Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

            Prince Philip’s funeral takes place today. I thought he would have liked this short

            story rather than another obituary.     It comes with all our respect and admiration.

Anyone who has lived through most of the same time as Prince Philip will be sad at the passing of a noble figure and someone who saw the funny side of life – as well as its some of its harsher aspects. I met him a number of times. This is the story of when I got to have a chat with him.

Royal Yacht Britannia brought The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Singapore in October 1989 and Eliza and I were invited to join them for a reception on board. The first person I met was Prince Philip. He asked me what I was doing in Singapore and I explained that I was building a business based on a product that had been invented in Buckingham Palace nearly two hundred years earlier. He became very interested in Brands Essence of Chicken and we talked for an hour about its origins and how my company had come to own it.

During the reign of King George III the chef at Buckingham Palace had been a Mr. Brand. The king was mentally ill with intermittent porphyria. One later consequence of this was that he couldn’t keep down any food he ate. In 1811 he became mad and his son reigned until the king’s death in 1820. But well before that his devoted chef scoured the records for something he could give the king which he would not only like but also would not immediately throw up.

He discovered that a traditional Chinese recipe for double-boiled chicken filled the bill. The king liked it and digested it happily. After the king’s death, Mr. Brand set up his own business in the southern part of London. Immediately after WWII, when I started to commute to the city, I could see that the gable ends of the houses backing onto Waterloo Station had been painted poster sites for Brand’s. The business flourished in Britain up to the war. After that it faded away.

By the mid-1920s Brand’s Essence of Chicken had started an export business to South East Asia where doctors recognised it as a good revival tonic after malaria, which was endemic in those days. As malaria declined so did the sales of Brand’s. My remit had been to get rid of the business but I saw a potential for the product across most of Asia. By the time Brittania arrived in Singapore sales were powering ahead and I was building Brand’s factories in Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia as well as acquiring and building other businesses.

Prince Philip showed great interest in all this and added his own comments about the reigns during which Brand’s had been popular beyond Buckingham Palace. Eventually he said to me “Thank you for that bit of history. So all that started about 180 years ago?” I replied “Yes, Sir”. “In that case,” he said, “I think perhaps you owe us about a hundred and eighty years back royalties!”

After a brief but feisty negotiation he settled for a case of Brand’s being delivered to Brittania the next morning before she sailed.

At the end of the reception, we watched, from the ship, the band of the Royal Marines on the quay playing Sunset with its haunting melodies for a day’s end. It was one of the most moving sights I have seen and I keep it now as a lasting memory of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

May he rest in peace.

John Bittleston