Secrets of the Queen and Prince Philip’s incredible 73-year marriage – from giving up smoking to separate bedrooms


WHEN the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth met the dashing young Philip Mountbatten, in 1939, she fell madly in love.

While it would be eight years before they married, the future Queen’s first love proved to be an enduring one – as the touching portrait celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary, released today, clearly shows.

The Queen and Prince Philip open an anniversary card from great-grandchildren Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis

The affection between the couple, now 94 and 99, has never wavered despite trials and tribulations including their children’s bitter divorces, the tragic death of Princess Diana, and even rumours of infidelity.

More recently, Prince Philip’s bouts of ill health have been a worry for his devoted wife but lockdown has brought them closer than ever.

As they celebrated 73 years of marriage the couple were pictured opening cards from well-wishers, including their great-grandchildren, George, seven, Charlotte, five, and two-year-old Louis at Windsor Castle, where they have formed a ‘bubble’.

Former press secretary Dickie Arbiter says the perfect pairing was as evident on their wedding day, on November 20, 1947, as it is today.

The Queen wed her Prince on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey

“There was love and adoration when they were driving back from Westminster Abbey,” he told Victoria Derbyshire.

“That exists today. They’ve got humour. They’ve got affection for each other. They’ve got chemistry.”

Teen Princess besotted with handsome Navy cadet

At that fateful first meeting, at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Philip was tasked with entertaining Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret as their parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, toured the site.

Born into the exiled Greek royal family, Philip was a tall, blond cadet with a winning smile – and also the Queen’s third cousin.

The couple pictured at Buckingham Palace with children Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Prince Charles

He suggested that the young princesses joined him in jumping the nets on the college tennis courts and Elizabeth was smitten.

Governess Marion Crawford recorded in her diary that Elizabeth said, “See how he jumps,” in breathless awe.

Despite her teen crush, romance was still a way off as the five-year age gap meant Philip would have seen her as little more than a child.

“Like most romances, it was one that grew very gradually,” historian Christopher Warwick told Vanity Fair.

“Princess Elizabeth at 13 was still in low white socks and a matching coat, the same as her sister, Margaret. Philip was 18. He’d got girlfriends of his own.”

Princess Elizabeth was a young 13 when she first met Philip Mountbatten (second from right, top row)

The First World War meant Naval cadet Philip was away for the next five years, but the pair kept up a correspondence and, when he was on leave, he stayed at Windsor Castle with his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, so would see Elizabeth there.

Despite her young age, Mountbatten was keen for his nephew to wed the heir to the throne but her father told him: “She’s much too young. If it’s going to happen, let it happen naturally.”

The King’s words proved wise, and the pair did fall in love, with Prince Philip proposing at the end of the war, during a walk in the grounds of Balmoral, when Elizabeth was just 19.

The young princesses accompanied the King and Queen to the base

Romantic engraving remains a secret

The couple were forced to keep their engagement secret for almost two years, until Elizabeth turned 21, and it was officially announced on July 9, 1947.

During that time the romantic couple adopted the hit People Will Say We’re in Love – about a secret passion – as their song.

The couple were finally married on November 20 the same year, in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey attended by 2,000 guests.

Due to rationing measures in place following World War Two, the Princess had to use clothing ration coupons to pay for her dress, designed by Norman Hartnell.

Although hundreds of UK citizens sent their own coupons to Buckingham Palace, in an attempt to help, they had to be returned as it would have been illegal to use them.

The couple announced their engagement in 1947, when Elizabeth turned 21

The ceremony, televised by the BBC, was watched by 200million viewers around the world.

Despite the public nature of the wedding, however, Prince Philip added some private touches, including a secret engraving on the inside of the gold wedding ring, which has never been revealed to anyone.

In her book, Prince Philip, Ingrid Seward revealed: “She never takes it off and inside the ring is an inscription.

“No one knows what it says, other than the engraver, the Queen and her husband.”

Philip’s pledge to the future Queen was not without its sacrifices. In order to be granted the title of the Duke of Edinburgh, he was required to renounce his Greek and Danish titles and convert from Greek Orthodox to Anglican.

He also gave up smoking on the morning of the wedding, in deference to Elizabeth’s fears over her father’s health, which was beginning to fail due to his heavy smoking. He died from lung cancer in 1952.

The Queen’s wedding ring has a secret message from her husband

The newlyweds leave the Abbey after tying the knot in November 1947

The couple study their wedding pictures while on honeymoon in Romsey

Struggles as Queen’s consort

With the death of her father, Elizabeth had to step up to take over the throne, less than five years into the marriage.

Philip initially struggled with his new role as the Queen’s consort as well as having to sacrifice his military career.

“I thought I was going to have a career in the Navy, but it became obvious there was no hope.… There was no choice,” he said, according to one biography.

He also struggled with the protocol his new role demanded, taking second place to his wife and having to walk several metres behind his wife on walkabouts.

The Duke of Edinburgh had to kneel at his wife’s feet during the Coronation

An unguarded moment at a palace barn dance

He dealt with the new situation with his customary humour, as Dickie Arbiter remembers.

“The Queen would be doing her walk and be way ahead and Prince Philip would be about 50 metres behind,” he says.

“If you heard raucous laughter, it was a whole crowd of women around him, behind a barrier, and he’d be talking to them and joking with them.”

The royal couple share a family moment with Prince Charles, three, and Princess Anne, one

Humour is a strong mainstay of the couple’s marriage.

“She does make him laugh,” says Dickie. “What you see in public is very different from the person that you see in private.

“They are two people that are pretty much wrapped up in each other, although they do give each other space.

