Couple who charmed the world with their fairytale love story

The couple who charmed the world: How the Queen and Prince Philip’s romance began with teenage crush, blossomed on the dance floor and led to 73-year marriage that transfixed millions

  • Their first proper meeting came in 1939 at Dartmouth Naval College, where Philip was a cadet
  • Romance began blossoming in the 1940s and couple tied the knot at Westminster Abbey in November 1947
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Nearly two years on from his death aged 99, the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh will be being felt by his children as acutely as ever – especially now given the passing of his beloved wife the Queen last September. 

As Her Majesty famously said, Prince Philip was her ‘strength and stay’, the rock upon which she depended for support for 73 years.

And as the anniversary of his death approaches, the nation, too, will remember his role as an indispensable stateman at the heart of the monarchy and a key figure in national life.

But it is worth remembering a different, more youthful Philip than the one we saw in later life. He and the Queen were once the most glamorous couple in the world. 

As the second anniversary of Prince Philip’s death draws near, it is worth remembering a different, more youthful Philip than the one we saw in later life. He and the Queen were once the most glamorous couple in the world. Above: The couple posing for their engagement pictures at Buckingham Palace in July 1947

The royal couple look into each other’s eyes as they dance together at a Youth and Service ball in Edinburgh in July 1947. The engagement came after they had announced that they were to marry 

Princess Elizabeth, then aged 13, is seen meeting an 18-year-old Prince Philip at Dartmouth Naval College in July 1939

In what seemed like a fairy tale, they enraptured millions at home and abroad on hundreds of engagements, where they danced, held court and showed off their blossoming relationship to the world.

From the point of their first proper meeting, when Princess Elizabeth was aged just 13 and the Duke – then Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark – was an 18-year-old Royal Navy cadet, it seemed that future romance was a certainty. 

They met in July 1939, when Princess Elizabeth joined her parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and sister Princess Margaret on a visit to Dartmouth Naval College, where Philip was training. 

Although the pair had come across each other on two previous occasions – at the 1934 wedding of Philip’s cousin Marina to Elizabeth’s uncle, Prince George, Duke of Kent, and at her father’s coronation in 1937 – it was in Dartmouth that they were properly introduced. 

Philip, tasked with showing Elizabeth and her sister around, immediately made an impression on his future wife.

Those piercing blue eyes and bright blonde hair – later described as his ‘Viking’ good looks – were immediately alluring to the young princess.

Her governess, Marion Crawford, later recalled the trip in the 1950 memoir which led to her becoming an outcast. 

Princess Elizabeth is seen in a resplendent gown as she arrives with her fiance to open the dancing at a Youth and Service ball in Edinburgh in 1947

Princess Elizabeth with Prince Philip just after their engagement was announced

Princess Elizabeth dancing with her then fiancé, Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, in July 1947, when a ball was held to welcome the royal family to Scotland

She recounted how, due to a mumps outbreak among some of the boys, Elizabeth and Margaret were sent to play with children in the Captain’s house.

‘Among them was a fair-haired off-handed boy of 18 who showed off to them by jumping the tennis nets and eating several platefuls of shrimps for tea,’ she wrote of Philip.

The whole time they were in the same room, Elizabeth is said to have never taken her eyes off him.

When Philip and his uncle, Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten, were invited to join the Windsors for dinner on the royal yacht, Elizabeth is said to have turned ‘pink-faced’ in the company of the cadet. 

Mountbatten later wrote in his diary that the meeting had been a ‘great success’.

And when Philip began visiting Elizabeth, she would, according to Crawford, watch through the window to ‘see the tall, lean figure coming past the fountain in the centre of the road outside the Palace, or to see his small sports car turn in at the Palace gates. Usually a deal too fast…’ 

In 1943, Philip was invited to spend Christmas with the Royal Family at Windsor, and by the end of the war newspapers had begun to speculate about his relationship with Elizabeth.

Princess Elizabeth and Philip attend the wedding of Patricia Mountbatten to Lord Brabourne in October 1946, just over a year before they married

Princess Elizabeth is seen with her future fiancé at the wedding of her lady-in-waiting, Mrs Vicary Gibbs, in May 1946

Princess Elizabeth is seen inspecting pupils at the Royal Navy School in Wokingham, as her fiance walks at a respectful distance behind her

Princess Elizabeth is seen with Prince Philip in July 1947, after their engagement had been announced 

Their written correspondence betrayed the feelings they had for each other. In a 1943 letter after his stay at Windsor, Philip wrote of the ‘simple enjoyment of family pleasures and amusements and the feeling that I am welcome to share them.

‘I am afraid I am not capable of putting all this into the right words and I am certainly incapable of showing you the gratitude that I feel.’

The same year, he apologised for the ‘monumental cheek’ of turning up to Buckingham Palace uninvited.

