With Prince Philip, first there was the accident, and then there was the disaster. The car accident left a Land Rover and a Kia totaled last week, and left two women hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Philip was driving alone in the Land Rover and he caused the accident. It could have been a bad story about how the Duke of Edinburgh just needs to stop driving and this was the non-fatal incident that led to it. Instead, the Duke and the palace seemed to dig in and it became a giant PR disaster. Philip had a shiny new Land Rover delivered to Sandringham, and he was seen driving without a seatbelt just days after his accident. Sources say that he has no intention of giving up driving, and one of the car crash victims keeps telling her story and talking about how Philip and the Queen haven’t called to apologize or ask how she’s doing. It’s a PR nightmare.
Buckingham Palace has been reluctant to be drawn into the narrative, but its strategy doesn’t seem to be working. The Queen, who was photographed again on Saturday, this time wearing her safety belt, eventually had a senior aide try to contact the crash victims. But some media observers deemed it too little, too late. As P.R. advisor Ian Monk told Vanity Fair, “The reverberations from the P.R. [surrounding the] car crash are causing more damage than the actual collision on the A149. A short, warm and personal handwritten note of apology from the Duke should have been in Miss Fairweather’s hands 48 hours before the media inevitably came calling. Equally ill-advised were the pictures of Philip back at the wheel the next day and without a seatbelt. The message, while plainly not intended, came across clearly: one rule for royals, another for subjects. As Marie Antionette might have said: “Let them wear seatbelts.’”
The Sunday Mirror reported that Philip was required to take an eye test as part of an ongoing police investigation, and he passed. Sources close to the Duke say he is likely to continue driving in the manner he is accustomed to. Such defiance is typical of the independent, feisty and determined Duke but it does pose a problem for his aides who are at the centre of the ongoing P.R. maelstrom.
“Philip is a law unto himself,” said one source. “The Queen and Prince Charles have pleaded with him to stop driving on public roads. Charles particularly thinks it’s too dangerous but Philip won’t be told. He loves the freedom he gets from being on the road, and he doesn’t want to be driven around. There is really only one person he listens to and that’s the Queen, and while I know she has had words in the past, I’m not sure she would ever insist he stops driving.”
A police investigation is still ongoing and might lead to legal consequences for the Duke. In addition, there are still unanswered questions about Philip’s protection team, and why they weren’t first on the scene in the aftermath of the accident. The B.B.C. reported that the Duke was driving alone when he crashed, and his protection officer was following some distance behind in a separate car. It was a member of the public who pulled the royal from the wreckage.
According to one royal insider: “Philip has always liked to give his protection officers the slip. He often won’t tell them where he’s going or what he’s doing, and so they’re playing catch up.”
Former protection officer Ken Wharfe backs up what those royal insiders say in an interview with People. Wharfe also notes that this story could have been so much worse, and that the Duke could have really killed someone or done serious harm, and that “To go on his own and not wear a seat belt and not take a bodyguard is crazy.” Agreed. The whole idea of a 97-year-old man “giving his bodyguards the slip” and running off by himself and getting into a car accident is insane. It’s also insane to think of how badly the palace has handled this entire incident.
Photos courtesy of WENN and Avalon Red.