You can imagine our sincere joy at speaking with Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine, longtime royal reporter, and surely one of the few people in the world who enjoys royal minutiae to the extent we do.
Ingrid has turned her reporter’s eye to everyone’s favorite gaffe-making, lady-loving, 99-year-old consort Prince Philip in her latest book Prince Philip Revealed, out in the United States today.
We condensed and edited our conversation for the 10/20/20 newsletter, but please grab a large cup of Earl Gray and dive into this, the unabridged and fabulous version.
Anglofile: What makes Prince Philip such an interesting subject to you? Ingrid Seward: People don't seem to know very much about him. They know a lot more since The Crown. and that's sort of spiked interest in him. But unless you study the royal family or know a lot about them, people don't know about him... I wanted to delve into what kind of man he really was.
Anglofile: What unique challenges were there in writing this book? Ingrid Seward: I found the whole thing quite a unique challenge, actually. I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was, and it took me a long time. It's such a hugely long life. He’s a hundred next June! He has done so much. There's so many things he’s done that are interesting, but they're not particularly interesting subjects. You have to look at the subject and try to popularize it.
Anglofile: Yes, I can imagine looking at some of his scientific speeches from the fifties and thinking, “How do you make this interesting?!” Ingrid Seward: Exactly. The last interview Philip ever gave was on the radio and it was about science, how he actually felt that in the long run science would be able to solve all our problems. It was quite encouraging. He felt overpopulation, a lack of water, a lack of food — eventually science would solve all this. He did once say he believes in reincarnation. A long time ago, he gave an interview to a German magazine and they asked him “If you could come back as something else, how would you come back into the world? How would you like to be reincarnated?’ And he said [something to the effect of]: ‘I would like to be reincarnated as a pandemic, as a disease that destroyed a lot of the population.’
Anglofile: You can't make that up. That must have been so much fun discovering that old interview. Ingrid Seward: He is very far-sighted. He didn’t mean it in a rude way — he just thought there were too many people in this world, and if I could come back and help by getting rid of some of them...
Anglofile: That’s such a controversial side of his thinking. To him, environmentalism was about overpopulation. Ingrid Seward: [Reads aloud from unknown source] “He has long argued that the greenhouse effect and global warming are threats to the future of mankind." He's argued this for years, since the 70s. "And has stated that the greatest threat the world faces is a colossal increase in the human population, which is reaching plague proportions. He feels so strongly about this that as long ago as 2008 during an interview with a German magazine Das Bild, he made an extraordinary statement. ‘In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation.’”
Anglofile: That is very timely. Ingrid Seward: Yes it is. Isn't it?
Anglofile: Oh boy. I see why he's the subject of your book. A lot of material there. Ingrid Seward: There's a lot of very interesting stuff there, but it's not obvious. Because the press, when they go on a tour with the Queen and Prince Philip, no one takes any notice of what Prince Philip's doing. Everyone follows the Queen. They probably send one journalist to follow Prince Philip in case he makes one of these crazy remarks that he's apt to do.
Anglofile: You've met him numerous times over the years. What sort of impression does he leave Ingrid Seward: He's quite brusque. He is certainly not oleaginous in any way. I described in the book the first time I met him at a reception for him and the Queen in Amman, Jordan. He thought I was German because of my name, Ingrid, and the fact that Majesty magazine in those days was published by a company called Hanover. He came up to me and he said, ‘Are you German?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he just turned around and walked away.
Anglofile: Delightful. Changing tack slightly: what do you think is the secret to his and the Queen’s 70-plus year marriage? Ingrid Seward: They share a sense of humor and they're on the same wavelength, and she knows how to handle him. She knows he likes the company of beautiful women, so if they’re giving a lunch or dinner she’ll make sure Philips sits next to the prettiest girl in the room. She's like an old-fashioned wife in that respect. He knows that everyone defers to her. But at home, he is the one who wears the trousers — she makes sure that that happens.
Anglofile: You wrote of Philip, “He enjoys watching cooking programs on television, can still read, enjoys the company of attractive women, and intelligent conversation.” That line seems to get to the heart of his complicated personality — he's brusque, he doesn't suffer fools, but he likes to watch cooking on TV and just loves beautiful women. Do you think that's the real Philip? Ingrid Seward: I do. He's fascinated by cooking and he always has been. In his retirement, he’s done a lot of that. Before his retirement, he didn’t have time. He’s had Mary Berry to lunch at Buckingham Palace and they spent hours discussing how to cook some various game birds. He’s got a very good eye for art, and he’s a good painter. He knows every picture, every drawing in the Royal Collection, which is amazing. He loves reading, but his eyes are very bad. He maybe listens to audio books, but then his hearing's really bad too. He can still write letters. He’s not giving up now.
Anglofile: He's from this ‘never complain, never explain’ generation of royals. What advice do you think he's given or would give to the younger generation of royals like Will, Kate, Harry, and Meghan about dealing with the press? Ingrid Seward: He loved Diana at the beginning and then they fell out because he thought what she was doing was damaging to the monarchy and that she should have stayed married to Charles and just put up with it. He said to Diana, ‘It's not a popularity contest. This is not about the individual. It's not about you. It's about all of us together.’
Anglofile: That echoes today, really. Ingrid Seward: I think that is something that perhaps if he'd said to Meghan — maybe he did — she would have understood a little bit more. Just that one sentence says everything, doesn't it? Because what it seemed to me that happened with Meghan is that she took it very personally, that it was almost a popularity contest. I don't think Prince Philip really got to know Meghan at all, there wouldn't have been enough opportunity. They don't live in each other's pockets.
Anglofile: Between Megxit and Prince Andrew, 2020, isn't quite an annus horribilis but it's not the best year. Where do you think the Royals go from here? Ingrid Seward: They just carry on. People's memories are very short now because so much is going on and it's going at such an amazing pace. At the moment they might have forgotten about Prince Andrew because it's all about Harry and Meghan, and then something will happen in the Andrew situation and they’ll be back onto that again. For the Queen and Prince Philip, there’s really nothing that they can do except just stand back from it.
Anglofile: What do you think 2021 holds for Prince Philip? Ingrid Seward: Hopefully a bit more life. For his sake, let's hope that he remains as sharp and as good as he is now.