Prince Philip on royal duty: In his own words

Despite the DoE’s many achievements in a long life of service, some will remember him as a man who was often blunt, sometimes to the point of giving offence.

His supporters always said his sense of humour was misunderstood and his remarks often taken out of context. And he himself was not unaware of his reputation – he once described himself as a “cantankerous old sod”.

Here are some of his most well-known lines, in chronological order. You may find some of the quotes below offensive.

1. “Is everyone here called Jones?”

Speaking to members of the Royal British Legion in Conwy, North Wales, in 1956.

2. “Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.”

According to Time magazine, the duke coined a new term for his verbal missteps – incorporating the Latin words for “mouth” and “foot” – in a speech to the General Dental Council in 1960.

3. “Looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from her school art lessons.”

Giving his view on some Ethiopian art during a tour of East Africa in 1965.

4. “British women can’t cook.”

Winning over the Scottish Women’s Institute in 1966.

5. “I would very much like to go to Russia – although the bastards murdered half my family.”

When asked in 1967 if he would like to go to Moscow to help ease Cold War tensions.

6. “We go into the red next year… I shall have to give up polo.”

In 1969, when asked in an NBC interview about reports the Queen was overspending her allowance from the government.

7. “What do you gargle with, pebbles?”

To Tom Jones after a Royal Variety Performance in 1969.

8. “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure… Now… they are complaining they are unemployed.”

In 1981, as the country was deep in recession.

The Queen and Prince Philip in China in 1986
The Queen and Prince Philip in China in 1986

9. “You are a woman, aren’t you?”

Just checking, as he accepted a small gift from a local woman during a visit to Kenya in 1984.

10. “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”

This was one of the duke’s most infamous insults, made to a group of British students during a visit to China in 1986. The term is a racist way of describing people from East Asia, and the Daily Mirror and the Sun reported the comments at the time using the headlines “The great wally of China” and “The duke gets it wong”.

Years later, Prince Philip suggested the outcry had been disproportionate, adding: “The Chinese weren’t worried about it.” It’s difficult to say how it was received in China at the time, as media was very restricted and China was keen to forge closer diplomatic relations with the UK. However, the state-run Global Times said in 2011 that reaction at the time had been “extremely fierce”, and the Sina News website described the comments as inappropriate. A similar comment made by a German politician in 2016 prompted a Chinese government official to say that that the remarks showed “a baffling sense of superiority entrenched in some western politicians”.

11. “Ghastly”

How the duke somewhat undiplomatically described Beijing (then Peking) on that same 1986 tour.

12. “It looks like a tart’s bedroom.”

On seeing plans for the Duke and Duchess of York’s house at Sunninghill Park in 1988.

13. “Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease.”

In Australia in 1992 when he was asked to stroke a koala.

14. “You can’t have been here that long, you haven’t got a pot belly.”

To a Briton, he met in Hungary in 1993.

Prince Philip visiting Hindu temple in London
Prince Philip during a visit to a Hindu temple in 2002

15. “People usually say that after a fire it is water damage that is the worst. We are still trying to dry out Windsor Castle.”

During a visit to Lockerbie in 1993, speaking to a resident who lived in a road where 11 people had been killed by wreckage from the Pan Am jumbo jet blown up over the town. Windsor Castle had been damaged by fire the year before.

16. “You’re not wearing mink knickers are you?”

To a fashion journalist in Toronto at an event in 1993 in aid of the World Wide Fund for Nature. Years later, the woman said she hadn’t been offended, adding: “It reminded me that in the stuffy world of the royals, at least he knows how to crack a joke.”

17. “Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?”

To a wealthy resident of the Cayman Islands in 1994.

18. “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”

To a Scottish driving instructor in Oban in 1995.

19. “If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?”

In response to calls to ban firearms after the Dunblane shooting in 1996 in which 16 children and a teacher were murdered.

20. “Bloody silly fool!”

Referring to a Cambridge University car park attendant who did not recognise him during a visit in 1997.

