"I have never been noticeably reticent about talking on subjects about which I know nothing."

That was Prince Philip during a speech to a group of industrialists in 1961.

Over 70 years of official events, he seemed determined to prove this point true.

Clocking up 22,219 solo engagements before he retired in August 2017, the Duke of Edinburgh, who has died in London aged 99, became renowned for being gaffe-prone.

As recently as New Year's Eve in 2017, the Duke of Edinburgh pointed at a man with a beard and asked "Is that a terrorist?"

The then 96 year old is said to have made the comment while talking to Princess Anne as members of the family progressed to a New Year's Eve service at St Mary Magdalene church, near the Queen's Sandringham home.

This gaffe was laughed off, joining the moments of jollity that sparked laughter and provided a refreshing break to what would otherwise be the stiflingly polite environment of Royal engagements.

But there were also cringe-worthy outbursts that ranged from embarrassing at best to offensive at worst.

At times his comments came close to sparking diplomatic controversy.

In one of his most infamous observations, Philip told a group of British students in China in 1986: "If you stay here much longer you'll all be slitty-eyed".

The comment came to define the Prince's ability to offend when trying to endear himself to people.

 

Princes Andrew enjoys a laugh with his father at Ascot in 2016. Picture: Getty Images
Princes Andrew enjoys a laugh with his father at Ascot in 2016. Picture: Getty Images

 

So significant was the outcry that followed, he felt compelled to defend himself decades later in a documentary to mark his 90th birthday.

"I'd forgotten about it. But for one particular reporter who overheard it, it wouldn't have come out," he said.

"What's more, the Chinese weren't worried about it, so why should anyone else?"

It was not the only one of his comments that risked offence to Chinese people that year. At another event hosted by the World Wildlife Fund, the Prince opined that "if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."

This was just one of the times the remarks of the Queen's consort came close to causing a scandal.

During a visit to an Aboriginal centre in Cairns in 2002, he asked community leader William Brin "Do you still throw spears at each other?"

At the time, Mr Brin laughed nervously but later admitted he was taken aback by the comment.

"I wasn't exactly offended but to be honest I was surprised that he said something like that," Mr Brin told British media on the royal tour.

"I just told him, 'No, we don't do that any more.'"

The comment came at a time of simmering tension over Aboriginal deaths in custody and ongoing republican sentiment in Australia.

 

The Queen and Prince Philip meet with Indigenous performers in Cairns in 2002. Picture: AFP
The Queen and Prince Philip meet with Indigenous performers in Cairns in 2002. Picture: AFP

 

It must have been the last thing the Queen wanted as she conducted a tour of the country just a few years after the failed referendum to remove her as head of state.

Buckingham Palace officials were left to smooth over the controversy - not for the first time and certainly not for the last.

"They were lighthearted comments," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said after the Prince's remarks in Cairns. "There was no offence intended."

So common were the Prince's gaffes that they were almost expected.

It was those with unfortunate racial stereotypes that caused the most controversy.

In 1998, he said to a British student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea: "You managed not to get eaten then?"

In 2002, during a visit to a factory in Scotland he pointed to a fuse box and exclaimed it "looks as if it was put in by an Indian".

On meeting the President of Nigeria, who was dressed in traditional robes, in 2003 he said "You look like you're ready for bed!"

 

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (L) meeting with Prince Philip in. Picture: AFP
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (L) meeting with Prince Philip in. Picture: AFP

 

At a reception for British Indians in 2009, he looked at the name badge of businessman Atul Patel and remarked "There's a lot of your family in tonight."

And some Scots could have been affronted when in 1995 the Prince asked a driving instructor in the Scottish town of Oban "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?"

As well as being tone-deaf to cultural sensitivities, he at times unwittingly revealed how out of touch he was with the lives of ordinary people. In 1981, during the depths of recession in Britain, he said "A few years ago, everybody was saying we must have more leisure, everyone's working too much. Now that everybody's got more leisure time they are complaining they are unemployed. People don't seem to make up their minds what they want."

