Sunday Times apologises for saying people enjoyed Prince Philip's 'racist gaffes'

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·3-min read

Watch: Prince Philip death: The Duke of Edinburgh dies, aged 99

The Sunday Times has apologised after a report on Prince Philip's funeral suggested the public "secretly enjoyed" some of the late duke's "racist" gaffes.

The newspaper's foreign correspondent Christina Lamb wrote the front page story about the funeral, from Windsor, and said: "Prince Philip was the longest-serving royal consort in British history – an often crotchety figure, offending people with gaffes about slitty eyes, even if secretly we rather enjoyed them."

The line appeared in the first print edition of the paper but was removed for the second and did not appear online. 

It was later changed to "an often crotchety figure, offending people with his gaffes, even if we secretly laughed at them". 

After the report a petition was started on by Susie Lau and the ESEA [East and South-East Asian] Network, which has gathered more than 19,000 signatures, calling for an apology.

The petition said: "Portraying the nation as a collective 'we' that 'secretly' enjoys racist and derogatory slurs at the expense of ethnic groups is insensitive at best, and encouraging racist violence at worst."

It added: "She is certainly not representing East and South-East Asians (ESEA) in the UK and other Western countries who have experienced countless taunts on the shape of their eyes. 

"These comments are unacceptably familiar to ESEA folk, imprinting racial trauma from experiences in the playground to the office."

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In a statement to Press Gazette, the newspaper's editor Emma Tucker said: "The Sunday Times apologises for the offence caused in a piece about the Duke of Edinburgh, published in our print edition.

"This so-called ‘gaffe’ made by Prince Philip was a well-known aspect of his life story. The Sunday Times did not intend to condone it.

"It was noted by us on Saturday night that the sentence was offensive and it was not published in digital editions.

"Christina Lamb has spent her whole career reporting on discrimination and injustices against people in every part of the world and never intended to make light of his remark in any way."

The gaffe referenced in the article was made by Philip in 1986, when he was on a visit to China. He told some of the students there: "If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed."

BADALING, CHINA - OCTOBER 14:  The Queen And Prince Philip Visiting The Great Wall Of China At Badaling Near Peking  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
The Queen and Prince Philip at the Great Wall Of China in 1986. (Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Read more: The Duke of Edinburgh - a man who spoke his mind

However The Sunday Times apology has been labelled "disappointing" by the network behind the petition.

In an update to the petition the group said: "This statement has not been sent to us, simply to the public. It has been crafted to seem like an apology, but is a non-apology that directly ignores our original asks: a published retraction and apology. 

"An apology should take accountability by acknowledging the specific harm caused and the responsibility for it with a commitment to do better."

Prince Philip died on 9 April at the age of 99 and his funeral was held last Saturday.

The late Duke of Edinburgh had developed a reputation for so-called gaffes over the years. 

In the days following his death some of those were defended by people who worked with him, who said he was trying to break the ice at events.