“She’s got a job to do. He’s got a role and they allow each other to get on with it.”

While the couple keep their relationship private, the Queen has remained besotted by her husband, as dresser Ian Thomas once discovered.

Speaking on Channel 5’s Secrets of Royal Dressmakers, Majesty magazine editor Ingrid Seward recalled a story the dresser told her about a touching moment between the pair during a dress fitting.

“When he was doing the hem, Prince Philip walked through the Queen’s dressing room and said ‘hmh, nice dress’,” explained Ingrid.

“The Queen flushed scarlet. I always remember him telling me that story. She was just so thrilled to get the compliment from her husband.”

“The Queen flushed scarlet. I always remember him telling me that story. She was just so thrilled to get the compliment from her husband.”

The couple share a sense of humour and make each other laugh

Dogged by rumours of affairs

While there has never been any proof of infidelity, rumours of Prince Philip’s affairs have been rife throughout the marriage,

He has been linked to numerous women, most notably stage actress Pat Kirkwood, who he met on several occasions in 1948, while his wife was pregnant with Prince Charles. They exchanged letters, but Kirkwood denied there had ever been an intimate relationship.

She reportedly told a journalist: “A lady is not normally expected to defend her honour. It is the gentleman who should do that.

“I would have had a happier and easier life if Prince Philip, instead of coming uninvited to my dressing room, had gone home to his pregnant wife on the night in question.”

Stage star Pat Kirkwood denied having an affair with the Prince

The Prince was also linked to TV personality Katie Boyle, singer Hélène Cordet, actress Merle Oberon and the Duchess of Abercorn, who claimed they had a “passionate friendship” but added: “I did not go to bed with him.”

In her 2011 biography, Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times, Sarah Bradford claimed: “The Duke of Edinburgh has had affairs… and the Queen accepts it. I think she thinks that’s how men are.”

However, many of Prince Philip’s inner circle insist that, while he is an admirer of attractive women, he has never strayed.

“He has always liked window shopping, but he doesn’t buy,” says Dickie Arbiter.

The late Mike Parker, the Prince’s private secretary, told the Telegraph in 2004: “Philip has been one hundred per cent faithful to the Queen. No ifs, no buts.”

And Philip himself has been outraged by questions about infidelity in the past, telling one female journalist: “Good God, woman, have you ever stopped to think that for years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me?

“So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?”

Actress Merle Oberon was another unsubstantiated rumour

Philip, pictured with his wife in Malta shortly after the wedding, gave up his Naval career

Separate bedrooms and long absences

As is traditional in many aristocratic houses, the Queen and Prince Philip have separate bedrooms but with interconnecting doors.

In a recent biography of the Queen, Lady Pamela Hicks, a cousin of Prince Philip, explained: “The upper class always have had separate bedrooms.

“You don’t want to be bothered with snoring or someone flinging a leg around.

The Queen and Prince Philip aboard the royal train in 1961

“Then when you are feeling cozy you share your room sometimes,” Hicks noted. “It is lovely to be able to choose.”

But the marriage has also been characterized by long absences, from Prince Philip’s early days in the Navy and his 1956 World Tour, to the Queen’s packed diary of royal engagements that often take her away from home.

Since his retirement from duty in 2017, Prince Philip spends the majority of his time at Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate, rarely returning to Buckingham Palace.

Wood Farm is the couple’s chosen ‘retirement’ home

The Queen, who has been taking a step back from royal duties in recent years, was spending an increasing amount of time there too and insiders say they chose the cosy house as a step toward a long-held fantasy of living out their final years as a “normal” couple, living in the country.

However, during the two coronavirus lockdowns this year, the couple have become even closer as they formed a bubble at Windsor with a few select staff members.

A source said: “Everyone who has seen her recently says the Queen appears to have a new lease of life because she loved the chance to spend quality time with Philip again.

The Prince has battled ill health and retired from royal duties in 2017

“Because of self-isolation and with only a small team of loyal staff, dubbed ‘HMS Bubble’, this is the first time the Queen has been able to spend quality time with her husband for years.

“They have been able to relax and finally have the chance to live like regular people aged in their 90s should be able to.

“They haven’t really had a period of time together like this in many years.

“They have remembered what a good team they are and privately decided they should not be separated ever again.”

Philip has been by his wife’s side for 70 years of royal engagements

Battling adversity together

In 73 years of marriage, the royal couple have had their fair share of difficult times.

They include the “annus horribilis” of 1992, which saw the marriages of Princess Anne and Prince Andrew break down, the publication of a tell all book about Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles and a devastating fire at Windsor Castle.

The couple have faced a number of close family bereavements, including the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 and the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret in 2002.

More recently, the pair have been rocked by the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and allegations he slept with a 17-year-old grooming victim, and Prince Harry’s decision to step down as a senior royal and move to the US.

The fire at Windsor Castle was a tough moment for the couple

As ever, the Queen turns to her husband for advice and support in a reversal of their public roles.

“In a private capacity, he has always been deferred to by the Queen as head of the family,” says Christopher Warwick

“It’s a very symbiotic relationship and a very firm partnership.”

The Queen has also paid tribute to her husband, saying he has supported her throughout her reign and has been “my strength and stay through all these years”.

The family was rocked by the breakdown of Prince Charles’s marriage and the death of Princess Diana

Prince Andrew’s split from Fergie was part of the ‘annus horribilis’

As they celebrate their anniversary, the longest-married couple in British royal history are stronger than ever.

“The very fact that they’ve been married now for 73 years speaks volumes,” says Warwick.

“The relationship has withstood the test of time primarily because they love one another very much.”