The truth about my husband, Prince Philip and The Queen: The ex-wife of the Duke of Edinburgh's right-hand man tells all after her portrayal in season two of The Crown

Eileen Parker was married to Prince Philip’s closest friend and aide, Mike Parker, for 15 years. As a young couple, they socialised at parties, the theatre and at home with the newly married Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth.
As the second series of Netflix’s The Crown focuses on this period of the royal marriage, Eileen’s memoir, first issued in 1982, is being republished. Today, aged 95, Eileen is living in a care home, supported by her family and friends.
As our hired limousine glided up the wide avenue of the Mall, my husband, Mike, and I peered out at the swarming crowd cheering our progress.
Above the revelry, framed by the Mall’s leafless trees, the austere grandeur of Buckingham Palace stood stark in a blaze of floodlights. All of London was being drawn in the same direction.
It was Monday, November 17, 1947 and in just three days the heir to the throne, Princess Elizabeth, was getting married to Mike’s closest wartime friend — Philip, Prince of Greece.

HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Duke of Edinburgh pictured in the gardens at Clarence House in London. July 1951
HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Duke of Edinburgh pictured in the gardens at Clarence House in London. July 1951
Inside the Palace, under the sparkling chandeliers, sipping champagne, the family of cousins representing the crowned heads of Europe was gathering for its biggest celebration since the downfall of Nazi Germany.
And, incredible as it seemed, we would soon be joining them.
The busy life of a Wren on a succession of Scottish naval bases had broadened my social outlook and made me better at handling my shyness, but how was one to supposed to cope with a glittering reunion of royalty?
Was my hair all right? My ballgown? It was an off-the-shoulder design in white satin from a Glasgow department store.
I wore it with a single strand of pearls and my mother’s fur coat. The effect I had been aiming for was the only one possible at a time of strict postwar rationing — neat and simple. But perhaps I was looking too neat, too simple?
The car drew up under a porch. A footman in state livery came forward. Mike sensed my nervousness and, with a soft word, squeezed my arm reassuringly. I adjusted the corsage of flowers at my shoulder and stepped for the first time on to the red carpet of Buckingham Palace.In the queue waiting to be presented, I was admiring the splendour of the gilt decoration and handsome furniture when I heard our names being called and with a deep breath walked towards the Royal Family.
Mike had coached me on the correct way to curtsey and how to hold out my hand, limply, with the palm inwards, for the single squeeze of the royal handshake: ‘Whatever happens, don’t squeeze back.’
George VI was shorter than I had anticipated, not much taller than my own 5ft 3in. Mike had warned me not to prompt him if he ran into difficulties with his stammer, nor to speak unless spoken to first.
As it turned out, the King remained silent, but when we passed the Queen, I heard her remark to Mike: ‘What a lovely wee wife you have got!’ It was part of her charm to put people at ease.
The presentations over, the band launched into a medley from the musical Oklahoma and Princess Elizabeth’s private secretary, John ‘Jock’ Colville, turned to Mike: ‘The Navy’s got to start off the dancing.’ He meant us! I felt my arms and legs fail me as Mike steered me on to the empty dance floor. Away we went, instinctively in step with the music, just as we had danced so many times before. Luckily, it was a foxtrot, one of my favourites.

