the royals and was in New Zealand on Friday when she learned of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death.
“Although I knew that Prince Philip’s health was not brilliant it was still a shock to hear,” she said.
“I don’t really think I expected it ever to actually happen, and I was more upset than I expected to be. I feel so very sad for the Queen.”
Julia, who lives in Southwater, near Horsham, got to know the royals well over the years. She says that Prince Philip was ‘a charmer, that his so-called ‘gaffes’ were deliberate, he was kind to children and old ladies - but could be ‘downright rude’ if he felt people deserved it.
“Although Prince Philip cultivated his public image as a somewhat cantankerous old man at times he was no such thing. He was a charmer, and even at an advanced age it was easy to see why the young Princess Elizabeth had fallen for him so many years ago,” she said.
“He still stood tall and upright beside her, and had changed very little really to look at. He often had a twinkle in his eye and his so called ‘gaffes’ were absolutely deliberate.
“He was frequently downright rude to people in crowds, usually because they had said or done something stupid so he considered that they deserved it, and certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly.
“On the other hand he was generally friendly to old ladies, and he always tried to ensure that all the children with flowers had the opportunity to give them to the Queen, even lifting them over barriers himself if he had to, so that they could go to her.
“He hauled my son, Zachary, over a barrier on more than one occasion - this is not just an urban myth!
“The Duke was always protective of the Queen, and on royal days out, especially ones involving walkabouts, his job was to look out for Her Majesty and make her life as simple as possible, especially as they got older.
“He would instruct police officers to let children out of the crowd to go to the Queen rather than have her come to them, and disliked people trying to hold her up or get in her way.
“He would also give short shrift to any police officers that he considered to be standing in unhelpful places, and woe betide any photographers getting in the way.
“I was privileged to be able to watch the Queen and the Duke together many times over the years, and always enjoyed seeing how comfortable they were together and how happy they always appeared.
“One particular time was during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year - the Queen was lighting a beacon to start a chain around the UK, in The Mall, at an unspecified point.
“We found ourselves a position very early and eventually a dais was set up for them, straight in front of us - we were so lucky.
“At the appointed hour the car arrived and the Queen and the Duke climbed up the steps and stood in the dark waiting for the countdown, and as they waited he said something to her and she turned to him with a look of total adoration that I will never forget.
“I have a beautiful photo in the UK that is one of my favourites.
“I also always loved watching them together at Guards Polo Club watching the Concours d’Elegance following the polo one Sunday each June.
“They used to sit on the terrace of the royal box in wicker chairs, beside each other, to watch the carriages, and they would chat together as if nobody else was there, although they were surrounded by other guests.
“I loved seeing them walk down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral some years ago, holding hands to support each other but not letting go when they stopped to talk to The Dean halfway.
“Several hardened royal photographers close to me at the time also commented on how lovely they looked together that day. They were a team and had been for the Queen’s entire reign - ‘The Queen and The Duke’ go together, and it will be odd to think of the Queen on her own.
“The Royal Windsor Horse Show was always a good place to watch Prince Philip - he was involved in so many aspects of the show and was held in very high esteem there. They will miss him a great deal.
“The Pony Club games is one of his legacies and something he supported enthusiastically - there are so many obscure things that he is responsible for.
“The use of balls to score penalties in carriage driving obstacles was his invention and I believe that he introduced polo into the UK as a competitive sport after playing it in Malta.
“When he and the Queen came across each other on the showground it was lovely to watch their interaction - I have seen the Queen leaning through the window of his Range Rover chatting to him.
“His number plate, OXR1, was used for years, I remember clearly the day he almost ran my Dad over driving it out of The Royal Mews at the castle, very fast and without looking. Mind you my Dad was wandering around not looking either!
“One of my funniest memories from the Horse Show is seeing The Duke with his packed lunch, trying not to be seen by photographers with a bottle of beer, and my favourite is him buzzing around on his little motorbike all afternoon, and then leaving it abandoned as he and the Queen strolled away into the distance together towards the castle, looking like any other elderly couple from behind, chatting and laughing happily.
“I have seen Prince Philip in so many places doing so many things, but the funniest of all was in Scunthorpe at the end of a visit in 2002. I was on the platform at the station, photographing the departure of him and The Queen.
“Procedure dictates that they shake hands with a line of dignitaries before boarding the train, and the dignitaries were there waiting. Following the Queen towards the red carpet the Duke suddenly found himself being presented with a large pack of local sausages, which he took, turning immediately to hand it to his equerry or, failing that, his policeman.
“Neither of them was there. Looking slightly bemused, in the way only he could, the Duke quickly looked for someone else to take the sausages from him, in vain.
“For whatever reason nobody caught his eye, nobody came to his rescue, and the Queen was almost at the train. So he had to shake hands with and bid farewell to the entire lineup of people, including the Mayor and the Lord Lieutenant, while clutching a pack of sausages in one hand - it was hilarious to watch, and I have often wondered quite how far down the carriage the sausages were hurled as soon as the train door closed.”
Julia told how she went to watch when Prince Philip, after 64 years as Captain of the Royal Marines, the prince appeared in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace for a final salute.
“It was an unexpectedly moving ceremony to watch and I am so glad that I went. It was unseasonably cold and it rained - not heavily, but more than we needed - but the man of the day took no notice at all.
“Wearing his trusty raincoat and a bowler hat he strode across the gravel towards the dais, stopping to talk along the way, and in a very short time it was all over.
“With a wave of his raised and dripping wet bowler hat this amazing man bade farewell to public life with the same dignity that he had served his country and supported his wife for 70 years, disappearing back into Buckingham Palace to the strains of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines playing ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow.’
“I was reminded of that last engagement when I saw a photo of two masked footmen bringing the official death announcement out to the gate of the palace - that picture summed up the current situation really.
“The notice only remained for a short while to discourage crowds. I could almost hear Prince Philip in my head, chuckling at the scene, and muttering, with a wry grin, about all the fuss.
“What a life, what devotion to crown and country, and what a husband to our beloved Queen.
“We will never see the like of him again. I for one will miss him.”