“We give thanks as a nation and a kingdom for the extraordinary life and work of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh”; almost none of us will have the good fortune to have led a life worthy of eliciting such words from a sitting Prime Minister on the occasion of our death. An unusual communal sadness will – I suspect – be gripping the nation as I type upon the death of a man whom many will regard as one of mankind’s greatest public servants. Befitting perhaps of this turbulent epoch from which we finally find ourselves emerging, that Prince Philip should leave us after what might easily be remembered as the second “annus horribilis” of his wife’s not inconsiderable reign. Is it too much to hope that his greatest act in life will be the leaving of it, and that a nation united briefly in mourning his mesmeric loss, might be given that final necessary push to wrench us phoenix like out of the ashes of burnt bat.
As we reflect on a great life greatly lived, we will look back to before we knew ‘furlough’ was a real word. All of us have experienced seismic shifts in how we live and work in recent months and nothing, nowhere nor no-one has escaped scrutiny, least of all UK independent schools. British public schools in particular are scrutinised almost without cessation and rightly so; COVID restrictions thrust them once more into the spotlight over fees discounts, re-opening discussions of their abolition. In recent weeks another sprawling scandal and impending investigation awaits a great many number of schools, state and private alike. Despite such challenges, our public schools, more than ever before, are striving for excellence. Not only in their curricular and co- curricular provision, but excellence in their internal social structure, excellence in living, in behaviour, pastoral excellence and anon. Much good has come from this period despite the hurt and trauma that has inevitably been its bedfellow. Much more good clearly needs to follow. As we view our public schools from yet another distressing perspective, we are reminded too, of the best of what they do and do often, we’re reminded about it more obviously than you might realise.
Prince Philip leaves in his wake an impressive real life example of what I think our public schools’ purpose really is, at least what it ought to be, what it can be. Educated at the unique Gordonstoun, a school infamous for wearing its values unabashedly on its sleeve with startling results for many who pass through it; Philip took the profound impact his ‘outdoor’ experience had on him as the making of him in what must have been, certainly at times, a traumatic childhood. The depth of the profundity led him to create the formidable Duke of Edinburgh Award, specifically with the intention of bringing such an educational experience to vast swathes of young people previously excluded by the circumstances of their birth. An award that will outlast us all and is widely undertaken by aspirational students across the globe from all walks of life. An extreme but precise lifelong demonstration of what a public school education can deliver at its best, an individual who is brought to understand the great privilege of privilege and the accompanying sense of earnest responsibility that should always be riding shotgun. A realisation that should see vast numbers of public school leavers depart their school better people, with a sense of enthusiasm about undertaking pursuits not only to better themselves but to contribute in any way, however minor, to the betterment of us all.
The optimists amongst us may well see this current and upcoming ‘woke’ generation as the start of something special, a shift towards more people with influence, privilege and power using them for positive change. Regardless of each of our personal opinion of Phil the Greek, few will contest that his commitment to public life will stand for time immemorial probable to be eternally unsurpassed by any future consort. Needless to say if your wife, let alone Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II says of you “our country owes him a greater debt than he would ever claim or we shall ever know” you can sleep soundly. Such words conjure up the image of a man who had the privilege of a transformative education, an education that taught him how to contribute, how to repay that privilege back to those unable to have such luck. If that was all there was to say about the contribution His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Greece and Denmark has made to his adopted nation it would still be a towering achievement in of itself. Thank you for educating us all to find excellence in existence.
Efharisto Sir, you were the master of your fate.
By William Petty, Director, Bonas MacFarlane
And further comments from Alexei Cantacuzene Speransky:
As a friend of Bonas MacFarlane and a Gordonstoun alumni, I can only mirror Will’s sentiments.
I would only go on to lengthen his comments as to what Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh learnt and subsequently allowed others to have access to, due to an education at Gordonstoun;
I was privileged enough to be taught alongside those less privileged than I.
I was lucky enough to be taught leadership by those that had had none growing up.
I was impassioned by those that had never been granted passion.
All of which, I believe can and should be learnt by all and taught by everyone.
I feel privileged in His Royal Highnesses wake, and yet humbled to achieve far more than I have and think I can.
Sir, you were and always will be an inspiration.
Plus Est En Vous
With my heart felt condolences to Her Majesty The Queen and each and every member of the Royal family and their people.