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Prince Philip’s visit to Tewkesbury Museum, 17 July 2006

On 17 July 2006, Tewkesbury Museum hosted the most illustrious visitor it is ever likely to have. Prince Philip.

Prince Philip visit 2006
Prince Philip’s visit to Tewkesbury Museum, 17 July 2006: Someone had cracked a joke!

Prince Philip with Mike Mike Sztymiak (Borough Mayor) Pete Aldridge (Town Mayor) and Maggie Thornton (Curator) outside the Museum. Also in the picture are John Hubert (Priestley’s grandson) and Sue Edlin, who researched and created the exhibition.

It came about because of an exhibition about the life of Sir Raymond Priestley which Sue Edlin, then the chair of the Museum Friends, was organising. She and Maggie, the curator, were aware of the friendship he’d had with Prince Philip which started when Sir Raymond joined the Royal Yacht Britannia for the Antarctic leg of a cruise in 1956 as guide to the area. They clearly got on very well. Completely ignoring the protocols which should be applied for such things, Sue and Maggie wrote to Prince Philip direct, told him about the exhibition and invited him to open it. To their surprise and delight he agreed, and even loaned three pictures to add to the display.

There followed an intense period of cleaning and polishing, including the repainting of the toilet, which is compulsory for all Royal visits.

He arrived with Henry Elwes, the Lord Lieutenant, to a small reception committee outside and then went inside. The official tour was to the exhibition, where he spent a lot of time, reading Priestley’s diary and talking to two especially recruited Antarctic exploration reenactors. The tour should have ended with a visit to the battle room, but he insisted on a proper look around the whole building. He was particularly interested in the fairground models. (If only he could have seen them working!) When he left, the Town Crier was in the party outside. Prince Philip pointed at him and suggested that he should be inside as part of one of the displays, and then drove away. It was a successful day, and Maggie had a very complimentary letter of thanks from his Equerry-in-Waiting.

Steve Goodchild writes, “On a personal level, I’d spent my working life successfully avoiding having to attend Royal Visits, but was cornered by Sue and Maggie, seeing no way out of being the battle room guide, though I wasn’t keen. In the event, my preconceptions were completely wrong. Everything which has been said about Prince Philip since his death is true. He was someone I could happily have spent an evening in the pub with. He had no airs and graces. He asked sensible questions and appeared to be interested in the topic. He was certainly far more knowledgeable about the fifteenth century than I had expected, and he couldn’t possibly have been so well briefed in the back of the Rolls. I only had ten minutes of his very long life, but those ten minutes have stayed with me in a very positive way.”

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