February 18, 2015

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 39



His Royal Highness began by declaring “how deeply touched, honoured, and, at this point, humbled” he felt by the Award, and by describing the Oscar Nemon bust with which he had been presented as, “without doubt one of the best sixty-fifth birthday presents I could have been given.”

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“The extraordinary thing about getting older,” he continued, “is that suddenly you are presented with a chance to reminisce. Most of our lives when younger consist of sitting listening to older people.” As an historian he had been particularly fascinated in hearing them and asking questions.

His fond memories of Sir Winston go back to seeing him when Churchill had come to visit The Queen at Clarence House “when I was very small….I remember him vividly in the hall, with a large cigar, when he was putting on his coat and hat to go out.” He also remembered Churchill at Balmoral in the early Fifties. The tradition then was for the netting of very small trout, each year in August in Loch Muick, and everyone would take part. Sir Winston was sitting on a boulder with Lady Churchill; he picked up an enormous log and declared that he was “waiting for the Loch Muick monster”! A cine film taken by HM The Queen had reminded him of this, and of how annoying he must have been to Sir Winston at the age of five.

Of course he had been brought up on countless Churchill stories, “particularly from my great uncle, Lord Mountbatten; most of them I cannot possibly repeat on this occasion” though they were “incredibly good and very funny.” He did, however, recount an exchange between his grandfather King George VI and Sir Winston which took place one morning at a very cold airport. The King asked Sir Winston if he wanted something to warm him. Sir Winston replied, “when I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.”

The Prince regretted the fact that he had not been able to ask Sir Winston about speechmaking, of which “he was the past master….Because I could not ask him, I used to sit at the feet of Harold Macmillan, who was another one of those remarkable people.” When the young Prince asked if the older statesman could give him any hints, Macmillan said that he could only tell him what Lloyd George had told him (“which is quite a good opener”)—namely that if you are addressing a huge gathering you have to use gestures, and should never make them from the elbow, always from the shoulder. The Prince then demonstrated the proposed technique, which he has never forgotten, even though he had never been able to put it into practice.

Harold Macmillan had also supplied him with a reading list, drawn from the library at Chatsworth. It started with Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which the Prince admitted he never finished, and included Buchan’s Augustus, which he wholeheartedly recommended. The list demonstrated the scale of classical education— liberal education in those days—which “enabled them to understand the great sweep of history and the way geog- raphy worked.”

The Prince spoke of his great debt to Lord Soames, late husband of our Patron Lady Soames, who taught him the power of convening. What he had tried to do over the course of the last thirty-seven years, since leaving the Royal Navy, was best summed up by what Sir Winston had said in 1908: “What is the use of living, if it not be to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we have gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and constellations of the infinite and the eternal?” In so striving, he had observed the awkward truth of what Winston Churchill had said in 1906, that one is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents. (See “Quotation of the Season,” page 5.)

One Churchillian relationship that the Prince had enjoyed was the lifelong friendship of Sir Winston’s grandson Nicholas Soames, whom he thanked for his “undying support, loyalty and wit.” He confirmed that he would treasure the bust which would always remind him of “one of the greatest of Englishmen.”

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