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For a man who never got on a bus or hailed a cab and lived decades without a wallet in his pocket, there was something disarmingly down to earth about Prince Philip.
At least that’s what I gleaned during a 90-minute lunch at Buckingham Palace where I found myself unexpectedly sitting at the left of the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. In his early 90s then, he was sharp, knowledgeable, humorous, and provocative. During this annual luncheon for a conservation group of which I sat on a U.S. advisory board, he was both deeply concerned about conservation efforts—and clearly out to enjoy himself.
He told me he thought every red deer in Britain should be shot because there were too many of them. He had me laughing as he recounted an indelicate moment that occurred during a visit to China. As the lamb and mashed potatoes passed by, I was too engaged and amused to eat, fearing a laugh would force me to spew Brussels sprouts across the room.
Being provocative was not uncharacteristic for Philip, who died Friday at age 99. He once told a Paraguayan dictator: “It’s a pleasure to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people.” Over the years, his unfiltered humor often crossed into bad taste, and his faults had been examined for the world to see.
But before me, for the half of the lunch we spoke together, he was the most engaging conversationalist. I knew this was another meal for him, but it was a moment that I'd dine out on for the rest of my life. Still, he was on. There was a snap in his eye. And he didn’t miss a beat.
When Philip signaled that our conversation was over, and turned, as per protocol, to the guest on his right, a waiter moved toward me and asked: “'Would you like a glass of wine now?”
Oh God, yes.
I don't think I ever was more exhausted in my life.