21. “Reichskanzler”

Welcoming German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at a trade fair in 1997. Unfortunately, the last German leader to have used the title was Adolf Hitler.

22. “I don’t know how they are going to integrate in places like Glasgow and Sheffield – had to commiserate with them.”

To a group of businessmen in 1998 after meeting students in Brunei who were to start studying in Britain.

23. “You managed not to get eaten then?”

To a British student who had been trekking on the Kokoda trail in Papua New Guinea in 1998.

President of Nigeria and Prince Philip, 2003
The president of Nigeria meeting the duke in 2003

24. “Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf.”

Speaking to a group of young deaf people in Cardiff in 1999 who were standing near a steel band. Members of the British Deaf Association said they were “shocked” and “insulted” – the palace said it was meant to be “light-hearted”.

25. “It looks as if it was put in by an Indian.”

One of the most infamous comments. In 1999, the duke made the racist remark when referring to an old-fashioned fuse box in a factory near Edinburgh. It upset equality groups and some politicians, and a spokesman for the duke later said he regretted any offence caused and accepted that the comments were inappropriate.

26. “Oh! You’re the people ruining the rivers and the environment.”

To three young Scottish fish farmers in 1999, at an awards ceremony for young achievers at Holyrood Palace. He had just been told they worked for a salmon farming company.

27. “And what exotic part of the world do you come from?”

To politician Lord Taylor of Warwick – the first black Conservative peer – at a Commonwealth party in 1999. “Birmingham,” Lord Taylor replied.

28. “It’s a vast waste of space.”

His verdict on the new £18m British embassy in Berlin in 2000.

29. “A pissometer?”

On being shown a device called a piezometer – which measures water depth in the soil – during a visit to an Australian farm in 2000. “No, no, no,” replied the bemused cotton farmer. “I’ll spell it for you.”

30. “Get me a beer. I don’t care what kind it is, just get me a beer.”

He is said to have uttered this upon being offered fine local wines by Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato at a dinner in Rome in 2000.

31. “The North East? You want to stop letting the bloody Japs take all your jobs.”

To journalist Peter Barron from the Northern Echo at a lunch in 2000. Japs is considered a derogatory term by many Japanese people. Barron, who went on to edit the newspaper, only revealed the exchange in 2017 following the duke’s retirement. “With all due respect to the retiring duke,” he wrote, “We’re still very grateful in the North East for the jobs created by the likes of Nissan and Hitachi.”

32. “You’re too fat to be an astronaut.”

To a 13-year-old boy, Andrew Adams, who told him in 2001 that he wanted to go into space when the two met at an event at Salford University. The youngster said the remark had hurt his feelings.

33. “Cantankerous old sod”

Referring to himself at an event in Cardiff to promote the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme in 2001. He had been asked whether it might be more popular if it wasn’t named after him, and replied: “Whatever you call it, some people will think it is rubbish while some people would not be worried about this connection with this cantankerous old sod up here.”

34. “What do you want to go to Wales for?”

To a war veteran in 2001, who said he had been in the Monmouthshire Regiment.

35. “Still throwing spears?”

Another well-known one. The duke asked Aboriginal-cultural-park-owner William Brim during a royal visit to Cairns in Queensland in 2002 whether his community “still threw spears at each other”. “No, we don’t do that any more,” replied Mr Brim, a successful entrepreneur.

36. “You look like a suicide bomber.”

To a young policewoman wearing a bullet-proof vest on Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, in 2002.

37. “Are you Tigers?”

In 2002, guests at the Sri Murugan Hindu temple in east London were somewhat bewildered when the prince asked some priests if they were Tamil guerrilla fighters. One told him in reply: “No, we’re priests. We’re not associated with violence.”

38. “Not a lot, judging by the tie he is wearing.”

Reportedly uttered by the duke in 2002 when the Queen asked a teenage Army cadet maimed by an IRA bomb how much sight he had left. The boy’s mother said she was shocked by what he’d said, but believed he was trying to put people at ease with a joke.

