All of a sudden Prince Philip is disarmingly funny. Quaint. A product of his time. The real deal.
Claiming “British women can’t cook’’ proves it, to some people.
So does, according to others, his claim that a 13-year-old was “too fat to be an astronaut’’.
He was inoffensive, we’re told.
Telling British university students in China that “by the time you go back home you’ll have slitty eyes’’ was harmless.
So was wondering whether Australia’s Indigenous still throw spears at each other. And contemplating out loud, on seeing a messy fuse box, whether it was “put in by an Indian’’.
Prince Philip, bless his soul, was racist and sexist. How else do you explain away those comments?
If you need more proof, consider this. He asked a Scottish driving instructor how he kept the “natives off the booze long enough to pass the test’’, called the Soviet Union a “vast waste of space’’ and told the traditionally robed Nigerian president that he looked “like you’re ready for bed’’.
And at a meeting of the World Wildlife Fund, he offered this: “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.’’
Before the 99-year-old died last week, all of those gaffes were used to condemn him.
He was ignorant, racist, sexist, out of touch and a snob with no understanding of how real people lived.
“Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they’re unemployed,’’ he commented, during the early 1980s recession.
So why do we love him so much now he’s dead? Why does our judgment on issues like sexism and racism and ignorance change now he’s taken his last breath?
This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Prince Philip. Read obituaries and you see sinners becoming saints with the ease the good Lord made water become wine.
Criminality turns into larrikinism and arrogance becomes authority. Enemies become advocates.
Death softens our judgment. Put perhaps it also gives us perspective and focuses our attention.
Perhaps we hope those we leave behind will give us the same benefit of the doubt, when our time comes.
It’s the same phenomenon we see, often, when someone falls from a big pedestal.
How many times has a former leader’s best speech been their last speech? When a politician loses on election night, we routinely hear them deliver words and wisdom we would never credit them with, while they held power.
This isn’t an argument against any of that; indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a touch softer, and focus more on the good in people while they still have the benefit of hearing it.
Prince Philip won me over before he died, courtesy of his portrayal in Netflix’s The Crown. Until then, I’d considered him a prize dill.
But his comments, so overtly sexist like those above, were drowned by the knowledge of so much more, like his decision to renounce titles and citizenships for the love of his life.
He took on the Queen’s name, and struggled to stay quiet after the Queen decided their children should be called Windsor, not Mountbatten.
He didn’t quite achieve that.
“I’m just a bloody amoeba,’’ he announced.
But in a world where partnerships are broken so easily, it’s hard not to admire a marriage that spanned decades, and a love where he understood being a loyal consort was as important as being a husband.
He didn’t love his portrayal in The Crown, but the dedication and influence he had on his wife of 73 years was obvious. So was the marriage’s equivalence, behind closed doors.
Perhaps we can like and even admire people because of some of their attributes. And such a long, stable marriage can be one of those.
Most of us might be too young to consider a 73-year-marriage possible.
But if it was, perhaps we’d also be forgiven for ordering – like Prince Philip once did – those on the other side of the lens to “just take the f–king picture’’.