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Prince Philip meeting Duke of Edinburgh Award winners last year: Millions of young people have benefited since the award’s inception in 1956 (NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE  CC BY 2.0)


Your Royal Highness, My Lords, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be here in this lovely and historic club [The Travellers], of which you have been Patron since 1952, to toast you tonight at this wonderful dinner celebrating the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen.

My task is not easy, because I know that you do not like to be praised. I am afraid therefore that the next few minutes will be tiresome for you.

Let me start with your sense of humour. I think everyone admires your ability to indulge in what you once called dontopedalogy — I quote “the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.”

In fact, I think most of us admire your forthrightness in saying things which we think but rarely dare to say. Thus for example in the 1960s, you said, “I would like to visit Russia very much — although the bastards murdered half my family.”
When those bastards were removed in the early 1990s, your visit to Russia with the Queen was a huge success.

Before I move on from your sense of humour, I very much enjoyed the way in which you outfoxed the US Secret Service when President Obama came to Windsor Castle recently.

The Queen had quite rightly said she was not having a vast fleet of heavy US armoured limos driving into the castle. Instead, you drove down to the helicopter in your Range Rover and popped the President in the front seat and his wife and the Queen in the back and drove them home yourself. I understand that the Secret Service were not amused to see their precious President driven off by a dontopedalogist of a certain age. On this occasion, your feet were firmly on the pedals. You had the last laugh then, as so often.

Now, the original rules of the Travellers Club excluded from membership anyone “who has not travelled out of the British islands to a distance of at least 500 miles from London in a direct line”.

Easy for you, because as a child, Sir, you often travelled more than 500 miles into the British islands, because you came to school here. In the war you served in the Royal Navy and sailed thousands of miles fighting for the freedom of the world. You had a very good war and were mentioned in dispatches.

But your greatest journey has been that which you and the former Princess Elizabeth have made together. Your wedding on November 20, 1947, came as a shaft of light though the clouds and rigours of impoverished postwar Britain.

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