6 Things You Didn't Know About Prince Philip

The grand patriarch of the Royal Family, Prince Philip is probably best known for his "controversial" sense of humour. But there's far more to him than many people realise.

Prince Philip

1. HIS FAMILY WAS BANISHED

Philip was born into the Greek aristocracy, the grandson of the country's King George I, but his childhood was a far cry from the opulence of the usual royal upbringing. The king himself was shot dead in 1913 by a crazed anarchist with a loathing for the establishment. A proper political motive for the killing was ruled out at the time, with the assassin dismissed as just a booze-sodden hobo. Philip's uncle took the crown as Constantine I, but his rule was to prove shockingly turbulent.

In 1922, Constantine I was forced from the throne by a military uprising, and the entire royal family came under threat. The clan were forced into exile on a British boat, with the infant Philip transported in a cot fashioned from a fruit box. They went to France, beginning a life of travelling and uncertainty for the boy.

2. HIS MOTHER HAD SCHIZOPHRENIA

Philip's mother Alice, later known as Princess Andrew after her husband, succumbed to schizophrenia in the years after the family went into exile. She claimed to be receiving divine transmissions from Christ, which led to her being diagnosed by a string of eminent psychiatrists, including some specialising in soldiers suffering shell shock after the trenches. In a dramatic turn of events, Philip's mother was forcibly plucked from the family and put into a sanatorium. As her biographer would later put it, "It was literally a car and men in white coats, coming to take her away."

Despite the bizarre treatments she endured - including having her ovaries beamed with radiation to alter her sex drive, on the suggestion of Sigmund Freud - she made a full recovery and led a colourful life. Among her exploits were hiding a Jewish family from the Gestapo during World War Two, and founding her own order of nuns. This rather baffled her mother, who said: "What can you say of a nun who smokes and plays canasta?"

3. HE SAVED A WHOLE SHIP IN WW2

Serving in the Royal Navy during World War Two, Philip had natural ingenuity which saved the lives of his comrades. While on board the HMS Wallace, he and his fellow seamen came under attack from an enemy bomber, and realised they were sitting ducks. The bomber would almost certainly destroy their ship on its next pass.

That's when Philip devised a go-for-broke plan to throw a wooden raft overboard with smoke floats. It was hoped that, in the darkness, the enemy would think the smoking, flaming raft was the target, giving them a chance to sail at full speed out of the danger zone. As one veteran later recalled: "The sound of the aircraft grew louder until I thought it was directly overhead and I screwed up my shoulders in anticipation of the bombs. The next thing was the scream of the bombs, but at some distance. The ruse had worked and the aircraft was bombing the raft... Prince Philip saved our lives that night."

4. THERE WAS A MAJOR DISPUTE OVER HIS NAME

When his wife became Queen Elizabeth II, there was a private debacle over the family name. Philip and his uncle, Louis Mountbatten, were in favour of the dynasty becoming the House of Mountbatten. Winston Churchill, who despised Louis Mountbatten for his part in granting India independence from Britain, argued that the family should remain the Windsors. Philip was furious at his own lack of influence, comparing himself to an "amoeba" and saying: "I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children."

It's even been suggested by some insiders that Philip bore such a grudge over the whole thing that he refused to maintain his marital duties with his wife, accounting for the long gap between the births of the Princess Royal and Prince Andrew.

5. HE HELPED "INVENT" A SPORT

Philip was the main driving force in establishing the official rules for the sport of carriage driving. This rip-roaring recreation involves racing horse-drawn carriages at breakneck speeds through courses, and over obstacles. It was a hobby Philip got into because he had given up polo and realised he could make use of the family's horses and carriages. Perfecting his skills was tricky, though - Philip later confessed he'd "smashed up" the carriages, and even had an "indestructible" one created for him by the workshops at Sandringham.

6. HE'S KNOWN FOR BEING DOWN TO EARTH

While his public persona in later years has been that of an out-of-touch grump - a kind of gilded Victor Meldrew - insiders know Philip as being remarkably unpretentious and down to earth. For many years, one of his prized possessions was an environmentally-friendly London taxi, which he was fond of using to drive around the capital incognito. And, during a visit to the White House in 1979, he surprised the waiting staff with his unfussy ways.

One of them was Lynwood Westray, a veteran butler who offered the prince a drink. "I'll take one if you'll let me serve you," was Philip's response, which baffled the butler, who gamely went along with it, enjoying a long chat and a drink away from the other VIPs. "It was an honour to let him do it," Westray later said.