0604 – Royalty

How Prince Philip reacted to crash – before ending a lifelong passion

Prince Philip car crash scene near Sandringham

It was a surreal moment by royal standards, made even odder by the events that followed. Strolling into the office of the Queen’s private secretary, Edward Young, Prince Philip appeared uncharacteristically unsettled. “Have you got a plaster?” asked the 97-year-old Duke. “I’ve cut my hand”. Swiftly dispatching the former naval officer with a Band Aid, it was not until later that Young apparently discovered the cause of HRH’s injury. Until that point, the Iron Duke had not deemed it pertinent to mention that he had just been pulled out of his overturned Land Rover and was lucky to be alive. Almost a month on from those extraordinary events of February 17, a revealing picture emerges of the House of Windsor’s resident ‘Duke of Hazard’, who yesterday learned he will not face prosecution over the crash near the Sandringham estate. It came after the great-grandfather voluntarily gave up his driving licence following a collision between his Freelander and a Kia on the A149 at . The Telegraph has since learned that despite narrowly escaping serious injury, the Duke genuinely had no idea who was in the other car, or whether anyone had been hurt until the press later reported that passenger Emma Fairweather had broken her wrist. As he later explained in his apologetic letter to the 46-year-old from Norfolk, admitting that he had been blinded by the sunlight: “As a crowd was beginning to gather, I was advised to return to Sandringham House by a local police officer.” Yet it appears it was some time before palace aides or the press office became aware of the true extent of the crash, which was only briefed out after members of the public sent images to the media. The official statement simply read: “The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle this afternoon. The Duke was not injured. The accident took place close to the Sandringham Estate. Local police attended the scene.” As one source put it: “They played it down because the Duke played it down.” According to veteran royal reporter Phil Dampier, author of Prince Philip: A Lifetime of Wit and Wisdom: “Had the crash had occurred on a lonely country road and no footage emerged, we’d probably never have found out about it.” Not that Philip wasn’t contrite. On the contrary, as well as being “genuinely shaken up” by the crash – he was also “furious with himself”, according to insiders. Determined not to lose his cherished independence – he took to the wheel the very next day – without wearing a seatbelt – in a bid to prove that he was still up to it – despite his hip replacement, spectacles and hearing aid. Land Rover keep “spare” royal cars in case of accidents and break-downs, which is why he ended up back behind the wheel so quickly. “It wasn’t defiance,” said one onlooker. “It was more an act of determination.” So cross was Philip with himself that it is understood his concerned children and grandchildren were warned not to make a fuss, which perhaps explains why Princess Anne said she had “no idea” how her father was when she was asked at a royal engagement two days later. Nor were they to even entertain the idea of the nonagenarian giving up his licence “for fear it might make him dig in his heels even more”, according to a source. The Queen – who after 71 years of marriage has grown well used to her husband’s stubborn streak – also knew better than to press the issue. The royal author Sarah Bradford once gave an insight into who has really been in the driving seat throughout their marriage when she described an occasion when Philip was driving the Queen through Cowdray Park in West Sussex for a polo match with his uncle Lord in the back. Bradford said: “The Queen complained about him driving too fast and and he turned to her and said: ‘If you complain once more I will put you out of the car.’ “The Queen said nothing and when the journey came to an end Mountbatten said: ‘You’re the Queen, why did you let him talk to you like that? “She replied : ‘Oh you heard what he said and he would have done it!’” In the end, the Duke’s reluctant mind was made up following advice from the police suggesting that surrendering his licence was the best way to avoid prosecution. Until the crash happened, it’s fair to say that HM’s “strength and stay” had had a rather cavalier attitude to motoring. On the eve of his wedding to the beautiful young Princess Elizabeth in 1947 he was stopped for speeding on Constitution Hill just beside Buckingham Palace. “Sorry, but I’ve got an appointment with the Archbishop of Canterbury” he told the incredulous policeman, who let him off with a warning. During the two years they lived in Malta, he would roar around the narrow lanes of the Mediterranean Island in a sporty MG with the top down. Such was his love of driving that he insisted on driving US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle  from their helicopter to Windsor Castle when they came to visit in 2016. The Obamas secret service minders were said to be “terrified” when a then 94-year-old Philip took the wheel but Obama said later : “I have to say I have never been driven by a Duke of Edinburgh before, but I can report it was very smooth.” The Duke’s crash last month was also not his first. He left sales director Pat Daynes with whiplash after his Range Rover went into the back of a Mercedes at a zebra crossing in Brandon, Suffolk, in January 1996. But he has also been a knight in shining armour at the road-side. In the early 1970s he was on holiday at a remote cottage near the Inverpolly Nature Reserve 80 miles from Inverness in Scotland. He was driving on a lonely road with local naturalist Rob Tweddle when they came across a Morris Minor stuck in a ditch. Two astonished female teachers looked on as Philip and Mr Tweddle lifted the car back onto the road. Mr Tweddle recalled in a 2011 article: “Philip told them ‘Now don’t do that again’ before we drove off, leaving them open-mouthed.” Although he may have come to the end of the road as a motorist, sources insist Philip will continue to ride carriages and spent his summers waist-high in freezing water fishing for salmon in the River Dee. Dampier added: “I honestly think that the hip operation -which enabled him to attend both Harry and Meghan’s wedding and that of Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank last year – might mean he lives to 100. When he went home from hospital I know he was walking up and down stairs and doing exercises to regain his fitness. He has always been a fitness fanatic, doing exercise daily devised by the Canadian Air Force. His figure is the same as it’s always been – meaning he has some trousers fifty years old! He might have given up driving – but the Duke of Hazard will never give up doing things his way.”