“You had a feeling of being with somebody truly unique. It was almost like meeting a legend.”
This is how Sidney’s Richard Talbot described his two meetings with the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The husband of Queen Elizabeth II – perhaps the most famous Queen consort since Prince Albert, the influential husband of Queen Victoria – died on April 9, just short of his 100th birthday.
“He was very direct,” said Talbot of Prince Philip. “You really felt that he was talking to you personally and really was interested in hearing what you had to say.”
Talbot met the prince when he and daughter Princess Anne visited Victoria in 1971 as B.C. celebrated the centenary of joining confederation.
Recently promoted Major Talbot was serving then Lt.-Gov. John “Jack” Nicholson as an aide-de-camp when an impromptu, day-of strike by Nicholson’s two senior aides-de-camp saw Talbot assume a much greater role in hosting the Windsors at Government House during a state dinner.
With all the guests minus the Windsors seated, Talbot eventually found himself in their drawing room along with Nicholson. He wanted to lead the royal visitors into the dining hall through a door that would have seen the Queen enter from behind a temporary bar, an optical no-no, as Talbot told his skeptical but insistent boss, reminding him of the present television cameras.
“At that stage, Prince Philip chuckled and said, ‘Well, I think we better follow the Major instead. Let’s go the way he suggests.’”
The last-minute absence of Princess Anne due to an upset stomach, and her lady in waiting, earned Talbot and his wife Jinny spots at a table occupied by Scotland Yard agents protecting the Queen and Prince Philip.
Talbot met Prince Philip a second time in April 2015 at Canada House in London. Talbot was leading a delegation of veterans and current soldiers serving in his unit, the Canadian Scottish Regiment, at a centennial for a First World War battle.
As delegation leader, Talbot met the Queen as she entered the room, with Prince Philip two paces behind. “They stopped just beside me,” said Talbot. “And the Queen said to Prince Philip, ‘now, Philip, you know what you have to do next.’ And he said, ‘oh yes, dear. I have to follow behind you and not be rude to anybody’ and gave me a great, big wink. And she said, ‘no, you are supposed to look after you own regiment and I am going to look after mine.’”
The Queen’s advice did not necessarily take, as Prince Philip soon started to visit with members from the other regiments. “You could hear his laugh all afternoon,” said Talbot. “He was chuckling away and telling awful stories, no doubt.”
At one stage, Prince Philip picked out Talbot’s oldest son Michael, who had served in his father’s regiment. During the conversation, Talbot’s son revealed to Prince Philip that he was accompanying his father as his unofficial aide-de-camp.
“And Prince Philip said, ‘so you are really just sponging here,’” said Talbot in recalling the story.
Talbot said that gathering made an impression on all the Canadian visitors, with one soldier from Port Alberni describing the occasion as the best day in his life.
“Everybody was totally overwhelmed by them,” said Talbot. “They were so friendly and amusing and informal. I think they created a whole bunch of fans they did have before.”
Over the years, Prince Philip made headlines for various statements, earning him the nickname of Duke of Hazard.
But Talbot sees him in a more charitable light in praising his wit. “On both occasions, he had a wicked sense of humour, and often, there was a little dig in it,” said Talbot.
When asked whether Prince Philip might have recognized Talbot when they met for the second time in 2015 after their meeting in 1971, Talbot said he does not think so.
“I was tempted to remind him of it, but as you heard it is a rather long story,” he said. “I rather regret it because I think he would rather have enjoyed that story.”
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