A committed conservationist with a deep interest in nature, Philip and Gyanendra were early eco-warriors and colleagues from World Wildlife Fund (WWF), of which the Duke was founder and the first UK president. During that 1986 visit, he broke away from the main royal program to visit South Asia’s first natural world heritage site at Chitwan National Park, and spent a peaceful day amongst the tall grasslands, riverine forests and sal-covered hills of the Tarai jungles.
The press corps arrived ahead of him, lining up politely outside the circular stone and thatched golghar as the two Princes strode into camp after a morning safari exploring the undisturbed wildlife of Chitwan. A retinue of rangers, park staff and security detail followed at a discreet distance.
A chorus of “Good morning, Sir” greeted the Duke as he passed the assembled journalists, their cameras clicking. “It was, until you lot arrived!” I heard him growl out of the side of his mouth, living up to his reputation for irascible one-liners. He was shorter than I expected, but with fine craggy features.
Lists of his best gaffes circulate the internet. My favourite are: “I declare this thing open, whatever it is” (on a visit to Canada in 1969). And “Yak, yak, yak; come on get a move on” (shouted from the deck of Britannia in Belize in 1994 to the Queen who was chatting to her hosts on the quayside).
At Tiger Tops he was gracious to us underlings, but there was some garbled and not very politically correct discussion about catching “some ghastly disease” from monkeys; AIDS was the epidemic of the era. At the British Embassy reception in Kathmandu the next day he was enjoying the locals so much that he failed to join the Ambassador’s group photo, to the Queen’s resigned irritation.
A tribe in the remote Pacific island of Vanuatu reveres Prince Philip as the reincarnation of an ancient warrior god, greeting his death with ritual wailing and ceremonial dancing. But perhaps his most unusual story is that of Thukten Phillip Sherpa, the godson he acquired in Nepal during his first visit in 1961.
That encounter followed the infamous royal hunt as the guest of King Mahendra in the lavish Meghauli camp in which the Duke diplomatically bandaged his trigger finger so as not to have to shoot any rhinos or tigers – hunters were evolving into conservationists. Photos show the shooting party perched in elaborate basketwork elephant howdahs engraved with regal crests, which can still be found gathering dust in the Bhimphedi hatisar.