Con-tribute.

Tributes. Waves of tributes. Flooded by tributes. Smothered in tributes. Caked in them, inches thick. Who doesn’t have something to say about Prince Philip? I can’t say I knew the man but I did feel a brief pulse of sadness when I saw the news, though this pulse was brief indeed, not through a coldness of heart but because it was drowned out by the unstoppable march of the media; schedules cancelled and re-ordered, armies of camera crews dispatched to every possible location of note and desperate interviewers asking the same desperate questions again and again and again and again. As I write this I am half watching the third person in the last thirty minutes to explain the significance and meaning of gun salutes, and thanks to that same half hour I am also much more familiar with the feelings of at least six world leaders on the whole matter of Philip’s passing. This is not exaggeration, this is merely fact. Dull, repetitive, meaningless fact.

People really should think through their tributes more carefully before they make them. And there should be a limit on how many we are all exposed to. If I had my way there would certainly be some appropriate mark of respect, but after that perhaps just five random names could be drawn from a hat and their tributes recorded and simply played on a loop for the rest of time on an isolated news channel. Or maybe one poor newsreader would be made the official tribute presenter for all significant deaths, only moving on from one significant death when a new significant death occurred: for example, the Death Tribute Channel would remain focused on Prince Philip until, oh I don’t know, Ringo Starr or Geoff Capes cop it, and then the tributes would be re-recorded and so the cycle would continue. And if you wanted to just watch that for the rest of your life you’d be very welcome.

To make the process slightly more digestible the tributes would have to be passed for approval by the official Death Tribute Valuation and Moderation Board, a committee of twelve people ranging from slightly to massively famous, and their job would be to think about what kind of tributes they would like when they die, and decide if anything anybody might say about them would be remotely relevant, enlightening or, most importantly, flattering. Who would sit on this board is a game you can play with your friends and family, but remember that you need to aim for a broad and inclusive brush stroke of the famous community, and also bear in mind that these people can be famous for all sorts of reasons – there is nothing, in theory, to stop Al Gore, Baroness Floella Benjamin and Gary Glitter all sharing the same bottle of elderflower cordial and plate of custard creams as they sit around a table, deep in conversation.

Using this system (for which I take full credit and would like to put myself forward for as a token non-famous person, to keep the egos in check) irrelevant, badly thought out or meaningless tributes would be cast aside, making the whole news frenzy so much more palatable. Do we really need, for instance, this little slap of nothing from a man born in the same year as Prince Philip, default President Joe Biden: “He was a heck of a guy… 99 years old, he never slowed down at all,”. To me that says absolutely nothing of value, and the last bit isn’t really true either – he kind of did slow down, rather a lot as it turns out. Vladimir Putin was less gushing, saying that the Duke “rightfully enjoyed respect”, which is presumably why he never sent anyone over here to knock him off with a bottle of Blue Stratos. Incidentally my favourite, and possibly the worst, tribute of all time was said of Princess Diana by William Hague, who suggested she should be remembered as a human being, which is a vacuum of a comment if ever there was one.

Ultimately all these tributes from famous faces and distraught dignitaries mean nothing. They are all pretty much interchangeable and almost all completely bereft of any real personal warmth – a tribute somehow has so much more value when it comes from someone who has known an individual on a far deeper level, otherwise it’s just some shallow remark made by someone because it is expected of them. Will these tributes comfort the Queen on any tangible level? Saying ‘sorry for your loss, and can I just remind you what a great guy he was but that he isn’t around anymore and that must be terrible for you’, seems like possibly the worst thing ever to say to someone who has just lost the other half of their life. Offer to help, do anything, but don’t just phone in some hot air to the BBC so it can be blasted across the planet a few hundred times before vanishing forever.

We all know Prince Philip was a flawed but ultimately decent enough man. We know he was a loving father and grandfather etc, but on the other hand he gave us Prince Andrew, which is less of a recommendation. We know he was involved in many different charities in countries around the world but he is also the man who commented on an old fuse box in an Edinburgh factory with “it looks as if it was put in by an Indian”. We know he could be rude and stubborn but ultimately it’s thanks to him that our current monarch is good enough to make the monarchy still (just about) worthwhile. And I think if we remember Prince Philip with any warmth it is because he was a man out of his own time – if he had to start all over again today he wouldn’t last two minutes before being trolled into kingdom come by all those woke twats floating around out there. His greatest gift was seeming to be so good at saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person and then not really caring, and that made him so much more appealing. If everyone was as perfect as they sounded when the tributes poured in the world would be a very dull place indeed. And at least Prince Philip wasn’t dull.

G B Hewitt. 10.04.2021

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