‘Yet however contrite I feel, there is always a small voice that keeps saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”,’ he wrote.

‘Well did I venture, and I gained a wonderful time.’

Three years later, after his stellar war service, he told the Princess in another letter: ‘To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty.’ 

Ahead of their wedding in November 1947, the Queen told author Betty Shew – who was putting together a souvenir book to mark the royal union – how Philip would take her out in his sports car.


Princess Elizabeth is seen with the Duke of Edinburgh at an engagement in 1946. The couple married in November 1947 

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are seen at Broadlands, home of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, at the start of their honeymoon

Princess Elizabeth an the Duke of Edinburgh dressed in country-style attire dance together at an event held in their honour during their tour of Canada in October 1951

‘Philip enjoys driving and does it fast! He has his own tiny M.G which he is very proud of – he has taken me about in it, once up to London, which was great fun, only it was like sitting on the road, and the wheels are almost as high as one’s head,’ she wrote.

‘On that one and only occasion we were chased by a photographer which was disappointing.’

Princess Elizabeth added in her letter: ‘We both love dancing – we have danced at Ciro’s and Quaglino’s as well at parties.’

This love of dancing was on show repeatedly in the early years of their romance.

One photo showed the Princess arriving for a ball in Edinburgh, as Philip, just behind her, looked at her with love in his eyes and crowds chanted ‘We want Elizabeth!’

They were words that demonstrated the enormous allure of a Princess who was set to become their Queen.

Once inside the ballroom, the royal couple swayed together, staring into each other’s eyes. 

The Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Elizabeth are seen during an engagement in Glasgow in July 1947, a week after announcing their engagement

Princess Elizabeth with the Duke of Edinburgh in October 1947 as she launches the White Star Line’s new cruise ship, Caronia

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at the Royal Merchant Navy School at Wokingham in July 1947

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral for the annual National Service for Seafarers in 1947

Princess Elizabeth beams and holds a bouquet of flowers outside the Guildhall in 1948, on the day the Duke of Edinburgh had received the Freedom of the City of London

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are seen attending an engagement at Kensington Olympia in June 1948, the year after their wedding

1948: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip watch a cricket match at Windsor, as fans are seen closely observing the royal couple

Early in 1947, Elizabeth joined her parents on a tour of South Africa, where she became the first heir to the throne to celebrate their 21st birthday in a Commonwealth country.

It was there that she made possibly her most poignant pledge, telling Britons and the millions of others in what was then the British Empire: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

‘But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do… God bless you all who are willing to share it.’

Shortly afterwards, the couple’s engagement was formally announced. 

There were suggestions that they became unofficially betrothed in the summer of 1946, but, with Philip’s family background having caused a stir, the King and Queen were keen to ensure their eldest daughter did not rush into marriage. 

Philip was the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice, daughter of the first Marquess of Milford Haven. Both he and the Queen were great-great grandchildren of Queen Victoria. 

But three of his sisters – Cecile, Sophie and Margarita – had married German aristocrats who became leading members of the Nazi party.

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are seen at the South Bank Exhibition in London in May 1951. The exhibition formed the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain 

Princess Elizabeth is seen with the Duke of Edinburgh arriving at the cabaret during a royal visit to France in May 1948

Princess Elizabeth is seen in December 1951 at the London Coliseum shaking hands with American actress Ava Gardner, as her husband – the music titan Frank Sinatra – smiles beside her

Sophie had even been friends with Hermann Goering – the future head of Nazi Germany’s air force – and had both him and Adolf Hitler round for tea.

Sir Alan Lascelles, George VI’s private secretary, spoke for many courtiers and even some in the Royal Family when he wrote: ‘They felt he was rough, uneducated and would probably not be faithful.’ 

Philip was also penniless and his father had spent the final years of his life in the hedonistic surroundings of Monte Carlo.

But Elizabeth put those doubts to one side and got her way. Philip became a naturalised British subject, renouncing his Greek royal title and taking the surname Mountbatten.

He was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich and made a Knight of the Garter. 

News of their engagement in July 1947 was greeted with rapturous delight by the British public and millions of others around the world. 

They appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony on the day of the announcement before a crowd of thousands of well-wishers. 

Princess Elizabeth is seen wearing fur and stunning dress as she and Philip arrive for a dinner at the Royal College of Obstetricians in October 1949

In words that betrayed her blossoming feelings for her future husband, the then Princess Elizabeth described in a 1947 letter how she and Prince Philip both loved dancing and had ‘great fun’ driving in his ‘tiny M.G.’ car. Above: The recently-married couple dancing during a Royal Navy ball in 1950

Princess Elizabeth and the then Lieutenant Mountbatten are seen on the Buckingham Palace balcony in July 1947, on the day they announced their engagement

The couple’s wedding, in Westminster Abbey that November, brought pomp, pageantry and a beautiful love story to a nation wearied by six years of war, fuel shortages and economic hardship. 