Bearded adventurers: The Duke and his equerry, Mike Parker, in Africa in 1957
Bearded adventurers: The Duke and his equerry, Mike Parker, in Africa in 1957
Later, as the Hokey-Cokey gave way to the Conga, Princess Elizabeth led the line of dancers and I heard the Queen whisper, ‘I mustn’t miss this, Bertie,’ holding her robe with one hand and clutching the King’s coat-tails with the other as they joined in.
It seemed incredible that I should be dancing alongside them, but this was to be the first of my many encounters with the Royal Family as Mike settled into a new job as Prince Philip’s first equerry.
Often, we joined them on their weekly visits to a private cinema in Piccadilly at the invitation of film producer Sir Alexander Korda.
Alongside the newlyweds Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth, the party would normally include the King and Queen and Princess Margaret and they took huge delight in seeing themselves in the newsreels . . .
‘Look at the face she’s pulling!’ . . . ‘How could you wear that hat?’ . . . ‘What are you hiding from the camera there?’
Princess Margaret was always very sharp-witted when it came to joining in the commentaries. Still a teenager, she loved breaking the rules by propping her feet on the seat in front until reprimanded by King George, a performance she repeated week after week.
We WOULD then go back to Buckingham Palace where we’d have fish and chips and listen to the King’s favourite BBC radio comedy, It’s That Man Again, starring Tommy Handley.
This close proximity to royalty was as alien to Mike as it was to me. Born in Melbourne in 1920, the son of a retired naval officer, he joined the Royal Australian Navy at the age of 14 and transferred to the Royal Navy when he was 18.
He and Prince Philip passed their lieutenant exams at about the same time and soon after the outbreak of the war they found themselves serving in the same flotilla, at the Royal Naval base at Rosyth on Scotland’s east coast.
I grew up on the opposite coast, in the small town of Troon, and we were relatively well off, my father being a successful manufacturer of steel ropes for the Glasgow shipbuilding industry.
When I left school in 1940, I almost immediately joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the Wrens, and it was at one of their dances that I first met Mike and began travelling over to Rosyth to see him at weekends.
One Saturday, he informed me casually that we were giving a friend of his a lift in to Edinburgh to do some shopping — ‘I’ve told you about him before. He’s called Philip. Some sort of Greek prince. I feel sure you’ll like him.’
I well remember thinking what a handsome man Philip of Greece was — tall, with piercing blue eyes and a shock of blond hair swept back from his forehead. I was not surprised to hear that every Wren on the base had her sights on him. Mike and I married in 1943, but Prince Philip’s personal life remained something of a mystery.

Wartime wedding: Mike and Eileen Parker in 1943
Wartime wedding: Mike and Eileen Parker in 1943
It was inconceivable that such an eligible young officer didn’t have a sweetheart somewhere but, although we didn’t know it then, he had already met Princess Elizabeth as a cadet at Dartmouth Naval College and was visiting her when he was on leave.
By the time that he and Mike were posted to the Pacific Fleet and sent to join the naval campaign against the Japanese in May 1944, the Press had long been on the scent of this story, much to Prince Philip’s irritation.
Both he and Mike had grown beards while at sea and, during shore leave in Australia, they confounded the reporters by a neat swap of identities, with Prince Philip pointing Mike out before merging into the crowd with the words: ‘That’s the man you want.’
Later, the two of them saw action off the coasts of Burma and Sumatra and Mike would come to regard Prince Philip as his closest wartime friend.
Even so, we were amazed when in July 1947, following the announcement that he and Princess Elizabeth were engaged, he sent Mike a letter inviting him to join his staff.
Mike, who had been working as a salesman for my father’s company since being demobbed, was ecstatic at being rescued from the drudgery of his daily grind.
However, he was not required to take up his post until after the royal wedding.
On the night before the ceremony, Prince Philip held his stag night at the Dorchester Hotel and Mike got back to our room at about 1am, bursting to tell me about what had clearly turned into quite a boisterous affair.
The Press, having caught wind of what was supposedly a ‘private supper party’, pestered Prince Philip with requests for photographs. In response, his uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten said they could take as many as they wanted, provided they first handed their cameras over to let the guests take pictures of the photographers. Tit for tat.
After taking a few shots, the camera flashbulbs were smashed on the floor, putting a dramatic full-stop to any more photography.
Our seats for the wedding in Westminster Abbey the next day were only six rows from the front.
As Princess Elizabeth and her father entered the Abbey, trumpeters blazed into the first hymn, Praise My Soul, The King Of Heaven.
Then we saw her, radiant, the King by her side and her retinue of pages keeping watch on the long train of her gown, shimmering with the thousands of seed pearls and crystals embroidered on to it.
While Clarence House was being refurbished as a residence for the newlyweds, they divided their time between Buckingham Palace, where they carried out their administrative duties during the week, and Windlesham Moor, a comfortable but not imposing house in Surrey which was their country retreat.
They began staying at Windlesham at the end of January 1948 and, before long, Mike and I were invited to lunch there, along with our son, Michael, who was three by then. We couldn’t afford a car, so we caught a train to the local station and hired a taxi.
By coincidence, Prince Philip was at the front door when we pulled up. The driver, eyes wide with amazement, hardly recollected himself sufficiently to ask for his fare as Prince Philip greeted us.
After lunch, Mike and Prince Philip disappeared into the garden where some cricket nets had been set up and the Princess and I found common ground in chatting about our war service.

