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Haughty, contemptuous, high-handed: Prince Philip must say sorry for the sake of the Royals

PUBLISHED: 11:21 21 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:50 21 January 2019

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh leave Sandringham church. Photo: Sonya Duncan

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh leave Sandringham church. Photo: Sonya Duncan

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2017

As public relations challenges go, the aftermath of the crash involving the Duke of Edinburgh at Sandringham was as easy as ABC.

The Duke of Edinburgh driving his Land Rover Freelander on the Sandringham Estate Norfolk 2 days after his crash. Photo: Albanpix.comThe Duke of Edinburgh driving his Land Rover Freelander on the Sandringham Estate Norfolk 2 days after his crash. Photo: Albanpix.com

As soon as possible, the people in the other car should have been invited to Sandringham House to meet Prince Philip and other Royals. Photo opportunity, the Duke and the Queen looking concerned and compassionate, maybe a few crustless sandwiches: job done.

What was said could then have remained private.

It’s still a story, but one that builds on the recent years of positive media the Royals have attracted as the younger generation - princes William and Harry and their wives Kate and Meghan - have come through and shown genuine warmth and humanity.

Turn a drama into an opportunity - it’s so basic.

Princess Diana in 1997    Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire.Princess Diana in 1997 Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire.

Instead, drama has been turned into a crisis, with the media (yes, including us) not unsurprisingly relishing every new PR foul up.

And so, there is still no apology from the Duke to the two women and the baby who went through something totally terrifying.

Within 24 hours, Prince Philip was driving a new Land Rover around Sandringham without wearing a seatbelt. The Queen has also been spotted being driven while not wearing a seatbelt.

Meanwhile, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Mary Ingram has left a voicemail expressing the deep sympathy of the Queen towards one of the crash victims, Emma Fairweather.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex   Photo: Getty ImagesThe Duke and Duchess of Sussex Photo: Getty Images

It’s clumsy and contemptuous.

Driving or being driven in a car without a seatbelt is against the law, so the Duke in particular seemed to be thumbing his nose at people, as if he is untouchable.

To then have no apparent interest in even contacting, let alone apologising to, the two women beggar’s belief.

I’d class myself as a slight Royalist, as I think it is a special and idiosyncratic institution that helps us to attract visitors and unites us around big events.

In the times before and a few years following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales,

I was a staunch republican: many of the Royals were haughty, distant, and behaving in ways unworthy of their positions.

For too many years, it was more EastEnders than The Windsors. Affairs, Red Top front-page toe-suck scandal, divorces, drugs, racism, heavy boozing, and no doubt plenty of Albert Square-style sighing and screeching in the bowels of Buck House.

We shouldn’t really be surprised at Prince Philip’s behaviour. Is there a tactful way to say that he has a reputation of being blunt, rude and a touch cantankerous?

He’s 97, so there must be some leeway: if I get to that age, I fully expect to be exceptionally grumpy.

But if he is well enough to drive a car (which I would call into question even for people a fair few years younger), he is more than coherent enough to demonstrate some old-fashioned courtesy and make personal contact with those who were involved in the crash.

This unnecessarily dragged-out saga has certainly done some damage to the public image of the Royals, and I imagine the likes of Prince Charles and Prince William will secretly be fuming at the behaviour of their father and grandfather.

If you praise someone 99 times and say something cruel once, the one is the one that is remembered the most.

In the same way, a great Royal wedding, a new baby, a pregnancy and loads of positive public appearances are forgotten against the high-handed behaviour in the last few days.

The Royals are micro-managed by experienced staff and a big, well paid PR team. It’s time for them to earn their money.

It won’t have the sense of sincerity of a swift apology, but the Duke of Edinburgh can still pull some of this back by reaching out with dignity.

If he doesn’t, he’ll not only appear to have contempt for the people of Britain, but also for his own family.

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