Smiles as Stormont Assembly members recall encounters with Duke of Edinburgh

Rebecca Black, PA
·4-min read

The Duke of Edinburgh’s sense of humour brought smiles across the Stormont Assembly chamber as members shared anecdotes of their encounters with him.

MLAs gathered for a special sitting on Monday to remember the duke who died on Friday at the age of 99.

As well as tributes and condolences, there were lighter moments with tales of fools not being suffered, the questioning of life experience and even tie knot queries.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots (NI Assembly/PA)
DUP MLA Edwin Poots (NI Assembly/PA)

DUP MLA Edwin Poots told MLAs he empathised with how “attempts at humour could become gaffes”.

“The duke was known for his sharp mind, for his wittiness, and sometimes that got him into trouble so his quips could become gaffes … and as someone who does that occasionally myself, I can appreciate the quandary that he finds himself in, you want to engage with people and you want to lighten an atmosphere and sometimes it just doesn’t work right,” he told MLAs.

“And the duke on his visit to the South West Hospital, remarked to me that he thought he’d come to open a hospital but instead he had come to open a hotel given the quality of the building.

“And that was just him, he liked to make a witty remark and he liked to lighten the atmosphere.”

UUP MLA and former broadcaster Mike Nesbitt drew laughter as he recalled witnessing a cut down and later getting the duke’s disapproval himself.

He described a person making a speech at a gold Duke of Edinburgh award presentation at St James’ Palace “making the school boy error of trotting out a pre-rehearsed speech eulogising the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of Edinburgh awards”.

“That was the last thing that Prince Philip wanted to hear, so he suddenly started pointing at the man’s lapel and saying, ‘in that case where is it then … your Duke of Edinburgh badge’, the poor fella hadn’t even done the bronze award, so that was him blown out of the water,” he said.

“Then someone introduced me, and he said ‘ah, you’re the broadcaster’, I had to say, ‘I was, sir … I’m into politics’ – and time stopped.

“He was looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, and he looked at me from my head down to my feet and back up again, he took a breath, he shook his head, he let out a sigh and he left the room.

“It was pure theatre, he roasted me.

“In those few short minutes, I saw so much of the character of the prince.”

Independent MLA Claire Sugden (NI Assembly/PA)
Independent MLA Claire Sugden (NI Assembly/PA)

Independent MLA Claire Sugden met the duke during a visit to her East Londonderry constituency, and said she was delighted to have her own story of his humour.

“As a very fresh 27-year-old MLA in 2014 he questioned my life experience to be an elected representative, and I wish I was just as quick in responding to him but I stood there with my mouth open,” she told MLAs.

“So I suppose in some ways he was right, but seven years later with more experience and more life I reflect on Prince Philip’s work throughout his 99 years and I do not think any of us, even if we are as fortunate to live as long as he did, will ever have the life experience that he had because his life was truly remarkable.”

UUP leader and former Royal Navy commander Steve Aiken said he had met the duke on a number of occasions, adding it was in the naval environment where the Duke of Edinburgh felt fully at home and where his anecdotes “were very much more of the salty kind”.

His party colleague Doug Beattie, an army veteran, also met the duke during his former career.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie (NI Assembly/PA)
UUP MLA Doug Beattie (NI Assembly/PA)

He sported a tie that he wore on their second meeting which happened at Sandhurst.

“We talked about the knot in my tie – if you’re not an officer, you’re not allowed to have a Windsor knot in your tie, you have to have a different knot – he said, ‘what sort of knot is that’, and I said, ‘well it’s not a Windsor knot, I’m not allowed it’. He said ‘that’s ridiculous’ in colourful language,” he told MLAs.

“It’s a Windsor knot now, by the way.”