39. “Are we going to need ear plugs?”

After being told that Madonna was singing the Die Another Day theme song at the film’s Albert Hall premiere in 2002.

40. “Do you know they now do eating dogs for the anorexic?”

On being introduced to Susan Edwards, a blind woman with a guide dog, in Exeter in 2002. Ms Edwards was reportedly unfazed, saying “I would rather he made a joke than be staid and offhand”, but one eating disorder campaigner described the remark as hurtful.

41. “So who’s on drugs here?”

To members of the Bangladesh Youth Club in London in 2002. Pointing at one 14-year-old he observed: “He looks as if he’s on drugs.” The young man in question was reportedly very upset and later refused to speak to the duke.

42. “The problem with London is the tourists. They cause the congestion. They block the streets.”

To the London Assembly’s tourism chief at the opening of City Hall in 2002.

Malala Yousafzai and other guests meeting the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh
Malala Yousafzai, in red, descends into giggles at a remark from the duke

43. “You look like you’re ready for bed.”

To the president of Nigeria – who was in traditional national dress – in 2003.

44. “Were you here in the bad old days, then? That’s why you can’t read and write then.”

To parents at a comprehensive school in Sheffield in 2003. Fir Vale School had completely turned itself around but didn’t exactly get an unqualified royal seal of approval.

45. “I will pass on that if you don’t mind.”

His response when a journalist asked what he had thought of Africa during his four-day state visit to Nigeria in 2003.

46. “Young people are the same as they always were. They are just as ignorant.”

At an event in 2005 to mark 50 years of the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Pointing to Prince Edward beside him, he joked: “He’s got a gold award – but for that, he’d have been a dropout.”

47. “Romania? You didn’t go across to help in one of those orphanages, did you?”

To a Duke of Edinburgh Award winner in 2006 who said he had worked there. When the student replied “No”, Philip said: “Ah good. There’s so many over there you feel they breed them just to put in orphanages.” Tens of thousands of children were found living in terrible conditions in state institutions following the fall of communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Tony Allen, of the Romanian Orphans Appeal, said the comment was “disgusting”.

48. “Absolute bloody nuisances. They’re a pain in the neck.”

The offending subject in question? Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph in 2006, the duke said he hoped to do “as little as possible” during the London Games.

49. “Are you a pauper?”

In 2007, upon meeting the mayor of South Ribble in Lancashire, who was not wearing his official robes.

Prince Philip and volunteers at an east London community centre
prince Philip asked community volunteers in east London, “Who do you sponge off?”

50. “There’s a cord sticking out of the back. Might you tell me where it goes?”

To actress Cate Blanchett in 2008 on hearing that she worked in the film industry. Mistaking her for a technician, he asked for help with working his DVD player.

51. “Tourism is just national prostitution.”

To a professor of tourism during a state visit to Slovenia in 2008.

52. “I thought Eastern women just sit around smoking pipes and eating sweets all day.”

To a group of belly dancers in Swansea in 2008. They said later it was an “honour to be insulted by royalty”.

53. “There’s a lot of your family in tonight.”

After looking at the name badge of businessman Atul Patel at a Buckingham Palace reception for hundreds of influential British Indians in 2009. “Absolutely no offence was taken,” a spokesman for Mr Patel’s LHA-Asra housing group, said at the time.

54. “Well, you didn’t design your beard too well, did you?”

Commenting on designer Stephen Judge’s goatee at a palace garden party in 2009. The duke told him he “must try better” with his facial hair in future.

55. “Can you tell the difference between them?”

The duke’s jokey question in 2009 after US President Barack Obama told him he had met the leaders of the UK, China and Russia.

56. “What did you do in the war?”

To a veteran’s daughter during a visit to the D-Day museum in Portsmouth in 2009 – she was born nine years after the war ended.

57. “Are you all one family? Did you come over for just this one show?”

