It’s been the same tired old dad joke for 29 years.
“I met Prince Philip once,” I told people. ‘What did he say?’ they would ask.
“I could tell you,” I would say, “but then I have to kill you.”
So it was the night I met the Queen and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh.
While waiting in the reception area of Admiralty House, Kirribilli, overlooking the most spectacular view of Sydney Harbor imaginable, we were given a crash course on the rules and regulations of royalty meeting.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (pictured above) waving to the crowd that gathered at Adelaide Airport on Tuesday, February 25, 1992
Mike Colman met Prince Phillip at the Kirribilli House in Sydney in 1992 while serving as the Governor General
On the trip in 1992 – to mark Sydney’s 150th birthday – the Queen made her way to Royal Randwick to stage the Queen’s Cup – she is pictured with winning jockey Shane Dye (right)
Women were shown how to bow, the men told that a dip of the head was sufficient. The queen was to be addressed first as ‘Majesty’ and then ‘Madame’, the duke as ‘Lord’.
No pictures could be taken and most importantly, the royal couple did not say anything under any circumstances that would be repeated outside those four walls.
It is a royal decree that I have followed religiously ever since. Until now.
With the sad passing of the Duke of Edinburgh (or ‘sir’, as I will always think of him) I think the statute of limitations is over.
Colman was impressed by the Duke’s sense of duty to the monarchy after their meeting in Sydney in 1992
I was among the small, select group of journalists who had been invited by the Governor General’s Controller (who, according to the invitation, had been ‘ordered’ by Her Majesty to do so) for reasons I’m still not sure.
I was a sports journalist, not a correspondent at the palace, and I had not yet written a word about the royal tour.
I can only assume that months before my editor had applied for tour accreditation on my behalf for the odds that the Queen and Duke would have wanted to play a game of footy or a night of boxing during their trip and I would have to cover it up.
When the auditor randomly pulled names from his accreditation list to come up with the numbers for the royal media reception, I was lucky.
So there I was on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 19, 1992, all dressed in my one suit, kissing my wife and little daughter goodbye, and walking out the front door of our partially renovated fixer-upper to have a cup of tea with the Queen.
It wasn’t until we were standing along a wall and the royals entered the room that I smoothed the sides of my suit coat and realized that one of the baby’s pacifiers was in the bag.
The Queen and Duke moved along the line shaking hands as we curtseyed and bowed, then split into two pre-organized groups for a more casual interaction with one of our royal hosts.
I have the duke.
Queen Elizabeth II (photo right) and husband Prince Philip left the impression after a visit to Australia in 1992
Queen Elizabeth II (center of photo) opens New South Wales Parliament, at Parliament House, Sydney on 20 February 1992, Prince Philip sitting to her right.
It was like being at a wedding with the old aunts and uncles while all your friends were sitting at the fun table.
The group around Mrs chuckled and ooh and aahing as Her Majesty enchanted them with humorous anecdotes and charming bon mots.
Our group, on the other hand, felt like we had been called to the principal’s office after being caught picking money from the tuck shop.
Things got off to a tough start when someone tried to break the ice by telling Prince Philip that she was related to an old friend of his. The Duke’s response gave the impression that “friend” was somewhat exaggerating the relationship.
Someone else made the mistake of asking if he was enjoying his trip to Australia.
“How can I enjoy it?” he said. ‘I don’t see anything, I don’t do anything. I’m just going from one official position to another. This is not fun, it is my job. ‘
The only sound that broke the awkward silence was a storm of laughter blowing across the fun group across the room.
Mrs. Dallas Hayden (pictured left), wife of Australian Governor General Bill Hayden, bowing to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1992
The chic royal event Mike Colman attended in 1992 was at Admiralty House (stock image)
As a fan of the movie Roman Holiday in which newspaper reporter Gregory Peck takes Princess Audrey Hepburn on an incognito tour of the Holy City, I couldn’t help it.
“I’ll tell you something,” I said. ‘I’ll see you here tomorrow. We’ll put on some old shorts and a big hat and I’ll take you to Bondi Beach for fish and chips and a beer. No one will know it’s you. ‘
He was clearly not a big fan of Gregory Peck.
“You’re kidding,” he snapped.
A few minutes later we got the wind-up signal, but there was one thing I had to ask before I passed my one chance.
This was 1992, long before The Crown, but in the years since Princess Diana had taken the world by storm, there has been an influx of Royal Family TV movies, with actors of various capacities playing the lead roles. .
My wife and I had always wondered what it would be like if the Queen and the Duke saw other people play on the screen.
“Do you think they’re watching?” we would ask.
I was determined to find out.
“Sir,” I asked the Duke. “Do you watch those movies where other people play you?”
“Of course not,” he said impatiently as he walked to the door.
The Duke and Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 made a short trip to the Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo, in the center of NSW
Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, pictured talking to Aboriginal artists after watching a culture show at Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
We all stood there quite amazed. The other group was charmed. The queen had completely won them over with her warmth and humor. The Duke gave us a totally different experience.
Only now, almost 30 years and four series of The Crown later, am I glad I was in Sir’s group instead of Her Majesty’s.
He was right. There was nothing fun about what he did. As a man of action, he had given up everything he had achieved and wanted to achieve in order to support his wife and the monarchy.
And if that meant spending an afternoon with a bunch of colonial journalists asking nonsensical questions, he would – but he drew the line by pretending to enjoy it.
The Queen and Prince Phillip have made multiple trips to Australia as part of their royal duties – (pictured above in 2006 prior to the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne)
Colman cheekily asked Prince Phillip if he would take him an offer of fish and chips on Bondi Beach – he declined (stock image)
That’s what I took away from that reception. An insight into a man who embodied the word ‘duty’.
Oh, and I have something else.
As I exited the lavish Admiralty House, I ducked into the toilet next to the reception area. There on the cistern was a dish containing a packet of matches with the royal crown in relief.
I have to say it was a surreal feeling 10 minutes later on the platform of Milsons Point station waiting for the train that would bring me back to reality.
My daughter’s pacifier in one bag, a packet of Her Majesty’s matches in the other.
Thanks for the memories, sir. It’s a shame you didn’t teach me about fish and chips. I think you would have liked it. I know I would have.