Prince Philip’s death at 99, announced today by Buckingham Palace, brings to a close the life of a great countryman.
A keen gameshot throughout his life – with his wife HM the Queen often picking up behind him – he developed the Sandringham shoot into one of the premier wild bird shoots in the country, and a model of conservation. Among its features was the gun bus he designed, with special compartments for guests’ guns built into the coachwork (film about it, below).
The 20,000-acre estate is best-known for its Boxing Day shoot, when members of the royal family who enjoy Christmas at Sandringham House go out for a driven pheasant day. Prince Philip’s shooting interests went far wider than gameshooting, included wildfowling and the politics of shooting sports. he spent his life making the point that environmental activists and shooters have the same aims.
Prince Philip loved deerstalking at Balmoral, grouseshooting, and hunting big game overseas. He also worked hard to promote shooting as the UK’s premier model for conservation. He was a patron of shooting organisation BASC. He was last at BASC’s Marford Mill headquarters in 2010, when he opened the new Duke of Edinburgh Building and met staff, guests and council members.
His work for BASC and his promotion of a living, working countryside made him a target for animal rights activists. One group estimated he shot 30,000 pheasants in his lifetime.
In 2012, Prince Philip was reported to be ‘deeply disappointed’ at being told to give up shooting following a heart scare. Doctors told him to give up his gun as the recoil from it could dislodge a stent they fitted to unblock a coronary artery.
He lived through a time when big game hunters went from national heroes to media villains. In January 1961, he was caught up in the transition. After a three-day hunt with the Maharajah and Maharanee of Jaipur and Prince Jagat-Singh, he shot an 8ft tiger. He also shot a crocodile and six mountain sheep on that trip. It was the photograph of the tiger that outraged British newspapers, so much so that Prince Philip had to pull out of the following day’s hunt, his doctor claiming he had developed a ‘whitlow’ on his trigger finger.
Prince Philip also went on a driven tiger hunt in Nepal with King Mahendra (see our film below), but he was unsuccessful.
Prince Philip’s irascibility, combined with an eye for detail and failure to suffer fools is well-known. One story about this concerns the colonel of a regiment stationed in Germany. Prince Philip was due to visit.
The regiment had the Prince’s tiger skin proudly displayed on the wall of its officer’s mess. A couple of weeks before the Prince was due to come, the colonel noticed with horror that the tiger was missing a tooth.
Suspecting the junior officers, he nevertheless realised he had to do something. At some expense, he commissioned a German dentist to make him a new tooth and cement it into place.
The great day arrived. Prince Philip toured the barracks. When it came to the part where he entered the officer’s mess, the colonel said proudly, ‘…and there, your royal highness, is your tiger’. Pringe Philip went up to it. ‘Not mine,’ he said sharply. ‘Mine was missing a tooth.’
Among his work was as WWF UK’s first president. He made one of his more memorable gaffes addressing the WWF in 1986 – but one which reaches forward to the origins of Covid-19 today. “If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it,” he told WWF delegates.
He was resolutely pro-shooting and pro-gun ownership. In 1996, amid calls to ban firearms after the Dunblane shootings, he caused controversy when he said: “If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?”
“I met Prince Philip some years ago while in a line-up of shooting magazine editors,” says Fieldsports Channel’s Charlie Jacoby. “He came across as deeply informed – and he had to have the last word. He asked me my job and, when I told him, he said ‘There are far too many shooting magazines these days’. I answered that he was quite right and they should be recycled. ‘Recycled,’ he said. ‘Don’t get me started on recycling’.”
Prince Philip leaves heirs who will continue his traditions of love of the outdoors and outspokenness.