12 May 2021
A Prince Consort within a system going back thousands of years (the British crown) or a thorn in the flesh of the establishment? A great military man or – also and especially – a visionary, an environmentalist, an artist and a patron? The glue that bound the entire royal family together or a renowned gaffe maker? One thing is certain. Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Philip Mountbatten, born a Prince of Greece and Denmark, was such a multi-faceted character that all these attributes are fitting, and more. One of his qualities, amply highlighted by Enrica Roddolo, author of the recent book Filippo and The Queen, was the relentless tenacity with which he tried to open the royal family up to the world and to the modern age.
Prince Philip loved television, technology, design and industry and succeeded in bringing the monarchy’s communication strategies up to date and building consensus within the family. He combined charisma and authenticity and was, to all extents and purposes, the co-star of the reign of Elizabeth II. A man who gave up a great deal to follow his heart, but always had a shoulder to lean on, a word of advice, a point of view. Her Majesty listened to him and respected him, and always described him as her “rock.”
The author talked to us about the Duke’s passion for design.
On reading the book, it becomes very clear that Prince Philip was the driver, the dynamo of the monarchy. An innovator with a keen eye on the present and, especially, on the future. He also had a tremendous interest in architecture and design.
The Duke of Edinburgh always championed design and there are myriad occasions on which he himself became involved. He followed the restructuring work at Clarence House and the fitting out of the Royal Yacht Britannia, for instance, in which his naval experience and skills came in very handy. He was closely involved with the restoration at Windsor Castle and took a personal interest in bringing the five state rooms back to their original splendour, even sketching out his ideas for the stained glass windows that had been destroyed in the fire. He was then instrumental in the transformation of the Royal Chapel at Buckingham Palace, now incorporated into the Queen’s Gallery, a museum space that holds some of the greatest treasures in the royal collections, with a view to possible future tourism. He also designed several extensions to the royal residences, including Balmoral Castle and the Sandringham Estate. That’s not all, however. Ahead of his time, Prince Philip launched the Duke of Edinburgh’s Prize for Elegant Design (now Design of the Year) in 1959, the Design Prize in 1971 and the prize for the best example of industrial design. He was responsible for recognising the talents of people who became true stars, such as the architect Lord Norman Foster, Sir James Dyson, inventor of the vacuum cleaner of the same name, and Andrew Ritchie, who designed the Brompton folding bicycle. Furthermore, Prince Philip was also head of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee until 2000, guiding the selection of designs for the new UK currency. It is important to stress that Prince Philip never saw art and design as ends in themselves; on the contrary, as a practical man, he immediately understood the changes required in industry and with them the importance of social sustainability and financial efficacy. The best affirmation of his approach came from the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has just given the go ahead for a new royal yacht to be built, named after the Duke of Edinburgh (and which the Duke himself would have liked to design), which will breathe new life into the British naval industry.
Prince Philip was also a great fan of technology
Absolutely, he was a hi-tech pioneer and a genuine devotee of the web, and would have liked to be remembered as such. He began writing on a computer during the Eighties and throughout his life he was always surrounded by the latest technological findings.
He was a man who was keenly attuned to sustainability.
Yes, right from the early 2000s, it wasn’t a subject on everyone’s lips. I’ll tell you an anecdote. During an official visit to Norway in 2001, he took part in an event, Nor-Shipping, a great trade fair for boats and maritime products with the focus on sustainability. Initially he claimed not to understand all the talk about sustainability. After visiting the exhibition, however, he stood corrected, admitting that he seen some interesting things that he hadn’t known about. A strange waterless urinal, in particular. The idea was that the liquid would flow into a container of chemical products, thus producing energy. When Prince Philip found himself in front of the experiment, he was absolutely amazed. The difficult part lay in making sure not all the photographs featured the duke and the sustainably designed urinal.
What about Milan? Did he ever come here?
He did several times, and while he was here he focused on visiting important Milanese shops, several leading Milanese industries, Fiera di Milano’s pavilions, AgustaWestland factories as well as La Scala, of course. He flew his own plane to Linate Airport on a number of private trips. The queen also visited the IED, the European Institute of Design, and Museum of the Last Supper.
TITLE: Filippo and the Queen.
PUBLISHER: RCS MediaGroup
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2021