Pictured: Commander Parker (Daniel Ings, far left) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in Netflix drama The Crown
Pictured: Commander Parker (Daniel Ings, far left) and Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in Netflix drama The Crown
All the while, young Michael, good as gold and heavily sedated with ice cream, played on the floor with the corgis and Princess Margaret’s little terrier. The Princess kept a bowl of sugar cubes on the coffee table and enjoyed feeding them to the dogs, who gobbled them up and wagged their tails for more. Susan was the current favourite, but one had to be careful; she was known to give an unexpected nip to the ankles if she was feeling moody.
Back in London, Mike needed me by his side, often at very short notice, should the royal couple decide on a semi-official night out.
Once, Mike rang me at six o’clock to tell me to be at the Palace by 7.30. ‘We’re going to a dance at the Dorchester,’ he said.
I had just stepped out of the bath. With barely time to get into an evening dress and improvise make-up, I arrived with my hair still wet and was so flustered and out of breath that I forgot the steps of one of my favourite Scottish dances, the eightsome reel.
Prince Philip tactfully guided me through by taking a strong lead and, with a certain amount of pushing and pulling, managed to steer us through safely.
On other occasions, the Prince would ask Mike to book theatre tickets, again usually at the last minute. Of course, there was never any problem getting them and the four of us would arrive just as the lights were going down, with Mike and I sitting one on either side and the royal couple between us.
On these occasions, Princess Elizabeth was quick at recognising other famous people. I remember her whispering of one glamorous actress, ‘Look, I’ve just seen Valerie Hobson over there’ in the same tone as anyone else might have exclaimed: ‘Don’t look now, but the Princess is standing behind you.’
Such occasions were a rare opportunity to converse away from the ever watchful eyes of the royal servants. Although they were trained to be unobtrusive I could never forget their presence, but on one visit to Windlesham I gathered enough to learn, from the Princess’s appearance and other hints, that she was pregnant.
When I confided that I, too, was expecting a second child, Prince Philip took this as his cue to haul Mike off to the cricket nets again.
‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Let’s leave these two to talk about babies.’
Princess Elizabeth shared her husband’s strong wish for their children to be brought up as ‘normal’ as possible. And she was impatient to have those children.
With them, she would have acquired all she really wanted — to live in the country surrounded by lots of horses and dogs and, most important, a family to raise.
Yet I pondered how much of a price any princess might be willing to pay in order to bring her children up like the rest of us.