They were aptly named Prince Charming and the Fairy Princess.

In a letter to her cousin and lifelong friend the Honourable Margaret Rhodes, the Queen said of her life as a newlywed: ‘I’m blissfully happy, in case you weren’t aware of the fact and I’m enjoying being married to the best and nicest man in the world.’

Philip told the Queen Mother of the depth of his own feelings for her daughter, saying in a letter: ‘Lilibet is the only thing in this world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to wield the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will also have a positive existence for the good… Cherish Lilibet?’

‘I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me. Does one cherish one’s sense of humour or one’s musical ear or one’s eyes?

‘I am not sure, but I know that I thank God for them and so, very humbly, I thank God for Lilibet and us.’

The Duke of Edinburgh smiles next to his soon-to-be father-in-law King George VI, as Princess Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret smile at watching crowds on the day that the royal engagement was announced

Princess Elizabeth and her fiance the Duke of Edinburgh wave at crowds from the Buckingham Palace balcony

Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth walking in the grounds of Broadlands, the home of the Duke’s uncle Earl Mountbatten on their honeymoon, November 1947

The then Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh with their baby daughter, Princess Anne, after her christening at Buckingham Palace in October 1950

Amid intense interest from the press and the public, the couple spent their wedding night at Earl Mountbatten’s palatial Hampshire home, Broadlands. 

Afterwards, they travelled to Birkhall on the Balmoral Estate for the rest of their honeymoon.

Their marriage came two years after the end of the Second World War, a conflict in which Philip had served with distinction.

He rose to the rank of First Lieutenant in the war, and fought in both in the Battle of Crete and the conflict at Cape Matapan off the coast of Greece. 

Philip had also been there in Tokyo Bay to witness the historic surrender of Japan in September 1945, and he was decorated for bravery after launching a raft with smoke floats to distract Nazi pilots during a 1943 bombing raid.

He was also Mentioned in Dispatches for his ‘alertness’ in helping to spot enemy ships.

And in 1945, Philip helped to rescue servicemen who had to ditch into the ocean after their Avenger bomber was hit by enemy fire.

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke at Buckingham Palace after their marriage at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. The wedding, attended by an array of foreign kings and queens, captured the public imagination in the austere post-war days

Queen Elizabeth II and Philip wave from the balcony to the crowds at Buckingham Palace after the Coronation in June 1953

The Queen, wearing a magnificent dress and tiara, arrives with the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret for the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium

After the wedding, Princess Elizabeth and her new husband initially lived at Windlesham Moor, a country home in Surrey that they rented from the widow of millionaire financier Philip Hall. 

It was there that the then Prince Charles, who was born at Buckingham Palace in November 1948, spent much of his first two years.  

After he and Princess Elizabeth moved to Malta in 1949, Philip served initially as First Lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Chequers. 

The Princess was a happy naval wife and mother, with her second child, Anne, arriving in 1950 – the year that Philip was given control of the frigate HMS Magpie after his promotion to Lieutenant-Commander. 

The Queen later spoke of how their time in Malta was one of the best periods of her life because it was the only time she was able to live ‘normally’.

The Queen’s attention is diverted for a moment as she and the Duke of Edinburgh talk with Lord Roseberry at the Epson Derby in 1954. She wore a mustard coloured coat flower petalled and mink stole

Prince Philip, Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II and King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden at Drottningholm Palace Theatre during the Queen’s state visit to Sweden on June 14, 1956

The Queen arrives at Euston with the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, on their way to Balmoral in 1959

The couple had the freedom to enjoy parties, picnics and boat expeditions, whilst the Princess could, like any woman who was not the heir to the throne, even take a trip to the hairdressers.

Their cherished days of freedom came to an end in July 1951, when they returned home to Clarence House amid George VI’s failing health. 

The Princess was needed to help shoulder the responsibility of engagements and royal tours. 

They quickly got stuck in. In the autumn of 1951 they spent more than a month in Canada and the US and then the following January took George VI’s place on a planned tour of Australia and New Zealand that had been postponed because of the King’s ill health.

Princess Elizabeth is seen during her visit to Kenya in February 1952. She was in the country when she was told about the death of her father

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are seen at the London Coliseum in December 1951, three months before she became Queen

The Duke of Edinburgh is seen in Windsor dressed for a polo match as he talks to his wife and his children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, look on. The image was taken in October 1951

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh at a garden party at Buckingham Palace on July 10, 1947, after announcing their engagement

Mischievous Philip, is said to have joked to his wife on the day of her coronation in 1953 – when she was wearing the 17th century St Edward’s Crown -‘where did you get that hat?’ 

Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, on honeymoon, photographed in the grounds of Broadlands looking at their wedding photographs, on November 23, 1947

In November 1952 he began training to be a pilot with the RAF and successfully gained his wings the following year. Above: Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh (C) preparing to fly a Turbulent ultra-light aircraft in 1959

By the time he gave up flying in 1997, at the age of 76, the Duke had completed 5,986 hours of time in the sky in 59 different aircraft. Above: Philip climbs out of a Harvard Trainer aircraft after a flight at RAF White Waltham

The Duke of Edinburgh joined the Royal Navy in 1939 – the year the Second World War broke out – when he was still a teenager. By 1942, he had risen to the rank of first lieutenant after bravely fighting in the Battle of Crete and the conflict at Cape Matapan. Left: Philip in 1946. Right: Phlip in 1945, when he was serving on HMS Valiant

While serving on HMS Whelp, the future Queen’s consort was even there in Tokyo Bay to witness the historic surrender of Japanese forces in September 1945. Pictured: Philip (front row, second from left) with his fellow officers on HMS Whelp

While in Malta, Philip was First Lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Chequers, while Princess Elizabeth was a happy naval wife and mother – first to Charles in 1949 and then Anne in 1950 

Prince Philip pictured on board HMS Magpie in the Mediterranean, in the summer of 1951, when he was in command of the ship

The Duke of Edinburgh and Captain John Edwin Home McBeath DSO, DSC, RN (left), pose with Queen Elizabeth for a photograph on HMS Chequers, where Philip served as First Lieutenant

It was while the Prince and Princess were in Kenya, on the first stop of the tour, that the King died. 

The royal couple had to be quickly flown home, and the the sight of their arrival – where the grieving Queen was seen gingerly stepping out of the plane at London Airport as Prime Minister Winston Churchill waited to greet her – provided a moving symbol of how Her Majesty was having to answer the call of duty.

The death of the King marked the end of Philip’s naval career. Back at Clarence House, which they were soon to depart for Buckingham Palace, the Duke was asked by his valet if he should put his Navy uniforms away.

‘Yes, John,’ said the new Queen’s husband glumly, ‘you put them away. It will be a long time before I need them again.’ 

Philip’s children could also not bear his family name, and were instead given his wife’s, Windsor. He reportedly raged: ‘I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his children. I’m nothing but a bloody amoeba.’ 

But Philip was, in those early years of his wife’s reign, still able to take a break from official duties. 

Prince Philip holds his eldest son in his arms at Windlesham as Princess Elizabeth looks on. The photo was taken in July 1949

Another photograph shows the youngster with his parents as they sit on the lawn at Windlesham in July 1949, when Charles was aged just 9 months

Shortly after they married in 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth and her new husband Prince Philip rented Windlesham Moor in Surrey. Above: The couple push a baby Prince Charles through the grounds

Photos show the tiny prince at Windlesham. One snap shows Charles sitting in a play pen as his mother smiles at him

In his spare time he enjoyed shooting, was a first-class polo player, a skilled sailor, enthusiastic cricketer and four-in-hand carriage driver of international standard.  

In November 1952 he began training to be a pilot with the RAF and successfully gained his wings the following year. 

By the time he gave up flying in 1997 at the age of 76, he had completed nearly 6,000 hours of time in the sky, in 59 different aircraft. 

He also embarked on frequent global trips, many of which were with male friends aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.

One member of the Queen’s inner circle previously told the Daily Mail how the Queen missed Philip ‘enormously’ when he was away.  

‘And sometimes his trips did go on for weeks and weeks. She loved him so much and just accepted that he needed to be away,’ they added. 

‘It seemed to me she was allowing him a kind of controlled freedom to compensate for the confining nature of royal life. Out of reach of the royal routine was the only time he could be truly independent.’

In 1956, when the Duke had been away on the Britannia with his equerry Mike Parker for several months, the Queen felt the need to address rumours about the strength of their marriage.

Having issued an official denial about a rift, she flew out to meet her husband, who was then in Portugal. By the time of their reunion, they had been away for 124 days.

The Daily Mail’s coverage of news of Princess Elizabeth’s engagement to Philip

The arrival of two more children signified that their union was still strong. Prince Andrew was born February 19, 1960, and Prince Edward followed in March 10, 1964.

By then, the Queen was nearing the age of 38, whilst Philip was nearly 44. The glamour of youth was becoming a thing of the past, but many more years of duty and service to their country were ahead. 

Reflecting on her husband’s invaluable support on their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1997, the Queen paid her famous tribute to Philip.

‘He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years,’ she said, at a dinner hosted by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair in Whitehall.

‘And I, his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.’ 

These were the words shared once again after his death, and ones that his family will likely have in their minds now, as they mark the second anniversary of his passing. 

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