real life

This rare insight into Prince Phillip's uniquely harrowing childhood will make you see him with new eyes.

As an adult, after making his mark on the royal family and the world-at-large, an interviewer put a question to the notoriously prickly Prince Phillip.

What language did he speak at home?

His reply was simple on the surface, telling in context: “What do you mean, ‘at home’?”

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of one of the most famous, wealthy and revered women in the world, didn’t grow up in the glow of royalty or in the surroundings of love.

In fact, when journalist Fiammetta Rocco profiled the royal for The Independent in 1992, she remarked as a young boy, the Duke of Edinburgh “was neglected emotionally, and starved of the constant loving attention children need”.

At one point in season two of The Crown, Princess Margaret asks Queen Elizabeth II, “Don’t Philip’s Nazi sisters come back to haunt him? Or his lunatic mother? Or his womanising, bankrupt father?”

Listen: Vanessa Kirby, who plays Princess Margaret on The Crown, tells The Binge host Laura Brodnik about her harrowing experience filming the series.

It was one of the first times the show referenced Prince Philip’s unorthodox childhood, in later episodes delving into the details of what it entailed. So how accurate was the portrayal of his past?

According to royal experts, fairly.

When he was just a baby, Prince Philip’s family were forced to flee Greece where they were a part of the royal family. A military revolt had ousted his uncle from the throne and, as the story goes, the now 96-year-old was smuggled out of the country in a nondescript orange crate. He was the youngest of five, but the first and only son.

At the age of nine, his mother Alice of Battenberg – who was born deaf – was committed against her will and under sedation to a psychiatric facility. It was 1931, and now widely tipped to have been some kind of nervous breakdown triggered by manic depression.

Of course, back then, society didn’t have the word, explanation or understanding. And so, just a short while later, his father abandoned ship.

He closed down the family home near Paris, leaving a 10-year-old Philip without a mother or a father, finding home in the South of France. Some report his father left his wife and family for a young mistress.

Listen: The Binge hosts discuss the biggest lies season two told us about the royal family.

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And so Philip was left in the care of his mother’s family in Britain, after his four sisters married German princes and moved countries. For five years, he heard nothing from his mother – no birthday cards, no letters of hello. His contact with his father was limited.

Image: Getty.

At the age of 16, his older, pregnant sister Cecile, along with her husband and two boys, were killed in a plane crash on the way to a wedding.

Prior to her death, Cecile had signed up to the Nazi party, and at her funeral, a young Prince Philip was pictured surrounded by Nazi uniform and Nazi soldiers. However, she wasn't the only sister with strong ties to the Nazi regime. Sophie, Philip's youngest sister, married a man who became a director for Third Reich’s Ministry of Air Forces. In fact, Sophie and her husband even named their eldest son after Adolf Hitler.

Naturally, when Prince Philip married Queen Elizabeth in 1947, his sisters - due to their close ties to Nazis - did not attend. His mother, who did not, was there.

When reflecting on his childhood some years later in an interview with a biographer, Prince Philip did not dwell on his past, nor the fact it was littered with broken relationships.

“It’s simply what happened,"  he said. “The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.”