Prince Philip Drives into a PR Disaster

You probably already know that the Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a nasty car crash near the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk last week. Prince Philip’s Land Rover Freelander flipped on its side after it was hit by another car as he pulled out of a side road on the A149.

The 97-year-old reportedly said ‘I’m such a fool’ after being pulled from the car, which was smashed to pieces. It was a miracle he escaped unharmed. The other car involved was a Kia, which had three passengers: two women and a 9-month old boy. The two women needed hospital treatment for their injuries, but the baby was unharmed.

The crash made headlines around the world. The pictures were horrific and there was genuine concern for the Duke’s well-being. But the initial flood of sympathy turned to anger when a brand new Land Rover was delivered to Sandringham and the Duke was spotted driving it without a seat belt on, just 48 hours after the crash. Perhaps not the greatest timing.

The public and press were quick to jump in and label Prince Philip ‘arrogant’, and ‘inconsiderate’. The fire was further fuelled by one of the injured women in the Kia, who suffered a broken wrist in the crash. She went on national TV to criticise the Duke for behaving recklessly, deeming his actions ‘highly insensitive and inconsiderate towards me and everybody involved in the accident’. She also claimed she’s ‘been ignored’ by the Duke since the crash. She did receive a call from the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, who passed on the Queen and the Duke’s best wishes, but she said, ‘it would mean the world to me if Prince Philip said sorry, but I have no idea if he’s sorry at all. What would it have taken for him and the Queen to send me a card and a bunch of flowers? Maybe he should prioritise that over test-driving his new car.’

With the Palace staying tight-lipped on the subject, public outrage reached fever pitch. People were sharing their stories of ‘close encounters’ and ‘near misses’ with the Prince, with one man claiming the Duke almost ran his father off the road then stuck his finger up at him two decades ago.

It was only a matter of time before celebrities weighed in on the topic. In his column in British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson led the call for Prince Philip to lose his driving licence. He wrote, ‘It’s madness that Prince Philip is driving. What the bloody hell is a man of that age doing behind the wheel of a car?’

How it should have been handled

The situation has got way out-of-hand. From a PR perspective, it should have played out very differently. Okay, so it’s not appropriate for the Kia passengers to be invited to Sandringham for a few crustless sandwiches and a chinwag with the Queen and Prince Phillip. In fact, insurance companies will tell anyone involved in a car accident not to contact the other party.

But perhaps it would also have been wise for the Duke to hold off driving around in his new car so soon after the accident, particularly without a seatbelt. After all, he has drivers and a security team to get him from A to B and it would have been a good PR move to see him being driven around, at least for his first public outing after the crash.

Fresh bad press for the Royals

The negative press surrounding Prince Philip is doing nothing for the Royal Family’s delicate image. They’ve been rocked by bad press of late, with reports of an alleged feud between Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton; and members of household staff resigning due to Megan’s ‘difficult and demanding’ behaviour.

The likes of Prince Charles and Prince William will no doubt be secretly fuming at the behaviour of their father and grandfather. After all, you can get things right 99 times and mess up once, but that’s the one people will remember. However, the Royals have an extensive PR team: it’s time for them to earn their crust. It’ll be interesting to see how they stop this crisis escalating further.

While it’s unlikely to do permanent damage, if Prince Philip wants to win the press and public back over, he’ll need to conduct himself with grace and dignity. And maybe hang up his driving gloves.

Avoid your own royal PR faux pas

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