By: Radhakrishna N S
By Lord Karan Bilimoria
President, Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
SOME of my earliest memories are seeing photographs of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on their state visit to India, when my father was ADC [aide-de-camp] to president Rajendra Prasad, in 1961.
Little did I know that I would be privileged to not only meet both of them, but also to get to know His Royal Highness well over the past two decades.
He was, without exaggeration, a genuinely unique and truly special individual. His range of interests were vast and he was unfailingly curious about everything. And of course, every single time we met, he made you laugh with that twinkle in his eye and witty, sharp sense of humour.
His achievements are enormous. Perhaps his greatest initiative was the Duke of Edinburgh (D of E) awards scheme which has changed the lives of 6.7 million young people since it was founded, including my brother who has always been proud of his D of E gold award.
In fact, I remember writing a letter of nomination for Prince Philip to be awarded the Nobel Prize, which would have been hugely well deserved. I was fortunate to have interacted with him in many arenas – the Royal Society of Arts, the University of Cambridge where he was a longstanding and outstanding chancellor, the University of Birmingham where I am proud to be chancellor, the Zoroastrian community… I could go on.
In fact, it was at his visit to the Zoroastrian Centre in Harrow when we came out of the prayer room and were putting on our shoes, he said to me, ‘Do you know I have worn these shoes since the day I was married?’ It was that sentimentality and genuineness which was ever present – he has been the most extraordinary husband, consort, champion, supporter and a rock to Her Majesty. In fact, he has been the embodiment of true service leadership.
And, of course, we had a common bond in his love of beer. On the occasions where I would be seated next to him for a meal, when asked what he would like to drink, he would immediately say, ‘I will have one of his’ When he retired from his official duties a few years ago, I wrote to him, and he very kindly wrote back and said, ‘May Cobra Beer always keep you healthy, wealthy and wise!’
He was a hugely loved and respected figure, not just nationally but throughout the world. Our deepest sympathies and condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family. One thing is for sure –the Duke of Edinburgh’s legacy and inspiration will live on with all of us forever.
Sir, thank you very much for everything and every time I think of you, I know you will instantly bring a smile to my face.