To the 11 multi-ethnic members of dance group Diversity at the 2009 Royal Variety Performance. The Britain’s Got Talent winners had come from London and Essex to the event in Blackpool – a similar journey to the duke himself.

Duke of Edinburgh meeting double amputee Cayle Royce
“You should get wheels” – the duke’s comment to a double amputee

58. “Do you have a pair of knickers made out of this?”

To then Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie in 2010, while pointing to some tartan.

59. “Do you work in a strip club?”

To 24-year-old Barnstaple sea cadet Elizabeth Rendle in 2010 when she told him she also worked in a club. She said it was a joke and no offence was taken.

60. “Are you running away from something?”

To British expatriates in Abu Dhabi in 2010.

61. “Bunny hugger”

In 2011, when explaining why he did not see himself as “green”. “I think that there’s a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny hugger… people who simply love animals,” he added.

62. “You don’t believe in fairy tales do you?”

Talking passionately about his distaste for wind farms to the managing director of a leading turbine manufacturer in 2011. The remark came as Esbjorn Wilmar attempted to explain the technology’s potential.

63. “I would get arrested if I unzipped that dress.”

In 2012, to 25-year-old council worker Hannah Jackson, who was wearing a dress with a zip running the length of its front.

Duke of Edinburgh, Queen and President Xi of China
The Queen and the duke with President Xi of China during a visit in 2015

64. “How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?”

To mobility scooter user David Miller in 2012, during a visit to north London.

65. “The Philippines must be half empty as you’re all here running the NHS.”

On meeting a Philippine nurse at Luton and Dunstable Hospital in 2013.

66. “[Children] go to school because their parents don’t want them in the house.”

To Malala Yousafzai, who survived a murder attempt by the Taliban and now campaigns for the right of girls to go to school. She descended into giggles at the remark at the palace in 2013.

67. “Well, most stripping is.”

To 83-year-old Audrey Cook, a worker at a Mars factory in 2013, when she explained that most stripping – cutting the chocolate – was once “done by hand”.

68. “You should get wheels.”

A suggestion made to double amputee soldier Cayle Royce in 2013. The 27-year-old found the remark hilarious, saying of the duke: “He’s such a great person – really comedy.”

69. “You can’t be very successful; you’re not wearing a tie.”

To leading digital consultant Antony Mayfield at a 2014 reception at Buckingham Palace.

70. “At least you’re all legitimate.”

To staff at the Margaret Pyke family planning centre he was opening in London in 2014.

71. “Who do you sponge off?”

To a group of female volunteers at a community centre in east London in 2015. One of them, Nusrat Zamir, said she knew the duke was “just teasing” and joked back: “We’re all married so it’s our husbands.”

Duke of Edinburgh at the Charterhouse almshouse in 2017
The duke during one of his last public engagements, in February 2017, at the Charterhouse almshouse

72. “I suppose you’ve got to announce in an English accent so everyone can understand you.”

To a train announcer in Birmingham in 2015. He made the remark after reportedly asking her whether she broadcast departure information in her Birmingham accent and she said no.

73. “You can’t claim any of them back. Besides, we check your luggage before you go.”

To President Xi of China at a private viewing of Chinese treasures from the Royal Collection in 2015.

74. “What makes you think anyone is listening?”

To a BBC Radio 1 presenter in 2016 when she said she worked on the early morning news programme. Sinead Garvan persevered, saying: “They are – millions of people listen…”

75. “It’s been open. Maybe today it is more open than usual.”

On cutting the ribbon at the i360 observation tower in Brighton in 2016. The landmark had been plagued by technical problems in its opening months.

76. “When are they going to throw you out?”

To a veteran at a homeless hostel in London in 2016.

77. “Are you sure you can afford it?”

To Royal Mail staff giving the Queen a £500 silver fountain pen as a 90th birthday present in 2016.

78. “You look starved.”

To 81-year-old Graham Matthews on a visit to the Charterhouse almshouse for elderly men in 2017.

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