I WAS just two yards away from the raw emotion of the Royal Family as they said farewell to the Duke of Edinburgh.
For a man who famously wanted “no fuss” and told his offspring to “just get on with it” the Duke of Edinburgh’s final journey was filled with sorrow. And I could see the family’s pain up close.
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The Duke, who planned every moment of yesterday’s moving funeral service, had arranged for me as a photographer to hide inside a fake pillar at the top of the stairs leading to St George’s Chapel.
With a letter box-shaped slit, it was just like the bird-watching hides where Prince Philip spent hours during his retirement at Sandringham, his Norfolk estate.
From the most unusual vantage point of my 44 years of photographing the royals, I was close enough to see Prince Charles — the man I have known for more than half his life — look broken.
Close to tears, I could see he realised the weight of the task ahead to look after his mother and the monarchy.
As they passed me on their way into the nave of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, William and Harry never glanced at each other.
Watching Princess Anne, her husband Tim Laurence, Prince Edward and Peter Phillips, I realised that every single one of them will have to accompany the Queen for the rest of her life.
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Prince Harry has chosen a life without duty to the Queen on the other side of the world.
I was so glad to discover that he had walked out of the chapel afterwards chatting to William and Catherine.
It was a sign I had been praying for that this unique royal would show there is hope of a reconciliation in the House of Windsor.
From my “hide”, I could see the immense pride etched on the faces of the eight Royal Marines chosen to be pallbearers for the man who had been their Captain General for 64 years.
In their black tunics with red sashes, they marched the grand old Duke halfway up the stone staircase before halting, shouldering his lead-lined coffin of English oak while the nation held a minute’s silence.
In those 60 seconds, I remembered the last ceremonial royal funeral I covered.
Philip — as he had been all his married life — was at his wife’s side to give her support in her darkest hour at her own mother’s funeral.
The Queen Mum, who died shortly before her 102nd birthday, lay in state for a week while hundreds of thousands of people filed past her body.
On top of his coffin lay his Admiral’s cap and sword given to him by King George VI in honour of his distinguished war service in the Royal Navy.
That service took him to Tokyo Bay the very moment Japan’s evil empire surrendered.
And I recalled the day on a royal tour to the Far East one of the Emperor’s staff was overheard asking the Duke: “Have you been to Japan before?” The prince smiled to himself and said: “No I haven’t.” He could be tactful but not too often.
Later, seeing those haunting TV pictures of the Queen in black sitting all on her own in Chapel Quire, it dawned on me there is no longer anyone left in the world to call her “Lilibet”.
Her mother did, her sister Margaret did and Philip did. They have all gone.
It’s a lonely life being head of state in any country and you need a good partner to help you get through it each day.
The Queen could confide in Philip.
Most probably, there was not a single secret she did not share with him and he would give her the honest, unvarnished advice she needed to make the right decisions. But 99 was a good age to live to and I am so glad they were together for those final days.
There is no doubt Prince Philip wanted to leave hospital and go home to spend his last moments with the woman he loved.
Yesterday, the nation and the world cried for her and the loss of her beloved Philip.
On Wednesday, it will be the Queen’s 95th birthday but it will be no celebration whatsoever.
The Royal Family will still be in mourning and I expect the Queen will open the gifts and the cards but in her heart she will still be thinking where is the card from Philip?
It is not there. Where is the present from Philip? Not there. It will be the first time in nearly 75 years together he has missed her birthday. She has lost a great man.
Prince Philip was not just a consort to our Queen but a great human being.
The Duke was such a great employer that his staff never wanted to leave him, ever.
I saw his two pages, his private secretary and his personal protection officer walking behind his coffin on the most unusual hearse I have ever seen at a royal funeral.
Queen’s words for beloved
THE Queen’s note to her husband of 73 years rests on a wreath of white lilies and roses as his coffin is carried into St George’s Chapel.
Penned on Windsor Castle-headed paper, it appeared to read: “In loving memory” and is signed “Lilibet”.
Her Majesty chose the flowers placed on Prince Philip’s personal standard.
You’d have thought a man who spent much of his life at the reins of four charging horses would want his coffin placed on a gun carriage like the warrior princes of old.
But it was typical of the Duke that he was carried to his final resting place on a Land Rover — the farmers’ trusty work horse.
When his coffin went past my hidey hole and into the Chapel — my last sight of the man I have been photographing for 40 years — I was overwhelmed with memories of an incredible man.
Tribute in homeland
A CHURCH service was held for Prince Philip at his birthplace on Corfu.
The 40-minute memorial took place at Saint Spyridon Church in the old town of the Greek island’s capital.
The Duke was born on the dining room table of the Mon Repos villa in June 1921, to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg.
Mayor Meropi Ydraiou said: “Prayers were said for him. It was very moving.
“His death has touched a lot of older people who have memories of the Royal Family.”
The Corfu Heritage Foundation said: “Other memorials will take place starting with his birthday on June 10.”
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