But there were times when Philip's eccentric sense of humour was well received.

He often joked about his frosty relationship to the media with lines such as this observation to a hospital matron in the Caribbean: "You have mosquitoes. I have the press".

He was not afraid to mock other members of the Royal Family - even his wife, the Queen.

"Yak, yak, yak. Come on get a move on," he shouted from the deck of Britannia in Belize in 1994 while she chatted to her hosts on the dock.

He described plans for the Duke and Duchess of York's house at Sunninghill Park in 1988 as looking "like a tart's bedroom".

And he said of his horse-loving daughter Princess Anne, "If it doesn't fart or eat hay then she isn't interested".

Whether you viewed him as a welcome breath of fresh air or an embarrassing indictment on the antiquated system of the monarchy, there was no denying Philip enlivened events.

No one was spared being the butt of his jokes - not even himself.

Nearing his 90th birthday in 2011, he referred to himself self-deprecatingly, saying "bits are beginning to drop off".

Soon after announcing his plans to retire in May 2017, mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah approached the Prince and told him "I'm sorry to hear you're standing down," to which Philip replied, "I can't stand up much longer!"

 

 

The couple visited the Great Wall of China in 1986. A number of comments the Prince made about the Chinese during his lifetime raised eyebrows. Picture: AFP
The couple visited the Great Wall of China in 1986. A number of comments the Prince made about the Chinese during his lifetime raised eyebrows. Picture: AFP

 

PHILIP'S FINEST CLANGERS

* "British women can't cook" (in 1966)

* "What do you gargle with, pebbles?" (in 1969, to singer Tom Jones)

* "I declare this thing open, whatever it is." (in 1969 in Canada)

* "Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease." (in 1992, when asked to stroke a koala)

* "You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly." (in 1993, to a British man in Budapest)

* "You are a woman, aren't you?"(in 1994, to a Kenyan woman who presented him with a gift)

* "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?" (in 1996, in response to calls to ban firearms after the Dunblane shooting)

* "Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf." (in 1999, to young deaf people in Cardiff, referring to a school's steel band).

* "Bloody silly fool!" (in 1997, referring to a car park attendant who did not recognise him)

* "You're too fat to be an astronaut." (in 2001, to a 13-year-old boy who told him he wanted to go into space)

 

Prince Philip speaking with Andrew Adams. Picture: Supplied
Prince Philip speaking with Andrew Adams. Picture: Supplied

 

* "I wish he'd turn the microphone off." (in 2001, during an Elton John performance)

* "You look like a suicide bomber." (in 2002, to a female officer wearing a bulletproof vest)

* "Well, you didn't design your beard too well, did you?" (in 2009, to designer Stephen Judge about his goatee)

* "Do you work at a strip club?" (in 2010, to a 24-year-old sea cadet who told him she also worked in a nightclub)

* "Do you have a pair of knickers made out of this?" (in 2010, asking Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie about some tartan)

* "How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?" (in 2012, to a disabled man driving a mobility scooter)

* "I would get arrested if I unzipped that dress." (in 2012, to a 25-year-old council worker wearing a dress with a zip down the front)

* "The Philippines must be half empty as you're all here running the NHS." (in 2013 to a Filipino nurse at a British hospitals)

* "Is that a terrorist?" - New Year's Eve, 2017, Prince Philip points at a man with a beard and made the comment while talking to Princess Anne as members of the family progressed to a New Year's Eve service at St Mary Magdalene church, near the Queen's Sandringham home

Originally published as Prince Philip's most outrageous comments

Tom Jones (pictured in 2002) was on the receiving end of one of the Prince’s legendary rude questions. Picture: Supplied
Tom Jones (pictured in 2002) was on the receiving end of one of the Prince’s legendary rude questions. Picture: Supplied


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