The Duke of Edinburgh’s 99th birthday is on 10 June. Reaching his 100th year apparently holds little joy for him, as he famously said to biographer Gyles Brandreth at the time of the Queen Mother’s centenary in 2000: ‘I don’t want to live to be a hundred, I can’t imagine anything worse.’
When questioned, Prince Philip always maintained he tries to live in the present and is not sure how useful it is to speculate about the future unless it is from a scientific angle. He still has strong views, of course, and felt moved to make a rare statement in April about the work being done in the medical and scientific communities to protect us all from Covid-19.
The usual round of royal engagements for June, including the splendid Garter Day at Windsor Castle, have had to be cancelled. The Derby and Royal Ascot meetings have been abandoned and although racing might continue in a limited form ‘behind closed doors’ at Ascot the Queen it seems likely that will remain well and truly shielded behind the castle walls.
She hasn’t even been able to enjoy her gentle rides near the bank of the River Thames with her Stud Groom, Terry Pendry, because of the pandemic. Terry, a former professional jockey, has worked for Her Majesty for 25 years and usually rides with her. Ordinarily he would be spotted deep in conversation with the Queen while they inspect her champion fell ponies about to go into the ring at the Windsor Horse Show – another lost event, which should have taken place in the castle’s Home Park last month.
Her Majesty’s Birthday Parade – Trooping the Colour – at which there is always a gathering of the extended royal family, had been scheduled for 13 June. It is the first time it has been cancelled since 1955, when there was a national rail strike and a state of emergency was called.
Before the Duke of Sussex left for the United States, via Canada, he was filmed at Buckingham Palace reading an introduction to a special TV programme to mark the 75th anniversary of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine children’s books. The episode, titled Thomas and Friends, also featured (with the permission of Buckingham Palace) the Queen and a young Prince Charles as characters. As a child, Harry was a huge fan of Thomas and carried his tank engine satchel on his first day at nursery school in 1987.
‘I certainly have fond memories of Thomas and being transported to new places through his adventures,’ the Duke recalled. No doubt his father, the Prince of Wales, also read him The Old Man of Lochnagar, which he wrote for his siblings Andrew and Edward, 12 and 16 years his junior. The book was published in 1980 in aid of The Prince’s Trust and was later made into an animated film with the voice of the old man narrated by Prince Charles.
A donation for Harry’s participation in Thomas and Friends was made to his sustainable travel initiative, Travalyst, which he continues to support from his Los Angeles base.
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