I have been fortunate to meet many fascinating people during my career. One who really stands out to me, with great affection, is the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. I was privileged to meet him three times over the years. Each meeting was a memorable and fun encounter that I’d like to share with you.
The first time I met Prince Philip was at a reception held at Buckingham Palace, hosted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, for winners of 'The Queen’s Award for Export Achievement' in 1987.
At the time, I was Managing Director of Turbosound, a leading professional audio manufacturer. I led the company to record growth internationally, particularly to the USA and Japan, which resulted in us winning the Award.
It was a huge honour to win this prestigious Award, and the icing on the cake was a reception at Buckingham Palace. The winners of the Award were ushered through vast halls with majestic oil paintings everywhere you turned, our wide-eyed gazes swivelling up and around, taking it all in. Layers of gold leaf decorating architraves and ceilings; the epitome of opulence. Along with the other Award winners, my business partners and I were guided into one of the Palace’s magnificent State Rooms. As we were slowly processed in a long line, in a loud clear voice for all nearby to hear, we were each formally announced to the Queen as we approached her.
Close behind the Queen, standing smartly with their backs to the wall and observing proceedings, was a line of a small number of dignitaries, including Prince Philip and the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. They beamed and clapped as each of us was presented to the Queen.
When he heard ourselves being announced, Prince Philip shouted out, “So, you’re the chaps from Turbosound, are you?” I knew he had a sense of humour, and I have a pretty childish one myself, so I couldn’t resist replying by cupping my ear and saying “Pardon?”, pretending to have been deafened by our loudspeakers. Prince Philip instantly got the joke and roared with laughter. He said he’d find us later to talk more, as he was interested in loudspeakers. And he didn’t forget.
We were then led to a vast reception room and where we were served drinks and canapés. We were briefed to stay in one spot, as it would not be the done thing to make a beeline for one of the royals or dignitaries and strike up a conversation. The royals and other dignitaries walked the room and mingled, exchanging pleasantries.
I was delighted when Prince Philip approached us. We spoke in depth for a long time. I was hugely impressed with his extensive technical knowledge. As we know, he was an engineer and an inventor at heart, demonstrated by customising his beloved Land Rover to carry his coffin.
From his time in the Royal Navy, he knew it was difficult to project sound underwater and in other unusual environments. He asked a lot of informed questions, and it was clear that he really knew his stuff. We discussed his ideas for developing underwater speakers and how they could work – it was actually a marketable, commercial idea, ahead of its time. I remember that conversation like yesterday. He was knowledgeable and fun, animated and jokey.
I also met Margaret Thatcher that evening and was struck by what a force of nature she was. Charismatic and commanding, she held court and radiated power amidst a group of men. Fully in charge of the conversation, she quizzed each person in turn and kept us on our toes.
It was my second meeting with Prince Philip that generated the ‘Day they deafened the Duke’ front page newspaper headline.
In the Spring of 1999, the Queen and Prince Philip visited Durrington High School in West Sussex, to celebrate ‘The Best of Sussex’. The school sports hall was transformed into a trade-show style environment, with representatives from the local authorities, charitable organisations and a selection of the best businesses, including Queen’s Award-winning companies like Turbosound.
I was hoping to get the opportunity to speak with Prince Philip again as I had a hunch he would enjoy our party trick, which we’d set up in case the planets aligned in our favour. Luckily, I knew Lord Young through a family connection; he was escorting The Queen and Prince Philip that day. I got the chance to have a quiet word with him, and I requested permission to show Prince Philip our party trick. He said yes on one condition: Prince Philip would undoubtedly love it but the Queen would hate it, so make sure you catch the right moment when they’re not together.
I warned our neighbours what to expect, then the moment came… Prince Philip approached our stand. I mentioned that we’d met several years ago and talked about sound systems, then politely asked if we could demonstrate one of our loudspeakers. He said we could, so I flicked a switch.
This photo of Prince Philip perfectly captures the moment when I played the section of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture that has real cannons firing, through our 24” subwoofer, which is used to create ultra-low frequencies. Pink Floyd used it when they toured. It gives a rumble effect and makes seats shake.
Our party trick was to blow out a row of candles placed 10 feet away from the speaker. The Duke of Edinburgh’s fingers immediately jammed into his ears at the deafening sound and his face broke into an incredulous expression of baffled wonderment when he saw the candles blow out. Afterwards he exclaimed, “How splendid, and thank goodness you didn’t bring the building down!”.
The third and last time I met Prince Philip was at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, in 2010. As a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, I’d been invited to a private viewing of a new art collection there. Prince Philip was also in attendance. Again, we were briefed to stay where we were and that His Royal Highness may stop for a chat, and he did. He asked what had brought me here, to which I replied, “Sir, I don’t know if you remember, but I met you several years ago…” and I showed him the ‘Day they deafened the Duke’ newspaper photo. He burst into laughter, saying, “So you’re the bugger who deafened me!”
We went on to have a spirited and stimulating conversation. Again, I was incredibly impressed with his sharp, Sherlock Holmes-like mind and his genuine interest in a wide breadth of topics. His questions weren’t just small talk, going through the motions, he was full of natural curiosity and actually listened to my answers before asking thoughtful and relevant follow-up questions.
Above all, what I’ll always remember about Prince Philip, with great fondness and admiration, was his ability to put everyone he spoke to instantly at ease, with his humour and wit. Always ready with a joke straight off the bat, he made you feel relaxed and comfortable. He was spontaneous and had a zest for life. A true gentleman, a huge personality and a unique individual who will be greatly missed.
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