When Princess Elizabeth spoke wistfully of motherhood — ‘I wish I could be more like you, Eileen’ — I didn’t feel that my own situation was quite fully understood.
We were then living in a tiny two-bedroomed flat at the top of a three-storey block in Kensington, West London. The kitchen was so small that when the oven door was open there wasn’t enough room to bend over.
One day, the phone rang just as I was putting supper in the oven. It was Mike, cheerfully announcing he had invited a surprise guest. I groaned. ‘You can’t. Supper’s already made and I cannot possibly stretch it any further.’
‘You’ll have to,’ said Mike. ‘It’s Prince Philip.’
As I whipped my macaroni cheese out of the oven and fluffed it with a fork to make it look more generous, there was a knock on the door. I opened it and there stood the Prince. Alone.
‘Hullo,’ he grinned, holding out a bottle of gin. ‘First come, first served. Mike’s coming later. Something cropped up.’
The rooms were in the usual chaos. Michael had only just been tucked into bed and his toys were strewn out everywhere.
Prince Philip followed me into the kitchen, and looked around (it only took five seconds) then went to make himself at home while I rustled up the glasses.
I didn’t think to warn him about the standard lamp. He sat down heavily on the chair in front of it and the shade fell on his head. He roared with laughter.
It had been snowing all day and was bitterly cold. Our only heating was a two-bar electric fire. When Mike finally arrived, the three of us huddled in front of it, thawing out with pink gins and eating my macaroni cheese off our laps.
Prince Philip seemed completely at home with what must have been meagre fare compared with Buckingham Palace. It developed into a most enjoyable evening as, once again, I recognised in our guest the affable young officer I had met in Rosyth, full of banter and naval yarning. Whatever the workload, Prince Philip and Mike were never too busy for the occasional morale-boosting prank.
Once, Mike procured a load of mini-explosives that went off with a vicious bang. He and Prince Philip used to set these off within the Palace walls until the King himself complained and gave them a mild dressing down.
They also held sliding competitions along the Palace’s polished corridors. The trick was to take a brisk run up to a mat, jump on it and maintain one’s balance until it slid to a halt.
Unfortunately, there was no way of steering, which is how Mike once earned a rebuke by crashing into the door of the King’s study.
At one point, Prince Philip and Mike went through a phase of referring to each other by comic names — ‘Murgatroyd and Winterbottom will be late home tomorrow’ — or — ‘Murgatroyd and Winterbottom will be going out for a stroll later on’.
A few times, returning from these late-night strolls, they were locked out and Mike would have to give Prince Philip a hand to get him over the Palace wall.
Once, they went swimming in the Palace pool after a late dinner and the servant in charge inadvertently locked them in.
Only Mike’s robust yelling brought another staff member to their rescue.
For all the fun they had, Mike was so busy that he often didn’t have time even for a haircut.
Not only was there all the planning and organisation demanded of what Prince Philip called his ‘general nanny and factotum’, but Mike was also expected to provide a personal shopping service, too. Every year on his wife’s birthday, Prince Philip would have Mike arrange delivery of a large bouquet of white flowers, preferably lily of the valley.
And once, just before the big day, Mike telephoned me to go down to the Jacqmar salon in Mayfair and pick out a dozen of its luxury silk scarves as a present from Prince Philip.
I was at a complete loss as to what might appeal.
‘Oh,’ said Mike with typical airiness, ‘anything with horses or dogs will do.’
I never did learn if Princess Elizabeth was told where those particular scarves came from.
Extracted from Step Aside For Royalty (2nd Edition) by Eileen Parker. © Eileen Parker and Christopher Moore 1982 and 2017. The book is available from Amazon (paperback) at £11.99 and on Kindle (ebook) at £7.99.

So what DO you get the bride who has everything?

Given our modest circumstances, choosing a wedding present for the royal couple presented a particular challenge. In the end, Mike and I commissioned two watercolour studies of HMS Wessex and HMS Whelp, the ships in which Mike and Prince Philip had fought together in the Pacific.
Subsequently, I was pleased and proud to discover that these mementoes of their wartime comradeship were later hung in Prince Philip’s private sitting room.
Our dilemma over the wedding gift was a foretaste of what was to become a familiar conundrum. Usually when a present was required, Mike and I gave the Princess scent. Majie by Lancome was a favourite for a long time.
For Prince Philip, who loved any device which saved time or provided amusement, Mike would unearth some novel piece of gadgetry.

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