Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THE PRINCE, THE RUMOURS AND THE SHOWGIRL

   Sixty years ago London society was buzzing with rumours that Prince Philip was having an affair with the actress and singer Patricia Kirkwood,
who at the time was the West End's biggest star. 
  The suggestion haunted Kirkwood for the rest of her life and now the supposed affair is about to surface again in a musical about Kirkwood's life called Patricia Kirkwood is Angry based on letters she and the Prince exchanged. 
  Although the letters were friendly with no hint of any sexual relationship between them the Prince has always refused to issue any denial of an affair, despite Kirkwood's pleadings that he protect her reputation.
  The one-woman musical stars the operatic mezzo-soprano Jessica Walker, who wrote it after being told the contents of some of the letters by Kirkwood's executor.  
  Walker’s musical covers Kirkwood's rollercoaster life that included four husbands, two bitter divorces, some high-profile lovers – such as Danny Kaye, Max Wall and President Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Peter Lawford – and a nervous breakdown in New York, when she tried to kill herself and was detained in a mental hospital for eight months.
  Kirkwood was the first female to have her own television show on the BBC and she created the starring roles in the London productions of musicals by Cole Porter, Noël Coward and Leonard Bernstein. On screen she played opposite George Formby, Arthur Askey, Van Johnson, and Laurence Harvey.
  At the time she met the Duke in October 1948, she was starring in the revue Starlight Roof at the London Hippodrome with a 12-year-old Julie Andrews.  A mutual friend brought Prince Philip to her dressing room and introduced them.
  Reports of the Duke of Edinburgh later dining in public at Les Ambassadeurs in Mayfair with the West End’s highest-paid sex symbol, and then dancing with her until dawn in a London nightclub while the future Queen Elizabeth was eight months pregnant with Prince Charles, created headlines around the world.
   “The inescapable fact is that Kirkwood’s first encounter with the Duke of Edinburgh, and six other meetings with him that followed, ruined her life and robbed her of official recognition in the Honours list," says Walker.

  Kirkwood wanted a Palace denial to protect her reputation, and wrote to Philip: “… if there had been some support from your direction, the matter could have been squashed years ago, instead of having to battle a sea of sharks single-handed”.
   But Philip replied: “Short of starting libel proceedings, there is absolutely nothing to be done. Invasion of privacy, invention and false quotations are the bane of our existence.”
   Kirkwood did not agree, telling one journalist: “A lady is not normally expected to defend her honour. It is the gentleman who should do that. I would have had a happier and easier life if Prince Philip, instead of coming uninvited to my dressing room, had gone home to his pregnant wife on the night in question.”
   Pat Kirkwood died aged 86 in 2007 in a nursing home in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, where she spent the final three years of her life suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
   Walker says: “The real scandal is not whether she did or did not have an affair with the Queen’s husband, but that this great star, who helped to rally the nation’s morale with her performances at the height of the Blitz, was allowed to die without so much as a humble MBE to her name.” 
   The musical will open at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, less than four miles from Kirkwood's birthplace in Pendleton, Salford, and will transfer to London in the New Year before moving to New York in 2014.
 
           

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